US President Joe Biden slipped a phrase into a major address on infrastructure spending earlier this month with a laugh, calling it a “boring speech” but “an important speech.”
Six months into his presidency, the veteran Democrat’s game plan has been described as “boring but important”: focus on substance, not style, in order to rebuild American prosperity and restore the country to a central role in global politics.
When the 78-year-old Biden gathered his cabinet on Tuesday to mark six months in office, he reiterated some of the key themes of his presidency that he has been emphasizing since January. He claimed that the United States was in a “defining competition” with countries like China, which “believe autocracy is the future.”
“Democracy is more capable,” Biden said, implying that it is capable of being innovative, combating climate change, and bringing prosperity to the greatest number of citizens possible.
The former US senator believes that spending on “hard” infrastructure projects such as roads, bridges, and broadband internet is necessary, but so is spending on health care, education, and child care. On the diplomatic front, being capable and innovative entails reviving America’s traditional alliances, which were stifled – or simply ignored – by Trump, who pushed a hardline “America First” agenda.
Biden focuses on big ideas and big issues, but none of them are necessarily the most exciting to voters. Even Biden admits it, as he did in his speech earlier this month.
“I know that’s a boring speech, but it’s an important speech,” he said on July 7 in Crystal Lake, Illinois, after telling the audience about his spending plans, which included a slew of numbers. As he continued, the applause grew weaker and weaker.
“Anybody under the age of 13 — this has got to be boring, boring, boring for you,” he then said on July 15 in front of a room of parents and children as he detailed a tax credit measure for families.
After a Trump presidency filled with diatribes and vicious barbs, Biden and his team are instead keeping an iron grip on their message – and that message is purposefully dull.
“Biden is making a virtue out of something that has been a problem in his rhetoric for a long time,” Rowland explained.
Biden uses a teleprompter and handwritten notes nearly every time he addresses the press, and his speeches are typically brief. His aides frequently rush reporters out of the room before they can ask him a question off the cuff. This is in stark contrast to Trump’s preference for long, rambling speeches. The former Republican leader also enjoyed using Twitter as a bully pulpit for shock statements, whereas Biden’s social media presence is far more calculated.
Trump enjoyed yelling. Biden occasionally speaks in hushed tones.
Listening to a Biden speech, according to Lawrence Jacobs, a political science professor at the University of Minnesota, can be “painful.”
When he spoke this month about withdrawing the last US troops from Afghanistan, one of the most important decisions of his presidency to date, he delivered his message without a hitch. Indeed, before leaving the White House for the weekend last Friday, Biden launched a scathing attack on Facebook and other social media behemoths, accusing them of “killing people” by allowing misinformation about the coronavirus to spread.
Though he later walked them back a little, those remarks were all over US television networks over the weekend.
In one situation, Biden is spontaneous: when he allows his empathy to shine through.
The Democratic president, whose life has been marked by family tragedy (including the deaths of his first wife and daughter in a car accident, as well as his son Beau’s fatal battle with cancer), gladly accepts the role of comforter-in-chief. He recently spent many hours comforting the families of those who died in the collapse of a south Florida apartment building.
For the time being, Biden’s popularity rating is well above 50%, which Trump was never able to achieve.