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No Yelling, No Insults. Joe Biden Answered Questions — And That Felt Remarkable

U.S. President Joe Biden answers questions during the first news conference of his presidency in the East Room of the White House on March 25, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
U.S. President Joe Biden answers questions during the first news conference of his presidency in the East Room of the White House on March 25, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

I was all set to write about how idiotic presidential press conferences are, about how they’re hyped-up media events that do nothing to advance the actual work of governance.

But I have to admit that President Joe Biden’s first press conference was almost startling in its coherence and cogency. In a manner I didn’t expect, the event felt revelatory — an almost disorienting return to the legacy of presidential dignity and honor. For the first time in more than four years, the president of the United States took questions from the press and actually answered them — thoroughly and truthfully.

As we Jews like to say at Passover: dayenu! It would have been enough.

But Biden also made actual news.

He announced that his administration would seek to distribute 200 million COVID vaccinations by his first 100 days in office, double his initial goal. He announced that he’ll be unveiling a $3 trillion infrastructure plan next week. He announced that he intends to seek re-election in 2024 with Vice President Kamala Harris as his running mate.

For good measure, Biden also correctly identified the filibuster as “a relic of the Jim Crow era” that is being used by Senate Republicans to thwart the will of the people on a range of issues, from blocking gun control measures to launching an assault on voting rights that he called “un-American” and “sick.”

U.S. President Joe Biden talks to reporters during the first news conference of his presidency in the East Room of the White House on March 25, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
U.S. President Joe Biden talks to reporters during the first news conference of his presidency in the East Room of the White House on March 25, 2021 in Washington, D.C. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Biden also brought a dose of common sense, and data, to the issue of migrants at the southern border, which right-wing demagogues — with plenty of help from our mainstream media — have sought to portray as a dangerous threat to our way of life.

He noted that there’s always a surge of migrants during winter months, because it’s safer to travel, that this surge occurred under his predecessor, that the vast majority of migrants are sent home and that he has no intention of apologizing for treating them as if they are actual human beings.

“Am I giving you too long an answer?” he asked at one point. The question was offered in earnest. Because Biden had a lot to say about immigration, in particular about how the last regime sowed chaos at the border — not just by ripping children away from their parents, but by cutting funding for agencies charged with overseeing immigration.

Biden is not some soaring rhetorician. He speaks in pretty simple sentences, which are sometimes a little muddled. But he clearly has a deep command of the issues facing the country, both foreign and domestic.

If he has made scant use of the bully pulpit his office bestows, it is because he is focused on running the country.

The last president turned press briefings into smug and utterly predictable reality TV segments, in which he lied constantly and berated reporters, all part of the dominance displays he needed to stiffen up his flaccid ego. He also loved screaming over the roar of helicopter blades, as if he emphasized how truly busy he was, given his schedule of nonstop golf, Tivo and seeding sedition.

As I say, I had no intention of enjoying Biden’s first press conference. But the sight of a president doing his job, responding to questions, frankly and openly caring about his constituents proved irresistible.

I have no idea when he’ll do a second press conference. Nor do I care. After four years of presidential incompetence and corruption, he’s got a lot of messes to clean up.

But I’ll be waiting.

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Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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