The New York Times has a remarkable story out this weekend that offers its typical “behind the scenes” construction of how the White House operates—in this case, under President Biden. While the story tries to soften the blows with lots of fluff and filler, it paints a devastating picture of Biden for the careful reader. It explains he has a quick temper, takes a long time to make decisions, and needs to be heavily propped up by staff to function. It reminds us that Biden is indeed a creature of the Senate, where he mostly attended hearings, made speeches, fiddled with legislation, and seldom made any decisions that suggested executive skill (Quick—can anyone name a major piece of Biden legislation? The crime bill of 1994? Likely written mostly by the Clinton Justice Department. The bankruptcy reform bill of 2007? Likely written largely by Delaware-based banks. You get the picture.)
Here’s one early paragraph:
On policy issues, Mr. Biden, 78, takes days or weeks to make up his mind as he examines and second-guesses himself and others. It is a method of governing that can feel at odds with the urgency of a country still reeling from a pandemic and an economy struggling to recover.
One passage details weeks and weeks of meetings, briefings, and deliberations about how to confront Putin, culminating with this astonishing paragraph:
In the end, Mr. Biden called Mr. Putin directly and then delivered a public statement on Russia sanctions that lasted only five minutes and 49 seconds. For as much as Mr. Biden projects an aura of ease — with his frequent backslapping, references to Irish poetry and liberal use of the phrase “c’mon, man” — his aides say it takes a lot of behind-the-scenes work to prepare him to project an assured demeanor.
The subtext of the first sentence here is that Biden is simply not up to the give-and-take of a conversation with a foreign leader. No wonder Vice President Harris seems to be the person who is making personal contact with foreign leaders.
The timing of the Times story is interesting, as Biden’s “honeymoon” period looks to be over, his ambitious legislative and spending agenda is in trouble on Capitol Hill, and multiple self-induced crises are piling up in ways that bring back memories of the ineptitude of Jimmy Carter.