WASHINGTON — As a president who many voters said was too old for the job, Joe Biden is suddenly being cast as someone who can solve all the nation’s problems. Such is the nature of the American presidency in the eyes of its voters.
They now look to him not only to end the huge coronavirus pandemic paralyzing the country but also to solve the massive migration on the southern border of thousands of young immigrant children separated from their parents. He is the custodian of our concept of self-government that remains the envy of much of the rest of the free world.
But the American president is not a monarch; he is subject to its rules and limitations. Yet he has come to have taken on in many minds a sort of national father figure, for good or ill. The earliest occupants, from George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, as founders of the Republic, took on larger-than-life proportions.
Subsequent presidents often demonstrated more fallible characteristics, yet the presidency itself continued in generally great reverence if not unqualified esteem for the office. Abroad, at least until recently, the American president enjoyed broad respect among other heads of state, specially in Europe.
Joe Biden as vice president to President Barack Obama for eight years shared that sentiment, along with close personal relations with foreign leaders, consistent with his known gregarious nature. To the great and the commonplace alike, he always invited newcomers to “just call me Joe,” as he did to all fellow Delawareans.
Now, however, he may seem to others to be inordinately willing to take on the role of problem-solver-in-chief. He appeared ready at first to rush to the border with Mexico to take charge when he had plenty of experienced hands available. Such is the potential price for being widely regarded as Mr. Empathy to all.
It has been the same in his swift personal response to the latest horrible shooting in Boulder, Colorado, lamenting that “another American city has been scarred by gun violence and the resulting trauma.” He called on the Senate to pass two more background gun check bills passed in the House.
Biden runs the risk of falling short of expectations as they build up, especially if he continues to race from one national emergency to another. But as other longtime observers of the man often say when asked about his peripatetic nature, “That’s Joe.”
It must be noted that Biden has been in the presidency for barely two months, and can be expected eventually to settle into the long four-year term with greater reliance on his chosen White House aides of government experience. But his personal modus operandi of hands-on leadership remains a political strength.
It already has been a mark of the early Biden administration that it will be particularly sensitive to fast-breaking news events demanding the voice of the president expressing his personal concern. Equally important will be timely executive decisions aimed at remedial action addressing these critical tragedies.