By John F. Di Leo -
Actress Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Uhura on the original Star Trek television series in the 1960s, passed away over the weekend at 89. The Hollywood Reporter published an obituary including many celebrity comments and tweets in her memory, and the article began as follows:
Among those paying tribute to Nichols was President Joe Biden, who praised her as a “trailblazer of stage and screen who redefined what is possible for Black Americans and women.” His statement continued about her Star Trek role, “With a defining dignity and authority, she helped tell a central story that reimagined scientific pursuits and discoveries. And she continued this legacy by going on to work with NASA to empower generations of Americans from every background to reach for the stars and beyond.” – from the Hollywood Reporter, July 31, AD 2022
We won’t quibble with the content of that statement. She was a fine actress; may she rest in peace.
But something else about that statement doesn’t ring true. While a sensible, coherent statement for a media critic or pundit to make, this statement came from the White House; it was attributed to Joe Biden.
Now, it is not unusual for busy politicians, such as presidents and cabinet members, to have staff members who write their speeches for them. And in addition to speechwriters, top politicians and other famous people often have social media representatives nowadays, who keep track of the news for them and issue tweets or comments on their bosses’ behalf.
While this fact may seem shady at first blush, it is understandable. It is simply impossible for a busy CEO or powerbroker to keep up with every issue in the world, every development, and especially, every obituary. If you can afford staff for that, you do.
That being said…
Look back on Joe Biden’s alleged comments on the death of Nichelle Nichols. Think of what you know of her, and think of what you know of him.
Remember, Joe Biden did not grow up with Star Trek; he was an adult already when the iconic series began.
Ask yourself: how does Joe Biden talk, in real life?
He doesn’t have much of a vocabulary; he always graduated at the bottom of his class; he even flunked third grade. He loses his temper at questioners regularly, and even when he doesn’t, and this is critical, he loses his temper with himself.
As with most people suffering the awful progression of dementia, you can see Joe Biden stare at his Teleprompter or his notes, become angry at himself for losing his place or forgetting the subject at hand. He peppers his delivery with phrases like “Come on, man!” and “You know, the thing…”
Now for context… One of the best books ever written about the White House is Peggy Noonan’s wonderful memoir of her service in the Reagan administration, “What I Saw at the Revolution.”
In that book, we gain an inside view of the speechwriting process. We see how the staff of a real president, first lady, or cabinet secretary tries their best not only to meet the needs of the day, enunciating administration policy, for example, sharing the official talking points on the subject at hand… But also in understanding their bosses’ voice, and writing in the same way the boss would, if the boss had the time to do his or her own writing.
President Reagan may have been an extreme example, because he himself was truly a great communicator, so he took a greater interest than some might,in how his speeches were written for him.
We Reaganites remember Peggy Noonan‘s detailed descriptions of the process that went into the speech at the Berlin wall, the speech at Pointe du Hoc, and in particular, the inspirational, reverential speech to the nation the followed the Challenger disaster.
The speechwriters would send the president a draft, and he would make notes all over it, then send it back. Back and forth the draft would go, between speechwriter and president, usually with additional stops in the policy teams of affected federal departments.
The writers took pride in mimicking the President’s cadence, using the president’s vocabulary, ensuring that his comments would be as authentic as if he were speaking off the cuff, himself.
Now. Read these comments on the death of Nichelle Nichols, and you get none of that flavor. It doesn’t sound remotely like Joe Biden. He doesn’t talk that way; he certainly doesn’t think that way.
There is no hint that the writer had ever met or even heard Joe Biden. There is no chance on earth that Biden responded that way to the news of her death; it leaves one wondering if Biden’s office was even consulted, or if he was even notified of her passing at all… or if he would have even recognized her name.
It’s easy to dismiss an incident like this. The perfunctory comments on the passing of an aged actress, however much of a trailblazer she may have been, are really not important, in the grand scheme of things. Her obituaries include the commentary of dozens of fellow actors and producers, fellow pop culture icons and television writers. The late Ms. Nichols doesn’t suffer from the fact that Joe Biden didn’t really say the comments that were attributed to him.
But what does this say about our culture, that so obvious a misattribution would go out with Mr. Biden’s name on it?
One wonders, do they assume no one would notice? Perhaps they think to themselves, “Entertainment readers are clueless; people will never notice that it doesn’t really sound anything like him.”
Or do they simply not care, because they themselves think such issues are unimportant? “People die all the time; it’s just an obituary, I’ll bat this out and head out to lunch…”
Or maybe they delight in the power of being able to say what they really think about the subject, regardless of what their boss would say. “She meant a lot to me; I’ll say what I think; nobody will ever know it wasn’t really him that said it.”
I wonder, but I do not know.
However… the questions we must ask, as readers, as voters, as citizens of a sovereign nation with this man in the driver’s seat, are different indeed.
We must ask ourselves, if the White House cares so little for authenticity when writing about something so relatively minor, how different is their attitude when writing about things that really matter? Can we trust what they say about the economy? About society? Foreign policy? Security?
And we must also ask a different question, one that comes down to human nature.
Why was it that Ronald Reagan inspired such support, such dedication, such effort, in his speechwriting team, that they worked so hard to get his voice right? Reagan’s speechwriters respected their boss; they wanted to make him proud of his team, and they wanted to help make the nation proud of its president.
Why doesn’t the Biden staff appear to have that same effort?
The fact that we don’t see that kind of dedication, that kind of care, in Joe Biden‘s own team today, should worry us most of all.
Copyright 2022 John F. Di Leo
John F. Di Leo is a Chicagoland-based trade compliance trainer and transportation manager, writer, and actor. A one-time county chairman of the Milwaukee County Republican Party, he has been writing regularly for Illinois Review since 2009, including such columns as The Chicago Dictionary, Volumes One through Six.
A collection of John’s Illinois Review articles about vote fraud, The Tales of Little Pavel, and his 2021 political satires about current events, Evening Soup with Basement Joe, Volumes One and Two, are available, in either paperback or eBook, only on Amazon.
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Amen, and AMEN!