United States President Joe Biden announced on May 5 that press secretary Jen Psaki would be leaving the White House. Her replacement would be principal deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, who assumed the role on May 13.
Psaki, a longtime Democratic politico who worked in former President Barack Obama’s White House as communications director and deputy press secretary, is rumoured to be heading to MSNBC. She was emotional in introducing her successor, who also worked in the Obama administration, served as Vice-President Kamala Harris’s chief of staff and stepped into her speaking role on several occasions.
Psaki described Jean-Pierre as her “partner in truth.” The outgoing press secretary also said: “She is passionate. She is smart, and she has a moral core that makes her not just a great colleague but an amazing mom and human. Plus, she has a great sense of humour.”
The mostly liberal press corps and American progressives were all aflutter at this news. The rest of us just shrugged and moved on with our day.
A new press secretary has no effect on White House messaging. Jean-Pierre’s role, like Psaki’s, is to convey the president’s political and economic agenda to the mainstream media. She will take questions at White House press conferences and provide answers to the best of her ability. It’s not to craft or modify policy on the fly. She may have a hand in this behind the scenes, but that role would never be revealed in public.
In many ways, it’s similar to my old role as a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper. The main difference is that I crafted his words behind the scenes and away from the glare of the cameras.
Psaki and Jean-Pierre are both liberal Democrats and espouse a similar political message to the Biden administration. If that’s the sort of thing you like, it’s business as usual. If you reject this worldview and would prefer to see a conservative Republican (or a moderate Republican) in the White House, then it’s also business as usual.
Meanwhile, Psaki didn’t distinguish herself as a top-tier press secretary in her relatively short tenure. She was able to control the room better than some of her predecessors but didn’t have real presence or any memorable moments. She wasn’t as combative as some who’ve held the position but threw out the usual array of partisan jabs that rarely counted as zingers. She seemed well-prepared to handle question-and-answer sessions but often had dull, long-winded answers that rarely tied up loose ends.
There have been talented Republican (George E. Akerson, Marlin Fitzwater, Ari Fleischer and Scott McClellan) and Democratic (Pierre Salinger, Bill Moyers, Dee Dee Myers and Jay Carney) press secretaries in U.S. political history. Although some people, such as former Fox News and CNN+ host Chris Wallace, suggest Psaki should be on that list, I’m afraid I don’t see it.
As well, plenty of liberals and progressives are focusing on Jean-Pierre being the first African-American and LGBTQ+ member to hold the role of press secretary. It’s a unique moment in history, to be sure. At the same time, it doesn’t mean anything in terms of her skills, talents, capabilities and job performance.
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The left traditionally loves to fixate on the façade of politics, which includes the need to break barriers and announce it on the national and international stage. The right traditionally prefers to focus on the reality of politics, which includes hiring the most qualified person for a job – irrespective of race, religion, gender and sexual orientation. It’s a significant difference between the two political camps and helps explain why the symbolism of certain people and events is viewed and interpreted in different ways.
Monday was Jean-Pierre’s first day as press secretary. She focused on her background as a “Black, gay, immigrant woman” and “representation does matter” to the Biden administration. She also told reporters at her first briefing session that she would “work every day to continue to ensure we are meeting the president’s high expectation of truth, honesty and transparency.”
Unsurprisingly, the atmosphere under Jean-Pierre’s watch was a near carbon copy of Psaki’s. There were slight differences in speaking style and mannerisms, but it mostly contained the same dull, robot-like responses and messaging.
What does this mean going forward?
To take a line from The Who’s classic song Won’t Get Fooled Again, “Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss.”
Michael Taube, a Troy Media syndicated columnist and Washington Times contributor, was a speechwriter for former prime minister Stephen Harper. He holds a master’s degree in comparative politics from the London School of Economics. For interview requests, click here.
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