It was, in a way, a refreshing moment of mental alacrity from President Joe Biden. Asked if he thought inflation was a ‘political liability’, the Commander-in-Chief, the man who has apparently brought dignity back to the Oval Office, replied: ‘No. It’s a great asset. More inflation. What a stupid son of a bitch.’
In his sarcasm — we hope it was that; we can’t be 100 per cent — the President at least acknowledged that inflation was a genuine worry. His administration had spent months dismissing the issue as merely a ‘transient’ concern.
All things are transient, I suppose. Take Joe Biden’s much-lauded decency; that quality which apparently most distinguished him from Donald Trump. This is the man, remember, who came to office telling his staff: ‘I’m not joking when I say this: If you’re ever working with me and I hear you treat another with disrespect, talk down to someone, I promise you I will fire you on the spot… On the spot. No ifs, ands, or buts.’
In that case, he probably needs to fire himself after yesterday’s outburst. But he won’t. Because for all the blather about his integrity, Biden isn’t really a great guy.
Let’s not be too prim ourselves. Nobody really cares about swears these days and Biden apparently rang the Fox reporter last night to say ‘It’s nothing personal’. But Biden can’t have his decorum cake and eat it, too. It is once again worth trying to imagine what might have happened if Trump had uttered such a phrase towards a journalist. CNN would have made it a lead news item for a week. Pundits would have said that he was ‘threatening‘ journalists, endangering free speech and so on.
People in Washington do like Joe, it’s true. He has always been able to cultivate friends on Capitol Hill — until recently, anyway. But Washington isn’t a place where genuine and amiable people get on and Biden has always propped up his nice-guy persona with sometimes quite shocking rudeness — long before age made him the cranky near-octogenarian we see today.
Biographical profiles of Biden tend to dwell on his heroic struggles against adversity, his folksy humanity in the face of the many family tragedies, and his ‘empathy’.
Some truth in that, no doubt. Yet these accounts border on hagiography. A lot less time is spent focusing on his more unpleasant qualities, even though they are perfectly evident to anyone willing to look. Nice guys don’t spend four decades obsessively trying to become the most powerful person in the world, as the former Biden staffer Jeff Connaughton knows all too well.
Connaughton, who joined Biden’s office in the 1980s and worked for him for over a decade, published a bitter memoir in 2012 in which he described Biden as an ‘egomaniacal autocrat’ who was ‘determined to manage his staff through fear’. Apparently Biden liked to call staffers ‘dumb fuck’ when he couldn’t remember their names. ‘His ambitions,’ wrote Connaughton, ‘were mainly about himself’.
Another young staffer once got into Biden’s car holding a list of names and phone numbers and said, ‘OK, Senator, time to do some fundraising calls’. ‘Get the fuck out of the car,’ Biden allegedly replied. Charming.
Biden’s ego is very sensitive to slights — more so, perhaps, than even the notoriously thin-skinned Donald Trump. Much was made of the ‘bromance’ between Vice President Biden and President Barack Obama. But in reality, the relationship between the two men was prickly, to put it mildly. Obama found Biden’s loquaciousness and many gaffes frustrating. Biden felt insecure that Team Obama didn’t take him seriously.
‘My manhood is not negotiable,’ he reportedly said when negotiating how much power he ought to have as vice president.
The mask becomes the man, but an ill-fitting mask tends to slip. And Biden’s reputation as just a clubbable old geezer, a Silent Generation guy with nothing but heart, is so wrong that it should have been debunked years ago. Now, as the strains of the presidency tell, we are seeing more of the real man, potty mouth and all.
Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.