President Joe Biden walks down the stairs of Air Force One at Ben-Gurion Airport and all I can think is “Please don’t let him stumble.” He gives an interview to star anchorwoman Yonit Levy and my stomach is in knots: Don’t let him get confused, don’t let him stutter, don’t let him say anything out of place. Thank heaven it’s over.
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At Yad Vashem, Biden speaks with two Holocaust survivors. When he leans over toward them, I hold my breath – just don’t let him lose his balance. My anxiety is stoked by every one of his appearances; the only thing that calms me down is the thought that Biden isn’t alone, that he has a lot of people around him, a whole apparatus that makes up “Biden.”
Yet I can’t help but wonder: What does it say that the “most powerful man in the world” projects weakness so strongly that it even reaches me, a random TV viewer in Israel? If I feel it, what does the world feel?
What does Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei think when he sees Biden? What goes through Vladimir Putin’s mind? (Well, we found out when he allowed himself to invade Ukraine.) How does Biden’s weakness make an impact on China’s president? What new caprice does it put in the head of North Korea’s Kim Jong un?
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Prime Minister Yair Lapid reminded Biden that when the two men met eight years ago, Biden told him: “If I had your hair I’d be president by now,” and Lapid replied: “If I had your height I’d be prime minister by now.” Biden laughed and Lapid was pleased with himself. This of course is a quintessential "Lapidism" that could be defined as a variation on the concept of symmetry.
But I’m not sure that Biden liked the story. After all, what’s the moral here – that the two men are the same? That both made it even though they’re not the stuff of leaders? Both took over because they inherited the no-man’s-lands left behind by Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu? “You too are temporary like me?” A man who has lost his hairdo and a man vertically impaired are the U.S. president and Israeli prime minister?
This story devalues Biden, who unlike Lapid has won a (presidential) election and has decades of political experience behind him. So I wasn’t surprised to see Biden treat Lapid coolly, as someone trying to maintain a distance and stress the height difference. And it’s clear to me why he approached Netanyahu and told him “I love you.” Say what you will about Netanyahu, but even if he’s a (political) enemy, he’s still someone of a similar rank.
In her interview, Levy reminded Biden of the story about how when he was only 18 he declared that he wanted to be president – trying maybe to make the American Dream come true: Anyone can be anything if they want it enough.
Biden tried to tell a different story: about an idealistic young man who rose to the call to become a leader. You can tell he doesn’t like the story attributing his success to willpower. You can understand him. Responsible people don’t want to find themselves in a position they’re not meant to fill, even if they really, really want the job.
Which brings me back to Lapid and the height issue that troubled him (which for the sake of this article I’m treating metaphorically).
Yes, through willpower Lapid has realized his dream of becoming prime minister, allegedly despite his inherent unsuitability. In recent decades we’ve been told to fake it till you make it. Lapid is undoubtedly a great mimic. Now all that’s left to see is whether that’s enough for him not only to become prime minister but also to be prime minister.