A tale of two press conferences
I’m reminded of the early scene in “Pulp Fiction” where Vincent Vega contrasts Europe and the United States. It’s the little differences. Similarly, there were a lot of little differences between President Biden’s first press conference and Former Guy’s press conferences.
For one thing, there was no swagger, no self-congratulatory diatribes. Missing were the angry and insulting interactions with individual reporters. No labelling networks and publications as “fake news.” No name calling of individual reporters. No insults or slanders against journalists and their past or present employers. No peevish, sarcastic, unprofessional retorts. No lives were put in danger by calumnies heaped upon personal enemies. No acts of stochastic terrorism. No temper tantrums. No storming out in petulant indignation.
The President’s press conference wasn’t just a triumph, it was a magnificent refutation of four miserable years of the toxic ego of the cretin who accidentally became president in 2016. It was nothing short of magnificent, and laid to rest all the nonsense about why Joe Biden hadn’t given any press conferences until now. It wasn’t because he couldn’t. It wasn’t because he was afraid. It wasn’t because he preferred, like some, to play golf. It was because he was too busy working for the American people. Right now a lot of people and many journalists should be hanging their heads in shame.
Continuing with the Pulp Fiction analogy, the President presented himself as Mr. Wolf. As he put it, “I have been hired to solve problems, not create division.” He was, in short, magnificently Presidential.
He began by extolling the efforts of the people of his administration. He promised to have 100 million vaccinations by the end of his first 100 days, and, as he has exceeded that number, he revised the goal upward to an ambitious 200 million shots. Twice the original number.
The President told of how most American schools are now fully open. One hundred million payments of 1400 dollars in stimulus checks have gone out to Americans already, with more to come. He spoke of how, for the first time since the start of the pandemic, unemployment is down. He hastened to add that it wasn’t down enough. But it was a start.
Then he began the press conference, calling on individual reporters by name with old world gallantry. The first issues he was asked about were immigration reform, climate change, gun control and voting rights, “I got elected to solve problems. Covid 19 and economic dislocation were the number one problems,” the President said. Each of the other problems were going to be dealt with in their turn. Long term problems will be focused on one at a time.
As to whether or not he can effect change without Republican help depended on Republicans. “My Republican colleagues are going to have to determine whether or not we are going to work together or if they’re going to try to divide the country.”
The false narrative created by Republicans that there is a sudden “crisis at the border” was dealt with diplomatically. The President pointed out that surges at the border happen every year. While flattered that this year’s surge was attributed to him and the fact that he’s a nice guy, the President said that it had nothing to do with him. Surges happen every year in the winter time, and this year’s surge is slightly smaller than last year’s surge. The President quipped, “By the way, does anyone suggest that there was a 31% increase [in surges at the border] under Trump because he was a nice guy?”
Another refreshing difference between the President and that — Thing — we used to have to endure, was the President very thoughtfully asked one reporter, “Am I giving you too much detail or have I answered your question?” Imagine a President concerned about whether or not a reporter’s question had been answered!
The President was asked about Republican efforts at trying to restrict voting rights. The President had many impassioned words for that. “What I’m worried about is how unAmerican this whole initiative is. It’s sick. It’s sick. Deciding how you cannot bring water to people standing in line waiting to vote. Deciding that you will end voting past five o’clock when people are just getting off work. Deciding that there will be no absentee ballots under the most rigid circumstances? … The Republican voters I know find this despicable … this makes Jim Crow look like Jim Eagle.”
Clearly, Republicans are trying to create a voting infrastructure, under the false disguise of “election security,” to make possible what they were unable to do in 2020 — steal elections. The more than 250 pieces of Republican legislation being implemented right now to change voting laws are being undertaken to make it harder for people of color to vote. Period.
Verification systems have been put in place to contact parents of children at the border. Policies for humane treatment of children at the border have been implemented. Under the previous administration, journalists did not have access to locations where refugee children were being kept. President Biden committed to giving access to those facilities and others as soon as his program is underway.
In astonishing contrast with a common criticism of the President, that he hasn’t acted quickly enough for some people, Biden was asked by one reporter if he has rolled back Trump policies too quickly. The President was unequivocal: “Rolling back the policies of separating children from their mothers? I make no apologies for that. Rolling back the policies of [refugee children] remaining in Mexico sitting on the edge of the Rio Grande in a muddy circumstance without enough to eat? I make no apologies for that.”
The President reminded the members of the press that politics is the art of the possible. He is moving forward at the best possible pace. He will attend to everything according to priority. But all issues will be addressed.
One reporter asked, “Have you decided whether you are going to run for re-election in 2024? You haven’t set up a re-election campaign by this time as your predecessor had.” Biden chuckled. “My predecessor needed to.” He then chuckled again. “My predecessor. Oh God I miss him.” Everyone in the press conference laughed. “The answer is yes. My plan is to run for re-election.” When asked if he expected to be running in 2024 against Trump, Biden replied, “I have no idea. I don’t even know if there will be a Republican Party. Do you?” What he didn’t say, perhaps because he didn’t need to, is it’s doubtful there will be a Trump available to run in 2024.
When asked about the criticisms he’s received from Republicans for the American Rescue Plan, the President replied, “Did you hear them complain when they passed nearly a two trillion dollar tax cut, 83% of it going to the top 1%? Do you hear them talk about that at all? … When the federal budget is saving people’s lives, they don’t think it’s such a good idea. When the federal budget is feathering the nests of the wealthiest Americans, 90 of the Fortune 500 companies are not paying a cent in taxes … something’s wrong.”
“I meant what I said when I ran and a lot of you still think I’m wrong. And I respect that. But I said I’m running for three reasons. One, to restore the soul, dignity, honesty, transparency to the American political system. Two, to rebuild the backbone of this country, the middle class, hard working people struggling to get into the middle class. They built America, and unions built them. The third reason I said I was running, was to unite the country. And generically speaking all of you said, ‘No you can’t do that.’ Well I’ve not been able to unite the Congress, but I’ve been uniting the country, based on the polling data. We have to come together.”
On the topic of China, the President said, “Your children and grandchildren are going to be doing their doctoral thesis on who succeeded, autocracy or democracy. Because that is what is at stake.” There is an echo here from the Nixon-Kennedy debates. Forgive me but I’m quoting from memory, because I don’t have time to go through the entire debate series to find it, but I believe JFK said, “The question before us all is, will freedom in the next generation conquer, or will the Communists be successful?” It is an issue as old as that and older. One got the feeling the President is equal to the challenge.
The President touched on the massacres in Georgia and Colorado and how he intends to tackle endemic gun violence. These include manufacturer liability, executive actions going after ghost guns, and money to cities and states to combat violence. “All of the above,” the President reminded his audience, “It’s a matter of timing.”
In closing the President touched on infrastructure. Finishing with, “I’m ready to work with any Republican who wants to help solve the problem and make the situation better. But folks, I’m going. Thank you very much, I appreciate it.” It was a magnificent end to a near perfect press conference. I’m pleased to imagine how very disappointed the disloyal, Republican ghouls in Congress must feel just now. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.