President Joe Biden’s speech Saturday night at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner (WHCD) was a “tour de force.” And through it all, Biden reminded us both why he won in 2020 and why he will win again in 2024.
Biden seamlessly moved between serious comments such as demanding the release of journalists wrongfully detained and warning that our "democracy remains at risk" to poking fun at the media and himself.
Biden’s compassion was on display as well. We saw it when he delivered an emotional welcome to basketball star Brittney Griner who had been wrongly imprisoned by Russia, declaring, “I love this woman.” (What a contrast to the indicted Donald Trump who stated after Griner was released that she “hates our country.”)
He even closed the speech by putting on his famous Ray-Ban sunglasses to playfully transform into his “sinister” alter ego, “Dark Brandon”.
But Biden also very skillfully used comedy to take on the issue of his age head on. (There’s no denying that recent polls tell us some Americans have concerns about the age of the 80 year-old Biden as we head into the 2024 election.) He began by telling the journalists and others jammed into the Washington Hilton, “Look, I get that age is a completely reasonable issue." He then quipped, “It’s in everybody’s mind and by everyone, I mean the New York Times.” Biden jokingly added, “Headline: ‘Biden’s advanced age is a big issue. Trump’s, however, is not.’”
The President continued this theme joking, “You might think I don't like Rupert Murdoch. That's simply not true. How can I dislike a guy who makes me look like Harry Styles?" (Styles is a 29-year-old wildly famous singer and actor and Fox News’s Murdoch is 92 years-old)
But Biden was not close to being done, quipping: "Call me old, I call it being seasoned. You say I am ancient, I say I'm wise," Biden then joked: "You say I'm over the hill, Don Lemon would say, 'That's a man in his prime.'"
And earlier in his speech, Biden got big laughs with the line: “I believe in the First Amendment, not just because my good friend Jimmy Madison wrote it.” (Referring of course to James Madison, the “Father of the Constitution.”)
What Biden was doing is not only funny, but presidential history also tells us it’s the way to go to alleviate concerns some may have on this issue. After all, this is not the first-time the age of a president running for re-election was front and center. That happened in 1984 when 73 year-old President Ronald Reagan was locked in a re-election campaign against 56 year-old, former Vice President Walter Mondale. Reagan was the oldest President in U.S. history at the time and political commentators then—like today-- had raised Reagan’s advanced age and mental acuity.
For Reagan, that issue became even more acute in October 1984, after the first presidential debate. Many viewed Reagan as being tired and confused during the debate, including some Republicans.
That is when a famous moment in presidential debate history took place. At the second presidential debate, Henry Trehwitt, the diplomatic correspondent of The Baltimore Sun asked Reagan point blank: “You already are the oldest president in history. And some of your staff say you were tired after your most recent [debating] encounter with Mr. Mondale.” He then queried if Reagan had any doubts about being able to do the job for four more years.
In response, Reagan famously responded: “I want you to know that also I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent’s youth, and inexperience.” And Boom, the debate audience--and even his opponent Mondale--roared with laughter.
Reagan had used comedy—as opposed to serious response that could make him appear defensive—to respond to the question. After this second debate, Reagan’s poll numbers rebounded and he went on to easily win re-election.
Biden should continue what he started at the WHCD on the 2024 campaign trial. Own the issue of age using comedy. First, this shows voters that Biden is not running from it but addressing his age in a playful way. Second, being funny not only makes a person more likeable it also is a display of a great deal of mental acumen. (I’m not saying that because I’ve been a comedian for years in addition to working in the media!) It’s a big part of why Reagan’s joke worked so well in helping his campaign.
Finally, this type of self-deprecating humor shows a level of security and confidence as a person. What a great contrast to Biden’s potential 2024 opponent Donald Trump who was too thin-skinned to even attend the WHCDs while he was President and who has long lashed out at comedians and comedy shows like Saturday Night Live for daring to mock him.
Biden also has something else in common with Reagan. At about this same time in his first term, Reagan’s approval rating was 41 percent per a Washington Post-ABC News poll. Currently, Biden’s approval rating in the CNN poll of polls is exactly the same. Reagan went on to win 49 of 50 states in the 1984 election. That result seems out of the question in today’s politically polarized nation—although we have never had an election when a presidential candidate was under indictment like Trump!
The truth is Biden knows how to deliver a joke. And I truly believe that if you get people to laugh with you, you can get them to vote for you.
For those who want a quick dose of humor here I am as part of MSNBC’s White House Correspondents Dinner coverage Saturday night joking that I was only there to audition for a job hosting on another network. Can you guess the network?!
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Being able to poke fun at one's self, if nothing else, shows a health sense of identity. Trump could never tolerate mocking and would NEVER poke fun at himself. We were worse as a nation for this amazing lack of humanity.
Do I wish Joe Biden was younger? Yes!… and so does he. But his age will not stop me from proudly voting for him in 2024. Every news story about his re-election has the stupid ageist thing front and center. But the news stories about tRump seldom have his history of criminality front and center. MSM is doing the county a disservice by not emphasizing the bad character of tRump.