Biden, the cigar store Indian of the White House
Watching Biden's first official address to the nation on Thursday night, I was reminded of nothing so much as the lifelike carved wooden Indians that, beginning in the 19th century, used to grace the sidewalk in front of the tobacconist's store. While they advertised a product, as actual Native Americans, they were nothing but blank fakes. They certainly weren't the real thing — and in 2021, there's nothing real about Biden.
You can still find lots of these "cigar store Indians" for sale online, many of them new, so I guess they haven't yet been canceled. They operated as a reminder to customers, many of whom used to be illiterate, that tobacco originated with the Native Americans. The product was so alien to Europeans that, when Native Americans first gave it to them as a gift, they threw it away, as they didn't know what to do with it.
We've taken quite the journey when it comes to tobacco over the last couple of centuries, but we're just starting the journey with our newest cigar store Indian. Why do I say that? Because that's what our President reminded me of on Thursday. Animated? Not really! Expressive? Hardly! Wooden would be the better descriptor.
We Americans haven't yet figured out what to do with Biden. Do we treat him as we would a cherished but mentally dimming granddad? Do we empathetically excuse his lack of grasp of the basics of his job? Do we ignore his lack of engagement? Do we start making noise about trotting out the doctors and getting him examined?
It was strange watching our wooden Indian speak, totally without facial expression, totally unaware that he was glibly lying, totally without guile, and seemingly sincere in his effort to do his job persuading us about the great things he was doing for us. He ignored all other issues than the one, COVID, that he was single-mindedly addressing. He lied again and again but did so with a sincerity indicating that he didn't grasp the meaning of his own speech.
I couldn't help comparing Biden's usefulness to those figures back in the old days. They attracted people into the store. They were a successful gimmick. Biden has a similar purpose. He's an empty vessel, out front, where everyone can see him. He doesn't engage with his audience, any more than those wooden figures could.
The real powers in the White House can dress him up and then do whatever they do to make sure he's awake. They can train him to read the Jumbotron teleprompter he apparently needs as the words slowly scroll by.
He does his part, for sure. He reads a script, slowly, precisely, as he's been trained. It's a script clearly written by someone else. But you can see it's all hollow. You know he's not fully grasping what he's saying. You know because he can lie without even blinking.
His statements indicated that when he took office, there was basically no vaccine. That the dissemination of all those millions of doses was because of him. He didn't even acknowledge Operation Warp Speed, or the 100,000,000 doses Trump bought from the various companies. The distribution platform was not what he set up; it was Trump's. Joe took all the credit.
Biden also went to great lengths to be gracious about us maybe getting to have the 4th of July with our family. He seemed unaware that the family has been in close contact for a while now, in most of the country.
Finally, Biden pushed the narrative of white supremacists beating on Chinese-Americans, because, I guess, they're all Trump-followers who blame the Chinese (or other Asians) in this country for the virus. Too bad that every single video I've seen of Asians being beaten up features a person with distinctive non-white skin color, closer to mahogany, in fact, as the aggressor.
Being able to lie without blinking, without a tell, can indicate several things. In Biden's case, the most obvious choices are that he's a psychopath who has no conscience at all or he is a person who doesn't know what is real anymore because of dementia.
It's no wonder the powers in the White House haven't trotted Joe out for even a pre-scripted news conference. They can't trust him to stick to the script. They want their cigar store Indian, and he works so well in that role that it's hard to remember that he isn't actually made of wood. If he were, he'd probably be Pinocchio, with his nose grown ten feet out in front of him.
Image: Cigar Store Indian by Glen Edelson. CC BY 2.0.