“Sleepy Joe Biden” is a derisive phrase to diminish Biden’s reputation, to call him old, slow, and boring. Boring isn’t necessarily bad, politically, but only if he’s boring for the right reasons. So far, the relative quiet of his administration compared to the last one isn’t very reassuring.
Often, when people don’t care about politics, it’s because they don’t have to. That’s a habit that too many Americans are comfortable with. The late former prime minister of Canada Pierre Trudeau once said, “Living next to [America] is in some ways like sleeping with an elephant. No matter how friendly and even-tempered is the beast, if I can call it that, one is affected by every twitch and grunt.”
Americans don’t have to pay attention, and we Canadians are privileged in that, as long-time allies, we only have to feel the twitches.
We had a little taste of that during the trade spats between the Canadian and U.S. governments over the past few years. While the broader economic consequences are hard to grasp at a small scale, these little disputes over prestige, machismo, and saving face have a punishing impact on day to day life. Something as simple as Pokemon cards have a 10% tariff in Canada in response to American tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum.
Other nations feel more than a twitch. Yemen faces a largely man-made famine at the scale of the infamous Ethiopian famine of the ’80s. Biden announced a lukewarm reduction in sales of arms to regrettable ally Saudi Arabia and a limit to activity in Yemen. Of course, the U.S. will still provide “relevant” arms to support “defensive” Saudi operations.
At the border, Biden is already pushing back plans for immigration reform. He’s asked for patience, but the 70,000 migrants per month for the last four months don’t have time to wait. At least Biden decided to no longer expel children, although in response to the overflow of minors in custody the government has started putting them in shelters that aren’t even state-licensed.
So Sleepy Joe hasn’t changed all that much. And that’s concerning, because there’s a lot worth changing. But people don’t care about the necessary, quiet fixes to bureaucracy and regulation that prop up so much of the country. People don’t notice when those fixes are dismantled either, like the removal of protection for 35 million acres of land during the Trump administration.
In his campaign, Biden himself said that when he was elected, “nothing would fundamentally change.” That’s not boring. That’s being content and complicit. Unfortunately, that leaves us in a status quo that makes it easy to forget the real effects of obscure policy. I want nothing more than for President Biden’s administration to be pleasantly boring. It’s certainly better than a president ranting on Twitter. But so far, the only reason to be bored with Biden is if you don’t have to care about everything that’s still going wrong.