Shortly after he became president, Gerald Ford popped some English muffins into a toaster in a second-floor White House kitchen–in full view of a phalanx of photographers.
This breakfast moment produced a wave of stories about how Jerry was a regular guy, genial and unassuming, not like the dark and imperious Richard Nixon–exactly as the accidental president had intended. He wanted to signal a return to normalcy after what he called the national nightmare of Watergate.
Now the press is giving the Bidens the English-muffin treatment. And the goal is as obvious as it was 46 years ago–in this case to paint a highly flattering comparison with the Trumps.
Now it’s true that Joe Biden is a warm and empathetic person who thrives on human contact, regardless of what you think of his politics or his fledgling presidency. I’ve observed him in enough situations over the decades I’ve covered him–such as running around a vice-presidential press party spraying kids with a super-soaker–to know it’s not an act. Jill Biden has the welcoming presence of a teacher and their 43-year marriage is obviously strong.
But the nutritional content of some recent stories is like saccharine. It’s not for nothing that such features are known as “beat sweeteners” to help reporters get access. Even their dogs get good press–with the inevitable note that Donald Trump didn’t have a dog, or even a cat.
What such pieces are really saying is that we can all breathe a sigh of relief that the Trumps are gone–and we embrace the Bidens, even if they’re just doing the ordinary things that regular people do.
Politico says the new first couple is trying to “heal a hurting nation” by trying “a little tenderness.”
They are doing this through “frequent public displays of affection,” from a “fleeting kiss” to a “morning stroll” among Valentine’s candy hearts. The president even told reporters, “I’m crazy about her, man.”
In case anyone missed the point, Politico says these “romantic gestures” are “even more pronounced in contrast to Donald and Melania Trump — whose sometimes chilly public interactions shattered the steady cultural progression of first couples growing increasingly comfortable expressing affection in front of the cameras.”
And the cosmic view: “Presidential scholars and relationship experts agree that the first couple’s PDA carries a great deal of unspoken significance for Americans.”
The Washington Post, not to be outdone, broke the news yesterday that Jill Biden had lit up the Internet…by wearing a scrunchie.
But the hair-management news wasn’t reported without context: Melania Trump, we are informed, “once made headlines for wearing a $51,000 Dolce & Gabbana multicolored floral jacket.” Now the lowly scrunchie signals a “return to normalcy.” We get it: the Trumps are ultra-rich, the Bidens not so much, and Melania is a former fashion model.
“After four highly choreographed and manicured years, Jill Biden’s laissez-faire approach to her public image and affectionate relationship with her husband may foreshadow a different approach to the traditionally staid and formal office of the first lady.”
One Post author is quoted as saying that “Melania Trump was the most put-together person and Jill comes across as a relatable mom, teacher, wife and woman–she’s relatable in a way that Melania never was.”
CNN, in a piece on Biden’s daily schedule, also observes that “more so than any recent first couple, Joe and Jill Biden have demonstrated a publicly affectionate relationship, one that extends to private moments spent together in the White House residence.”
Oh, and the president played Mario Kart with his granddaughter over the weekend at Camp David. What could be more normal than that?
Obviously, there is public interest in a new president and his family, even if the Oval Office occupant has been in national politics for nearly half a century. People want to know how he spends his day and his free time. And there are stark cultural differences between the former president and the man who defeated him.
But the affectionate tone of these recent stories is a far cry from the initial coverage of Trump. The same goes for the gauzy People cover story on the Biden family, a gift never bestowed on the Trumps. And that fuels the feeling in a major chunk of the country that the new first family, however nice they may be, is already benefitting from coverage as buttery as an English muffin.