Todd Schaefer

Todd Schaefer

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The 2020 presidential election was clearly a stark contrast in styles even more than policy differences: one was a carnival barker and master media manipulator, who had no idea how to run a government, and had an administration mired in ineptitude, infighting and corruption. The other was a longtime pol and liked by the D.C. establishment, but was known for gaffes and a stutter, though with a record of actually getting things done.

And, now we’re seeing the results: America is boring again. No more social-media spats and shocking distractions of the day; President Biden has largely shunned the limelight, and like Reagan has limited his media and public interactions to limit the damage his own mouth may do. He also acts like the responsible adult uncle we’ve come to expect from some presidents, and doesn’t verbally attack major members of his own party, even when they disagree.

Biden’s taken the “insider” approach to dealing with Congress and other nations, not going on major speaking tours or media and PR-driven “going public” strategies of many presidents before. This is wise; poli sci studies have found presidents are more likely to get things done if they don’t up the stakes with fanfare. Indeed, he has managed to get a major COVID relief package, more vaccines, and now, an infrastructure bill — one of Trump’s unfilled promises — and likely will get a social spending package that may include national child care, something Europeans have enjoyed for decades.

Indeed, the more Trump went on the road and blustered, the worse he did, except with his die-hards, whether it was Obamacare repeal , getting his border wall, or battling COVID. (Case in point: while he was holding rambling daily press conferences, Americans were dying; a comprehensive medical study found roughly 40% of COVID deaths thru January 2021 were the fault of Trump administration policies and incompetence.)

The problem for Biden and the Democrats is that while such a strategy works pretty well when things or going well or new issues don’t explode, it also means not being in control of your message. They have foolishly sacrificed the public relations war to the Republicans and Fox News.

Plus, the news narrative has been negative. Much of the issue with inflation and reopening, quite frankly, would’ve happened had Trump been reelected (and indeed, might be worse, due to additional disruptions from his trade policies). But the lack of created conflict or drama from the White House mean the media turn elsewhere, such as with the bickering or infighting of his own party, so much so that a lot of Americans don’t actually know that Democrats are implementing policies that help them.

At the same time, having someone with lots of experience doesn’t mean they will be successful. Two of our most prior-experienced presidents, LBJ and Nixon, had catastrophic blunders that could’ve been avoided. Then again, they also made significant policy changes in some areas, more than many presidents. And Biden’s experience didn’t seem to help with the Afghanistan collapse, though to his credit at least he didn’t buy in to the “sunk costs” fallacy that we should’ve learned from Vietnam.

Still, even relative newbies like Kennedy, Reagan and Obama are a far cry from going the other extreme. You don’t put someone with no relevant experience in charge of a different large, complex organization and think it will work. Would Trump — assuming he’d be humble enough to realize he should retire — turn over his organization to someone who’s never worked in real estate? (Then again, look at how well a Twitter-addicted idiot like Elon Musk has done. Then again, would you want him to run IBM?)

Americans need to learn that the president is not just some reality star they see on TV, and that deeds are more important than words. And maybe we should all be thankful this holiday that our president isn’t Tweeter-in-Chief. Nevertheless, given our mediated reality world, showmanship is unfortunately part of the job.

Todd Schaefer is a Central Washington University political science professor. Left and Right is a column provided by CWU professors to represent a variety of political viewpoints.

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