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Word Salad From the White House – A Failure to Communicate

Between Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, the White House comms people have their hands full.

In the classic 1967 movie, Cool Hand Luke, starring Paul Newman, The Captain – in charge of the convict labor crew – uttered the famous line, “what we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” In 2022, how tough is it to be the person handling White House communications? Pretty tough indeed, it’s fair to say – especially when the two most senior elected officials in the country, the chief executive, and his number two, are so inept at verbal communication that getting a clear and rational message out to the public is a constant struggle. Word salad is now a term often associated with Kamala Harris, and her boss is no better, though his issue is of a different nature. Between the two of them, they have probably made White House press secretary and communications director the two most challenging jobs in Washington, DC.

[signups align=”right”]Kate Bedingfield is currently Mr. Biden’s communications director, but she is on her way out the door. That’s big news, as Bedingfield is a long-time aide to Biden, even serving as his comms chief when he was Barack Obama’s vice president. Fox News reports that she is leaving to “spend more time with her young children and her husband.” It sounds like an old and tired excuse, though it could, of course, be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. On the other hand, one can reasonably speculate that Ms. Bedingfield has finally realized how incongruous it is to put “White House” and “communications director” in the same sentence. It’s as tricky a job as being president of a Trappist monk debate club or working as an outdoor activities director for an agoraphobics’ support group.

Word Soup

Biden stumbles and slurs his way through public remarks, often finding words difficult to pronounce or reading instructions off the teleprompter. His condition appears to be some form of cognitive decline – a theory supported by his tendency to wander off, confuse ideas, and talk in non-sequiturs.

Covering for him is a tough job. White House Assistant Press Secretary Emilie Simons recently found that out the hard way. Twitter lit up when Mr. Biden, while delivering remarks about the abortion-related executive order he was about to sign, said, “end of quote. Repeat the line.” These were clearly directions meant for him and not part of his address. When one Twitter user pointed out the gaffe, Simons responded, “No. He said, ‘let me repeat that line.’” Simons was promptly roasted because a careful review of the video shows, without question, that Mr. Biden’s exact words were, “Repeat the line.” That did not stop the White House from altering the transcript of Biden’s remarks to reflect Simons’ false claim. Moreover, Mr. Biden did not, in fact, repeat the line. Generally, one does not tend to say, “let me repeat that line” and then not – well – repeat the line.

A Word Salad Buffet

Harris, on the other hand, does not show signs of cognitive decline, yet still manages to make simple communication an unrealized ambition. During a Jan. 13 interview on NBC News, Harris was asked if the White House was having doubts about its strategy for tackling COVID-19. She got out the tongs and dished up a word salad: “It’s time for us to do what we have been doing and that time is every day. Every day it is time for us to agree that there are things and tools that are available to us to slow this thing down.” Brilliant.

In March, the veep was on a telephone interview with The Morning Hustle radio show when she was asked to explain, “in layman’s terms,” what was going on in Ukraine. “So, Ukraine is a country in Europe,” she began, not sounding at all confident that she had her geography right. “It exists next to another country called Russia. Russia is a bigger country – Russia is a powerful country. Russia decided to invade a smaller country called Ukraine. So, basically, that’s wrong.” Astounding.

Kamala Harris and Joe Biden word salad

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Then, on July 8, Harris was interviewed by Robert Costa from CBS News. Costa asked her why congressional Democrats had failed to codify into law the federal abortion protections established by the now-defunct Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. “I think that to be very honest with you, I do believe that we should have rightly believed, but we certainly believe that certain issues are just settled. Certain issues are just settled,” she replied. In fairness, this pronouncement was decipherable – just about.

Harris was trying to claim that her party had not moved on abortion legislation because they believed Roe, as decided by the Supreme Court, was settled. It was a terrible excuse since many predicted that a conservative majority on the court would likely nix the 1973 decision as soon as they heard a case that would give them the opportunity to do so. But still, the tortured and twisted verbiage.

One more example, though the list has not been exhausted: On July 10, while appearing on CBS News’ Face the Nation, Harris railed against Second Amendment rights and, specifically, against so-called assault weapons – military-style semi-automatic rifles she inaccurately described as “weapons of war.” It was another treat: “[B]ecause those weapons are available, and we have to stop allowing those weapons to be available to civilians living in communities of people who have a right to believe that they are not in a war zone.” Civilians living in communities of people? Who would have thought?

The Biden-Harris gaffe machine certainly does not make it easy for a lowly communications maven to present the White House as a bastion of confidence and competency. Luckily for everyone at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and the US Naval Observatory, the ever-loyal leftist media are also working overtime to run cover for the miscommunicators-in-chief. Now everyone understands why Biden holed up in his basement for most of the 2020 presidential campaign and why Harris dropped out of the Democratic Party primaries before winning even a single delegate. But this is not a good look for the supposed leader of the free world and the woman a heartbeat away from the Oval Office. The Captain was right; what we have here is, indeed, failure to communicate – or perhaps just failure.

Read More From Graham J Noble

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