Editor’s Note: Frida Ghitis, (@fridaghitis) a former CNN producer and correspondent, is a world affairs columnist. She is a weekly opinion contributor to CNN, a contributing columnist to The Washington Post and a columnist for World Politics Review. The views expressed in this commentary are her own. View more opinion on CNN.
President Joe Biden is facing the most difficult period of his still-young presidency, but you wouldn’t have known it watching the relaxed, optimistic, joke-cracking politician who took questions at the CNN town hall on Thursday night.
The Biden that appeared on that stage in Baltimore was the man who won the presidential election, a skilled politician, experienced at facing the voters, humane, caring, advocating plans that most Americans support.
Still, if he expected the performance to boost his sagging fortunes, it’s unlikely that it will. That’s not just because right-wing media will disparage his performance mercilessly, but because Americans will wait to see if he can produce results. Biden’s approval ratings are unlikely to reverse course before his big legislative proposals become law.
In the midst of arduous negotiations with other Democrats over the details of that massive, transformational legislative package, Biden showed that he is in full command of the complicated facts and the nuances of the many moving parts of the legislation, from corporate taxation to child tax credits, from financial support for community colleges to payments for hearing aids.
He interspersed details about the ongoing talks with moderate senators who object to parts of the plan, with his trademark displays of humanity and empathy, along with a refreshing dose of witticism, including some self-deprecating humor. Biden was not just comfortable in that setting. He was downright funny. But he was also listening and connecting with the audience.
When a questioner talked about the struggles of caring for her aging parents with dementia, he said, “If my mom were here, she would say you’re a good daughter.” He quipped that first lady Jill Biden, who teaches at a community college, kicked him out of the bedroom for dropping funding for free community college from the plan, but vowed to keep fighting to make it happen. And he showed he’s looking at matters beyond the broadly defined infrastructure items occupying most of his time these days.
He revealed he may deploy the National Guard to help tackle supply chain problems, particularly the offloading of cargo ships, and he made some remarkably strong statements on foreign policy. When asked if the U.S. would defend Taiwan from China if needed, he did not hesitate. “Yes,” he said, “We have a commitment to do that.”
In a polarized country, with a right-wing media machine backing the anti-Biden forces, I don’t expect many on Fox News, much less its smaller Trumpist competitors, will acknowledge that Biden was coherent, articulate, and in command of complicated facts. Instead, I suspect audiences will watch mostly tendentiously edited clips of Biden stammering and stuttering, as evidence that he’s not up to the job.
In the end, Biden’s political standing will depend not on the impact of the town hall, but on the success of his negotiations to pass his legislative agenda.
Biden sounded optimistic about that. Maybe that’s why he was in such a good mood.