I’m so old I can remember when the media was obsessed with the fact that President Reagan often used 4 x 6 cards for talking points at most meetings and other events where he was meeting someone in the cabinet room or Oval Office, including even visiting heads of state. This became a media talking point for suggesting Reagan was an idiot, a creature of his staff, etc. Of course Reagan had long used 4 x 6 cards (not 3 x 5 as was usually reported incorrectly) for his speeches and other public appearances for many years before he was elected president.
The New York Times reported in 1988:
[F]or each event on the President’s calendar there is a project officer whose job is to present a background memo and pertinent information for the President. Sometimes this information is not a script but is simply meant for the President to know whom he is addressing, for example, and may be affixed on the top of a planned speech.
Reagan’s note cards were never as detailed as Biden’s appear to be, and didn’t have the kind of stage directions Biden apparently needs.
The media also liked to suggest Reagan had a light schedule, and it was always insinuated that his frequent two hours of “personal time” in the afternoons was when he napped, though as we learned later Reagan didn’t nap at all, but spent that time writing letters and revising speeches. We know he spent one long weekend in 1985 at Camp David writing his own talking points in memo form for his first summit with Gorbachev because he wasn’t happy with the briefing points the State Department had prepared for him. Anyone think Biden is capable of this?
Reagan actually kept a much busier schedule than Biden is keeping. Reagan estimated that he met an average of 60 new people every week (and that’s on top of the dozens and dozens of people he met repeatedly, like congressional leaders, etc). Is Biden meeting that many people every week? It seems unlikely. Axios reported yesterday:
Some White House officials say it’s difficult to schedule public or private events with the president in the morning, in the evening, or on weekends: The vast majority of Biden’s public events happen on weekdays, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. . .
Jen Psaki, who was Biden’s first White House press secretary, acknowledged this dynamic: She noted that the president’s remarks on the Silicon Valley Bank crisis must have been a high priority since he delivered them at 9:15 a.m. “President Biden does nothing at 9 a.m.,” she said last month on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
Reagan used to be criticized for being a “nine-to-five president,” even though he did a lot of reading in the evening in the family quarters, but never boasted about it like Jimmy Carter did. Axios again: “Biden has said he takes his time in the mornings. “I’m up at 7, 7:15,” he told the “Smartless” podcast last November, adding that he works out from about 8 to 8:45 a.m.”
It is true that Reagan spent nearly a full calendar year of his presidency out at his California ranch, but when he wasn’t out riding horses or clearing brush with a chainsaw (which the secret service hated and always wanted him to stop doing), he was working a fairly regular day, reviewing a steady stream of memos and meeting with his senior staff. By contrast the Biden White House refuses to release visitor logs for his weekends at his beach house in Delaware (actually they may not even be keeping visitor logs), and the thought of Biden wielding a chain saw is simply beyond comprehension. Is Biden doing any work at all on the weekends? Reagan typically recorded his weekly radio address on Saturday mornings, and often actively worked on the text of those addresses.
Reagan didn’t hold that many full-dress press conferences in his first two years, though that period included a long recovery from being shot, and he did far more interviews with individual journalists than Biden has. If the media had ever seen Reagan using a cheat sheet with press questions known in advance and a script for the answers, as Scott noted about Biden’s current practice, it would be headline news for weeks, and the “age issue” would be front and center.
One amazing thing about Biden’s cheat sheets is that apparently the staff didn’t instruct him to keep them flat on the podium or otherwise concealed from cameras. How much longer can this Chauncey Gardiner farce of a presidency continue?
Chaser: As we know now, this classic Saturday Night Live sketch was a lot closer to reality after all. Does anyone think we’ll find out the same about Biden some day?