Articles

Biden II: Hollywood Searches for the Plot

June 29, 2023
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President Biden has a problem. In the RealClearPolitics average of recent polls, his favorable rating is 42.5%. The specifics look worse: His job approval on foreign affairs is 40.7%, on the economy 38.3%, on crime 37.3%, on immigration 33%, and on inflation 32.6%. To top it off, Donald Trump, who’s been indicted twice, leads Mr. Biden 44.1% to 43.5%.

Don’t worry, Democrats. Hollywood is riding to the rescue! In addition to being DreamWorks Animation’s CEO and a movie-making legend, Jeffrey Katzenberg is one of the Biden campaign’s seven national co-chairmen. Now he and George Clooney have messaging advice for Team Biden—turn the president’s greatest weakness into his strength.

Though a May ABC poll found that 68% of Americans think Mr. Biden, who will turn 82 shortly after the 2024 election, is too old to be president, Mr. Katzenberg suggests that Mr. Biden embrace his age as evidence of wisdom and maturity and respond to questions about it with humor. 

If Harrison Ford at 80 can star in the new Indiana Jones movie (“Dial of Destiny” is out this Friday) and Mick Jagger can celebrate six decades with the Rolling Stones by strutting across concert stages singing “Start Me Up,” why should Mr. Biden’s age hold him back? The president can run in the mold of Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi in “Star Wars” or Sean Connery as John Patrick Mason in “The Rock,” a man whose years and evident abilities have made him a wise and reliable badass. Or so the theory runs.

In my political consulting years, I liked finding how an opposing candidate’s supposed strength was really a weakness. It’s an interesting twist to emphasize an obvious weakness in an attempt to flip it to a positive. But what works in showbiz doesn’t always work in politics. 

Some 80-year-olds still have what it takes to film a movie, but Mr. Biden can’t rely on retakes or editing. He has no computer-generated imagery or stunt doubles. Voters can see his increasing difficulty communicating and growing frailty. 

Nor can Mr. Biden rely on the familiarity of performing the same song and concert routine he’s done for a lifetime. As president, every day brings new challenges, different problems, unfamiliar settings and unrelenting pressure.

There are leaders sharp as a tack at 100 (think Henry Kissinger). But Mr. Biden’s age problem isn’t that it’s merely a GOP talking point; it’s reality. It’s simply a fact that the president isn’t at the top of his game, or close to it. His utterances often generate concern, even among supporters. There’s no reason to think things will get better and every reason to believe they’ll get worse.

Messrs. Katzenberg and Clooney’s advice might work if life were a little more like television and movies, in which voters are often depicted as easily misled by convoluted political theatrics. 

Take “The Candidate” (1972), starring Robert Redford as Bill McKay, an idealistic environmental lawyer recruited to challenge a popular California Republican senator. Guided by a Machiavellian consultant, Mr. McKay is told to trim his views and offer voters pablum. Aided by a sleazy union boss and boosted by the endorsement of his estranged father, a respected former governor, Mr. McKay wins. It’s all artifice and fraud. “What do we do now?” is the movie’s final line.

President Biden has a problem. In the RealClearPolitics average of recent polls, his favorable rating is 42.5%. The specifics look worse: His job approval on foreign affairs is 40.7%, on the economy 38.3%, on crime 37.3%, on immigration 33%, and on inflation 32.6%. To top it off, Donald Trump, who’s been indicted twice, leads Mr. Biden 44.1% to 43.5%.

Don’t worry, Democrats. Hollywood is riding to the rescue! In addition to being DreamWorks Animation’s CEO and a movie-making legend, Jeffrey Katzenberg is one of the Biden campaign’s seven national co-chairmen. Now he and George Clooney have messaging advice for Team Biden—turn the president’s greatest weakness into his strength.

Though a May ABC poll found that 68% of Americans think Mr. Biden, who will turn 82 shortly after the 2024 election, is too old to be president, Mr. Katzenberg suggests that Mr. Biden embrace his age as evidence of wisdom and maturity and respond to questions about it with humor. 

Read More at the WSJ

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