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Biden’s first press conference of 2022 was quietly devastating

Biden’s first press conference of 2022 was quietly devastating
This amount of psychologizing is rare and telling

One day, there will be an Oscar-baiting biopic called Mitch and Joe that charts the unlikely, tragicomic relationship between Joe Biden and Mitch McConnell. I imagine it as a cross between Frost/Nixon The Fox and the Hound, mostly drawing inspiration from the latter. If you, 也, had your childhood devastated by that particular slice of Disney output, you’ll remember that Tod the fox and Copper the hound — once best friends gamboling in the leaves — end up peer-pressured into becoming distant enemies in their adulthood, even as they privately nod to each other every so often while going about their separate lives. It’s a bit of a downer, 老实说. It’s one of those Disney movies where the moral of the story throws up a few questions. But as a cartoon reflection of what goes on in Congress, it’s pretty much perfect.

I know this because of how Biden handled a question at his first press conference of 2022 about the man we don’t call Moscow Mitch. Mitch McConnell has been talking about your “report card” as president, he was told. What do you think that report card might look like?

Biden paused. He smiled. “Mitch has been very clear,” he began, and then he laughed what sounded like a genuine laugh. “He’s going to do anything to prevent Biden being a success. I get on with Mitch. I like him. 一世 actually like Mitch McConnell!… But the real question is: What’s Mitch for? What’s he for? What’s he 为了 on immigration? What’s he 为了 in dealing with Russia? What’s he for on these things? What are they for?”

The “they” in this aside referred to McConnell’s Republican party, who Biden had gently but devastatingly speared a few minutes earlier, smilingly asking: “Think about this — what are Republicans for? Name me one thing they’re for.”

This was clearly the pre-prepared message for the press conference, because Biden always comes prepared. Unlike Trump, he doesn’t suddenly start wondering out loud whether Covid might be curable by bleach or UV light; he doesn’t ramble on about voting boxes in Detroit and then cut his interviews off. One always feels that his (few) appearances in front of journalists for questions happen after hours of strategizing. Another question about whether he feels that he hasn’t achieved enough during his first year in office led to the answer: “One thing I haven’t been able to do so far is get my Republican friends [to stop blocking me].” Another led to the revelation that five Republicans privately support Biden’s Democratic agenda but are too afraid of Trump’s influence to vote with him (“They tell me: Joe, if I do it, I’m gonna be defeated in a primary.”)

但是, and yet. Something unexpected always sneaks through when Joe gets going. And this time round, it was a psychologizing soliloquy on Vladimir Putin which revealed the extent of their conversations. “Putin believes he’s dealing with the most tragic thing that’s ever happened to Mother Russia,”拜登说. “…He’s trying to find his place in the world between China and the west… I’m not sure he’s ascertained what he’s going to do. There’s two things he’s said to me he wants. One is Ukraine will never be a part of Nato, and two is strategic weapons will never be stationed in Ukraine… I shouldn’t go further.” Later in the conference, 他加了: “I suspect it matters what side of the bed [普京] wakes up on in the morning, what he’s gonna do.” If he plans to invade Ukraine “from the north, from Belarus, he’s gonna have to wait a little bit until the ground’s frozen… I shouldn’t go further.”

I’ve always been a fan of Biden’s foreign policy breakdowns, because they seem to so expertly straddle the unexpected territories of United Nations bureaucracyspeak and self-help introspective talk straight out of an Esther Perel relationships book. I don’t say that lightly: I believe that the president’s gentle ability to peel off the onion layers of Vladimir might be the secret to making progress with Russia. Clearly, his ability to feel sympathetic on a human level about the perspectives and contexts of others is key to that friendship with Mitch McConnell and his ilk, 也. The question is whether those kinds of friendships — or indeed those kinds of understandings — are helpful in today’s America.

The rest of the press conference was suffused with Biden’s always surprisingly likable energy. “Why are you such an optimist?” he asked a reporter with a particularly doom-laden question, to a few restrained laughs. When another asked if he was willing to name those five Republican senators who support him in private, 他说, “Sure,” laughed, 然后: “Are you kidding me?” And when a shaky-voiced attendee from the far-right outlet Newsmax asked why Biden thought their polls showed “most Americans” don’t think he’s cognitively fit, he simply said a polite but unimpressed, “I have no idea,” and moved on immediately.

Almost two hours into the conference — which overran by much longer than expected — Biden wrapped up with a repeat of his line on the GOP: “What their agenda? Do they have an agenda?… …I wonder what a Republican platform would be… I honest to God don’t know what they’re for.”

Most of us suspect, 很遗憾, that Trumpists do have an agenda, and a sordid one at that. Biden would prefer to pretend that that isn’t an agenda at all, but instead a black hole where policies should be. He’s selling himself as the person who, in contrast, has principles, who has heart, and who gets things done. But the truth is that he has managed to achieve very little in office, mainly due to his slim majority and the refusal of two senators in his own party — Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin — to get in line. If he doesn’t solve that problem, he won’t get much further on charm alone.