Joe Biden would never be in a hair band; a hair plugs band, maybe. Yet the president does seem to be following a maxim known well to every aging rocker: when nothing else is working, you hit the road. So it was that yesterday Biden left Washington on a tour that sent him to Los Angeles with stops afterward in Santa Fe and Philadelphia. And while his handlers seem to have talked him out of doing the whole thing via Amtrak, there are other reasons to think this is not a typical presidential jaunt.
From out of the White House has come news that the president is frustrated with his dismal poll numbers. He’s also reportedly tired of being over-handled by his staff — and fair enough. Recall that two months ago, the most powerful man on earth was strong-armed away from the press by a ten-foot-tall Easter bunny. We all have our indignities, but that one would have sent even me careening off on a bus trip with a peyote stitch bag.
And so to the tour. Picture Biden sitting dejected by a window, smoking a cigarette, one finger idly strumming a guitar string, when in storms his manager, Ron Klain wearing a gold chain. “I can’t stand to see you like this!” Klain barks, leaning forward and looking the president in the eye. “You want to play Santa Fe? I can get you Santa Fe.”
Biden’s trip will be that archetype of the rock world, a greatest hits tour desperately masquerading as a revival. First, to Los Angeles, where he’ll flaunt his old-school foreign policy chops at the Summit of the Americas, a confab between the United States and her Latin American and Caribbean neighbors. The meeting has already been shadowed by controversy, as the White House made a point of excluding certain authoritarian regimes, like Cuba and Venezuela, while including others, such as Canada. Mexico’s president refused to even attend, instead sending his foreign minister.
Biden is hoping he can win over the Americas with his usual plan of spending gargantuan sums of money. Thus, billions more in investment to Central America, a new regional health corps, etc., etc., etc. Yet this seems unlikely to mollify Latin America, which is still wary of Donald Trump and reeling from the pandemic. It also elides over the very real hemispheric problems of drug violence, migrant caravans, political instability. And given that disaster has already struck in the form of Kamala Harris being scheduled to speak, the summit seems destined to be forgotten.
From there, it’s on to New Mexico, where Biden will address that state’s recent devastating wildfires. Here’s a job worthy of a president, offering comfort and aid amid a crisis that’s received little attention, even as Biden will surely take the opportunity to play a little of his old climate change material. And then, to Philadelphia, which Klain no doubt scheduled as the tour’s hometown special. Biden will be attending a convention put on by the AFL-CIO, America’s largest labor union. Expect plenty of oldies: stimulus spending, better wages, a little gun control to boot.
But not inflation. That’s the one tune Biden can’t play, and the real reason he doesn’t sell out venues like he used to. Even more so than crime, which is on the rise but largely limited to metropolitan areas, soaring prices are what’s soured the electorate on their president. It isn’t just that Biden doesn’t have anything to say about inflation; it’s that it’s an existential rejoinder to the very reason his party exists in the twenty-first century. Inflation is a natural check on government, demanding spending limits and tighter money. For Democrats, who itch to empty the taxpayer coffers into every social ill, these are indeed the worst of times.
So maybe less than a rocker, Biden is more like the Baha Men of presidents. He was a song of the summer once, appealing if incoherent, making everyone dance and feel good after four years of Trump’s screamo. Yet put him on the spot for a second hit and he just doesn’t have it in him.
And then it’ll be wheels up to Washington, back to formula shortages and gas gouging. Biden’s fans may one day wear T-shirts commemorating this tour. It’s just that they’ll cost $225 and come with Kevlar lining.