The National Interest: Jonathan Chait
New York magazine|April 26 - May 9, 2021
100 Days That Reshaped America Learning from Joe Biden’s quiet, seismic young presidency.

DURING THE FIRST hundred days of Joe Biden’s presidency, it has dawned on Republicans that the man their standard-bearer once mocked as “Sleepy Joe” is a formidable adversary. And the quality that has made him so effective up to this point is, well, his sleepiness. “I think Biden is a disaster for the country, and his ideas are an atrocity. But he’s boring. He’s just boring,” complained altmedia personality Dan Bongino. This frustration is not confined to the party’s entertainment wing. “It’s always harder to fight against a nice person because usually people will sort of give him the benefit of the doubt,” grumbled Senator John Cornyn. At a recent speech to donors, Donald Trump was reduced to mocking his successor as “Saintly Joe Biden,” perhaps the feeblest moment in his decades-long career of schoolyard taunts.

It’s not that Saintly Joe invented the prototype of a president who acts politely. Barack Obama was nice. George W. Bush was nice. Bill Clinton got away with it because he could be so charming. George H.W. Bush sent scads of handwritten notes to everybody from his favorite snack manufacturer to the presidential candidate who defeated him. Treating everybody with unfailing courtesy is (or was) standard advice for any aspiring politician.

Biden’s advantage is that he’s not just nice; he’s also tedious. He is relentlessly enacting an ambitious domestic agenda— signing legislation that could cut child poverty by more than half, expanding Obamacare, and injecting the economy with a stimulus more than twice the size of what Obama’s Congress passed in 2009— while arousing hardly any controversy. There’s nothing in Biden’s vanilla-icecream bromides for his critics to hook on to. Republicans can’t stop Biden because he is boring them to death.

Biden’s strategy of boringness is a fascinating counterpoint to a career spent trying desperately to be interesting. Biden used to overshare, with frequently disastrous results that led him to accurately self-diagnose as a “gaffe machine.” Whether his advanced age has slowed him down or made him wiser, he has finally given up his attention-seeking impulse and embraced the opposite objective. Biden’s success is a product of the crucial yet little-appreciated insight that substantive advances don’t require massive public fights. The drama of inspiration and conflict is not only unnecessary to promote change but even, in certain circumstances, outright counterproductive.

This method runs contrary to the DNA of the political-activism industry and the news media, which look at politics as a war and judge each side by how well it mobilizes its troops for combat. It especially offends the sensibility of many progressives, who see popular mobilization as the highest form of political organization.

Liberals have always categorized periods of conservative ascent as a kind of somnolence—bland, genial patriarchs like Reagan and Eisenhower tranquilizing the young. We likewise imagine our own political success as a triumph of mass participation. That kind of grassroots fervor did materialize on behalf of Obama in 2008. He and his supporters hoped they could convert that energy into a standing army he could tap to pressure Congress to enact his agenda.

Yet for all his policy successes, this ambition failed completely. Obama’s army demobilized after his election and did not return until four years later. The op-ed pages were filled with proposals written by despairing fans imagining just the right kind of rhetorical uplift Obama could deliver that would summon his crowds back to life. And he did deliver a lot of speeches, most of them—as one may expect of a president who was a successful author before going into politics—of excellent quality. None of this had any measurably positive effect on public opinion.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM NEW YORK MAGAZINEView All

The Fixer

DJ Khaled is not a rapper. But he does always seem to know a guy.

6 mins read
New York magazine
May 10 - 23, 2021

Science of Us: Katie Heaney

The Clock-Out Cure For those who can afford it, quitting has become the ultimate form of self-care.

6 mins read
New York magazine
May 10 - 23, 2021

THE Destroy-It-to-Save-It Plan FOR East River Park

The city’s first real battle over climate adaptation has arrived.

10+ mins read
New York magazine
May 10 - 23, 2021

You'd Be an Iconic Guest

A ruthless Instagram interviewer brings her knowing wink to cable.

5 mins read
New York magazine
May 10 - 23, 2021

The Great Indoors

A critic reacclimates to the now-unfamiliar terrain of the dining room.

4 mins read
New York magazine
May 10 - 23, 2021

Political Animals: Olivia Nuzzi

The Crisis Crisis How the White House polices language in Washington—including the president’s.

6 mins read
New York magazine
May 10 - 23, 2021

What Was the Office?

It Was Stressful, Filthy, High Stakes—and Where the Action Was

10+ mins read
New York magazine
April 26 - May 9, 2021

ANDREW YANG'S INSIDER CAMPAIGN

How did a former CEO of 100 employees become the front-runner to govern a city of 8.5 million? Not simply by being a national celebrity and an excellent campaigner.

10+ mins read
New York magazine
May 10 - 23, 2021

The Group Portrait: Little Pot

The activists and entrepreneurs intent on making New York’s new cannabis industry more equitable, less corporate.

2 mins read
New York magazine
April 26 - May 9, 2021

Tech vs. Journalism

Silicon Valley feels picked on by “woke” journalists “who can't code." Reporters feel picked on by petty zillionaires with anger-management problems. Inside the nasty clout battle for how the world’s most influential industry gets covered.

10+ mins read
New York magazine
May 10 - 23, 2021
RELATED STORIES

BIDEN SIGNS ORDER TO BEEF UP FEDERAL CYBER DEFENSES

President Joe Biden signed an executive order meant to strengthen U.S. cybersecurity defenses in response to a series of headline-grabbing hacking incidents that highlight how vulnerable the country’s public and private sectors are to high-tech spies and criminals operating from half a world away.

2 mins read
Techlife News
Techlife News #498

US ENDS OIL, GAS LEASE SALES FROM PUBLIC LAND THROUGH JUNE

The U.S. Interior Department is cancelling oil and gas lease sales from public lands through June amid an ongoing review of how the program contributes to climate change, officials said.

2 mins read
Techlife News
Techlife News #495

The Era of Small Government Is Over

IS THERE ANY HOPE TO CHECK THE GROWTH OF THE STATE?

10+ mins read
Reason magazine
June 2021

CAN BIDEN ADD ENERGY JOBS? HOPE MIXES WITH DOUBT

Good-paying jobs — many of them.

6 mins read
Techlife News
Techlife News #493

WHAT BIDEN'S NEW $100B PLAN FOR BROADBAND MEANS

The problems with U.S. broadband networks have been obvious for years. Service costs more than in many other rich nations, it still doesn’t reach tens of millions of Americans and the companies that provide it don’t face much competition.

4 mins read
AppleMagazine
April 09, 2021

BIDEN ANNOUNCES HUGE INFRASTRUCTURE PLAN TO ‘WIN THE FUTURE'

President Joe Biden outlined a huge $2.3 trillion plan Wednesday to re-engineer the nation’s infrastructure in what he billed as “a once-in-a-generation investment in America” that would undo his predecessor’s signature legislative achievement — giant tax cuts for corporations — in the process.

5 mins read
Techlife News
Techlife News #492

GET SMART

AI’S ROLE IN THE COVID VACCINATION PROCESS

3 mins read
The BOSS Magazine
February 2021

DESPITE HACKS, US NOT SEEKING WIDENED DOMESTIC SURVEILLANCE

The Biden administration is not planning to step up government surveillance of the U.S. internet even as state-backed foreign hackers and cybercriminals increasingly use it to evade detection, a senior administration official said.

2 mins read
AppleMagazine
AppleMagazine #490

Mexico's Covid Codependency

U.S. stimulus flows to Mexico in the form of remittances and increased export demand

4 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
March 15, 2021

An Industrial Policy With U.S. Characteristics

Biden’s $4 trillion Build Back Better plan faces plenty of hurdles beyond Republicans

7 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
March 15, 2021