"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, May 20, 2024

An Empty Suit In The White House - The Vaporous Presidency Of Joe Biden

Joe Biden was always a politician ever since his days of selling lemonade on the corner for 5 cents a cup. Making pin money was secondary to meeting and greeting.  

'Why, Joey', said Mrs. Marshall as she walked up to the boy's stand and bought a drink, 'how nice to see you'; and little Joey put on his best face and said just the right things appropriate for a boy of eight but just what the old lady wanted to hear, some precociously ingratiating comment about her hat or shoes crafted from his small but rather impressive repertoire of compliments he learned from his father, a lady's man who could win a smile from just about any woman in South Wilmington. 

Joey had no particular likes or dislikes, no favorites, nothing especially to avoid.  He simply liked pleasing people - his parents, his teachers, and especially Father Brophy and the nuns at St. Aloysius.  He could even get a smile out of Sister Mary Joseph, the toughest nun in the school, a pinched, embittered old lady still clicking her rosaries and rustling up down the aisle keeping order. 

Father Brophy liked Joe, invited him to become an altar boy and if it hadn't been for Joe's father who knew the priest for the pederast he was, he would have accepted.  It would have been a pleasure to serve.


Joe was in his element in high school, an all-time favorite of students and teachers alike.  His pleasure was in pleasing others, a generous chameleon who understood the likes and preferences of those around him more in fact than they did.  He never played favorites because he had none.  All were equal in his eyes. 

He was, in other words, a cipher, a zero, a non-entity who was so skilled in the art of making others nod and smile in approval - that his life was an easy elision, a trip without milestones or markers. One thing simple folded into the next, and all was one big, enveloping, warm fuzzy thing. 

That he was bound for public office was obvious.  He was a natural born politician, had elective office in his bones.  The smile, the silver tongue, and the absolute lack of any moral, spiritual, or emotional center made him the ideal candidate.  Those who operated from some a priori principle or passionate cause were at a loss because their commitment got in the way, limited their appeal and their electability.  Joe's very lack of a fixed, polar center was his key to his success. He was everyman, and everyman's man. 

Liberalism was an easy option, for it required no particular intellectual grounding.  A liberal, Joe observed, had no need to parse the verses of the Enlightenment, dig into Locke and Rousseau, think seriously about Kant and Kierkegaard as his conservative colleagues did.  Liberals acted on emotional rectitude - right and wrong were absolutes, and thus clearly evident. Compassion, consideration, equality, and respectful polity were not arcane philosophical principles.  

So it was easy for Joe Biden to be liberal, to talk of community participation, equity, inclusivity, and harmony, for these were natural for him.  They required no deliberation, no hesitation; and so it was that he got elected time after time as a liberal Democrat, happy in his skin as others were happy with all that he did. 

As the mood became more moderate, Joe followed suit; and when it veered leftward, so did he.  In time he became progressive and then radically so. It was of no consequence to him, no deviation of fundamental principle, no break of mental energy.  Left or right, no problem, no matter.  His life was simple, of social incidence only, with no complications or contentious issues. 

Now, near the end of his presidency and the end of his life, Joe began to wonder what it had all been about.  His political career had been so vaporous and airy that it left no traces, no marks of reference, no notes that he had ever been in Delaware, Capitol Hill, or the White House. 

Of course history would record his tenure in these offices - the Honorable this, Mr. Vice President that, and of course the 46th President of the United States - but the record would have no special annotations other that he served without particular incident. 

None of this was of any concern to him for he had never in his life left a footprint, not even a whisper in the dust, not one spoor, not one lingering scent.  Children in a future generation will have forgotten that he ever was President - like James K. Polk or Millard Fillmore - a placeholder at best. 

'It's time for tea', Jill reminded him one Spring day as the butler set the service on the verandah overlooking the South Lawn.  The President smiled and made his way through the French doors and took his seat.  'I am happy today', he said. 

'Why, dear?', Jill asked.

The President looked at her, or rather past her to the Washington monument in the distance and to the contrails of the planes landing at Reagan National.  'A great man', Biden said. 'A great man'.  It was only in recent years that Joe's mind wandered. Unrelated bit and pieces of life reminded him of his predecessors -  the contrails (Reagan), a police siren (Kennedy), a cripple (FDR), a black person (Lincoln).  At the same time he made no comparisons, no judgments.  

He had drifted here and there until a light breeze blew and took him to unexpected, romantic places.  He still kept a copy of Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden Book of Verse by his bedside, dogeared in spots, especially by The Land of Counterpane which he read over and over again. 

The President's growing dimness was not the tragedy that many said.  Joe had always been vaporous.  His landscape had always been flat and featureless, men and women as indistinct as grasses on the prairie. Yes, of course he made political speeches which charted out the progressive agenda, but he had no feelings one way or another about the climate or Mexicans.  

'How did I get here?', he asked Jill when the contrails had disappeared over the Potomac; and he was serious, for he had forgotten Obama, his years of servitude, and finally a chance to be 'his own man' as his supporters said, words which meant nothing to a man who had never been 'his own'.  He had always been what others wanted him to be and that had always been enough.  

'And why am I here?'. In his advancing years and mental infirmity, he uncharacteristically asked strangely metaphysical questions, questions which had no answers whatsoever.  A man without substance, a transparent scrim of a man, an empty space had no metaphysical reality.  He only imagined it did, then forgot the question. 

When he heard the chopper blades on the South Lawn and Air Force One ready to lift off and take him back to Delaware, he was reminded of Richard Nixon and raised his arms in a defiant goodbye. He channeled the old man for just an instant, then broke into the Biden smile, put his arm around his wife, and stepped into the helicopter. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.