Often the news is about the news; reporters and editors can’t help themselves. The month of March has been crowded with stories about President Biden not holding a news conference. And then it happens, and the only real story was that it happened.
President Biden specializes in anesthesia. When necessary, he administers a blend of words that force and then smooth the transition. He is, for example, transitioning from filibuster supporter to opponent, having absorbed a simple truth. A 50-50 split in the US Senate will preclude a historic presidency unless the filibuster goes or is modified.
Not surprisingly, he cares mostly about being leader, not whether the absence of the filibuster will at some point help the other side. And that is the greater truth. He believes or is forced to believe by the Left of his Party that foundational changes made during his time in office will change America for the better and not be completely rolled back. To me, that is the headline from the news conference.
The President was a caring parent when asked numerous questions about the rush to, and often through, the southern border. He was a moralist when talking about a federal takeover of voting procedures in the States. He was indignant with China, and he constantly returned to an overarching theme of helping working families. In short, what he might have missed in specifics, he more than made up for with tone. Ronald Reagan frequently wrong-footed a press horde that faulted him for being, let’s say, out of touch.
I do think at some point, President Biden is going to have to find a common cause with some of the ten or so Republicans who seem to want to find areas of compromise. When the rhetorical fabric includes threads of unity, it will begin to fray if the only reconciliation occurs within your own political party. And especially if the compromise forcing filibuster is, for all intents or purposes, eliminated because you cannot get votes from the other side. The President should remember that almost half of the American electorate is more conservative and much more conservative than his Party’s left-wing.
Finally, let me return to my “news is about the news” opening. Our representatives in Washington just assured us that we will borrow $1.9 trillion to fund a so-called Covid relief bill. And stories have appeared in the last several days suggesting that an announcement is imminent on a multi-trillion dollar infrastructure package. Maybe there should have been one set of questions that probed for the President’s thoughts about extreme deficits and sources of additional tax revenue.
The press also let the President evade answers on gun control even though there were two horrendous mass shootings within days of the news conference.
President Trump, for the most part, faced a belligerent press. In part, that was his fault because variations on his charges of “fake news” were delivered almost daily. But, the reporters of the day, whatever day, should not let the carefully prepared words and phrases (talking points) of a President, any President, go unchallenged.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.