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Joe Biden: will the quiet man strategy see him through?

August 13, 2020

What is a demagogue without an audience to whip into a frenzy? A gogue, I suppose. This is an intriguing aspect of the forthcoming US presidential election campaign.

How effective will Donald Trump be in recapturing the imagination of the electorate without his rapturous rallies? Not great, I suspect. His live audiences surf his stream of consciousness without much thought as to what he’s actually saying beyond a few communal imprecations, as “in lock her up”. But in the cold glare of the TV cameras, without a screaming audience, he seems far less effective, and far more open to ridicule.

Unless he chooses to ignore medical advice and summon his base to a series of infection-spreading rallies, what we’re likely to see in the course of the campaign is Trump the idiot, not the fire-breathing orator. A gogue without his demos.

Biden, on the other hand, can continue to be the still, small voice. The voice of reason, if you like. It’s been a strategy made feasible by the social restrictions of the pandemic. Kamala Harris can be the firebrand, and it will be interesting to see how she fares in her debate against the Thunderbirds puppet currently occupying the job she wants.

It’s also interesting that the few impressive examples of oratory we’ve heard in recent months have been those performed to a silent audience. At George Floyd’s funeral, for example, and Barack Obama’s address at the funeral of the civil rights icon, John Lewis.

Both presidential candidates, deprived of the whooping, hollering enthusiasm of their supporters, will have to do things very differently.

If Biden continues to play his cards right in the quiet man role, he has the chance, by his very demeanour, of outgunning Trump, who attracts ridicule every time he opens his mouth, and has the attention of a host of comedians ready to mock him at every turn.

Whether the likes of Sarah Cooper, my favourite Trump impersonator, will be able to persuade enough of the president’s base that they’re following an imbecile remains to be seen. And whether they care enough not to vote for him is another good question.

Biden’s task will be to convince the electorate that he’s not a geriatric case one step away from a care home. It will not be easy for him to convince the younger electors that he “gets it”. But Harris will help him in that respect, which suggests that she will play a prominent role in the campaign. I doubt if Trump will get far in portraying him as a fanatical socialist who will undermine the foundations of American enterprise, but he will of course try. But he might do better with the ga-ga argument.

The stage is set. Biden has the opportunity to convince Americans that he’s the quiet man for a reason, not because he has nothing to say but because he’s keeping his powder dry.

A note of caution here: the last person in my country to call himself the quiet man was a certain Iain Duncan Smith, who was leader of the Conservative opposition for a while. His own party eventually realised that he was quiet because he was fundamentally vacuous, as he proved in his subsequent career. They very quickly kicked him out. Quiet must mean thoughtful, not brain dead.

From → Politics, USA

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