Someday, history’s chroniclers will label this November as the month when America’s political elites and also America’s just plain people of the left, center and right suddenly began trying to see beyond the horizon -- urgently hoping to discover their next generation of leaders.
Looking right, we are seeing the Trumpers looking beyond Trump. Looking a bit to the left of them, we are seeing the Never Trumpers, Republicans who are still sane and patriotic; but now they are wondering if maybe they can settle for a little less. Maybe a new generation someone who is just a Not-Quite Trump, but merely nasty. Can we say yes to a Ron DeSantis (who once said of Dr. Anthony Fauci: “Someone needs to grab that little elf and chuck him across the Potomac”) -- and still look in our bathroom mirror?
We are seeing the “Fire Pelosi!” zealots celebrating the fact that Nancy Pelosi is no longer the House speaker. But as we see them plotting new ways of inflicting payback plus impeachment vengeance, it seems certain that their zealotry will spawn a Hire Pelosi next generation movement.
Now, looking further left, we see increasing numbers of Joe Biden supporters who don’t want to insult their leader, but are also sneaking peeks ahead. They hope, with new urgency, they can discover their next generation of presidential quality leaders -- ones who will have all the experience they need, but none of their baggage (a word that, appropriately, ends in “age”).
And this past week, many Democrats and independents are worrying about something they saw on their news screens that has been little mentioned -- but dare not be ignored. (And here I am getting into some journalism I don’t like to report -- because, as a young reporter, I got to know a young senator named Joe Biden quite well. Occasionally I rode with him on his nightly train commute to Wilmington, Delaware, just so we could talk. When he got off, I crossed the tracks and caught the next train home. But this week I saw some things I found troubling.)
President Biden’s team had scheduled him on a globe-circling week of red-eye, nighttime flights to three back-to-back-to-back world summits. It was the sort of no-rest schedule President Richard Nixon, as a 56-year-old president, forbid his staff to schedule.)
Nov. 10: Biden, just days before turning 80, flew all night to Egypt. Nov. 11: He landed, addressed a global climate summit, then then flew all night to Cambodia. Nov. 12: He landed, spoke to the ASEAN summit.
Yup, Biden began by thanking his host: “I want to thank the prime minister of -- for Colombia’s leadership in the ASEAN -- as ASEAN chair and for hosting all of us.” Oh no, Mister Joe -- it’s Cambodia, not Colombia.
The New York Times dutifully reported the gaffe, but preceded it with this explanatory context: “It was his second overnight flight in two days, and though the president did not appear publicly in Phnom Penh until late afternoon, the travel seemed to be taking a toll.”
But that also failed to tell readers the full story. Two days earlier, a fully rested Biden had made the same gaffe while talking to reporters on the South Lawn, before boarding his helicopter. He said he’d be flying to Egypt and “then heading over to Colombia and then -- I mean, Cambodia. I was thinking -- I’m thinking the Western Hemisphere. And then off to Indonesia.”
Several days later, as Biden was in Bali, Indonesia, at the G-20 summit of leaders of the world’s largest economies, I saw something on TV I’d never seen in decades of covering these summits. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, looking quite serious, pulled up a chair and sat just inches from Biden’s left shoulder while the president was speaking. Blinken leaned in and seemed to be monitoring Biden’s text. After that session, Biden’s aides announced he was skipping the traditional gala dinner for unspecified reasons.
Biden’s two Colombia/Cambodia gaffes were widely reported internationally. Some US media mentioned the gaffes, others didn’t. Would the coverage have been as skimpy if the gaffes were uttered by Biden’s predecessor? We’ll never know. But this I do know -- what is happening isn’t necessarily media bias, because of two factors.
One: Biden also spent a lot of time at these summits discussing the various global issues in great detail.
Two: The 40-year-old senator I rode the rails with ages ago was already earning his reputation for blurting gaffes. We thought it was just Joe being Joe.
Today, I have no idea how much extra “age” baggage -- if any! -- Joe has acquired in his annual travels around the sun. But it may be something Joe and Jill need to be talking about during this holiday season.
Martin Schram, an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service, is a veteran Washington journalist, author and TV documentary executive. -- Ed.
(Tribune Content Agency)