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Biden Opts Out of Super Bowl Spotlight

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As the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers prepare to clash in a heated Super Bowl LVII, President Joe Biden has broken tradition by declining the customary presidential interview. For the second year running, Biden has eschewed the opportunity to reach an audience of over 100 million, sparking concern he is missing a prime-time chance to connect with Americans. Is his absence a strategic choice or a worrying sign he is unwilling or unable to make his case?

Snubbing An American Pastime

Since 2009, sitting presidents have consistently participated in Super Bowl Sunday interviews, capitalizing on sky-high viewership to chat sports, crack jokes, and do some light policy promotion. The bipartisan custom was kickstarted by media-savvy President Obama as a way to seem relatable and accessible. But two years into his term, Joe Biden has alarmingly opted out not once but twice now, echoing Donald Trump’s 2018 decision to turn down NBC’s offer amidst scandals and sagging polls.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Biden’s no-show aligns with a hesitant communications strategy defined by limited press conferences, short public remarks, and strict controls. But it deprives him of valuable airtime reaching up to 117 million Americans-more than a third of the total population.

Worriers See An Absentee President

To some political analysts, Biden’s absence fits a pattern of passivity they consider out of step with a country facing urgent challenges. Rather than projecting confidence and vision, he seems to shy from the spotlight due to caution, frustration, or even a lack of energy, they say.

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“The danger is the perception is less ‘here is the person who is governing and being cautious,’ but rather ‘here is a person who is not in control,'” warned Julian Zelizer, a presidential historian at Princeton University. Biden may wish to float above the fray, but critics believe a leader can’t transform America quietly behind the scenes. And the Super Bowl snub won’t ease doubts about his leadership.

Approvals Nosediving

Biden enters his third year with just a 38% approval rating, as the public gives him failing marks on inflation, immigration, and more. The State of the Union briefly boosted his standing, but he failed to sustain any momentum.

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Rather than make his case to a captive Super Bowl audience, Biden seems content to ride out challenges from the bunker. That’s a mistake according to Will Marshall, president of the Progressive Policy Institute, who argued “He’s got to make his case. There are opportunities to take the offensive on the economy and even now on immigration.” Sitting silently for four hours while working Americans relax and tune in represents not prudent restraint, in Marshall’s view, but a wasted chance and lack of vision.

National Unity Long Gone

In the past, the presidential Super Bowl interview offered a rare pause from partisan bickering, noted former Obama communications director Jennifer Palmieri. With much of the country united around sports fandom regardless of political affiliation, presidents could afford to kick back and crack a few anodyne jokes.

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But Palmieri implies those harmonious Super Bowl days are long gone now that everything from beer commercials to halftime shows to anthem kneels stokes outrage and boycotts among the polarized public. With little common ground anymore, Biden airing partisan views or policy ambitions would likely only court controversy, not build consensus.

Gaffes Pile Up

Biden also likely opted out to prevent another PR misstep, as his off-the-cuff tendency has backfired before. Offhand quips about defending Taiwan or ousting Putin drew rebukes for appearing to diverge recklessly from long-standing U.S. policy. As commander-in-chief, Biden faces intense scrutiny over every public remark on foreign affairs.

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With little to gain but plenty to lose, avoiding open questioning eliminates a prime gaffe opportunity. However, communications experts still fault the strategy, arguing a silent president quickly appears out-of-touch and ineffective. Masters like Reagan and Obama used the huge platform to polish their images even when facing turmoil.

Past Presidents’ Pitfalls

Donald Trump’s 2018 Super Bowl absence offered an eerie preview of Biden’s current interview reluctance. Buffeted by scandals, investigations, and tanking popularity 17 months into his term, Trump likewise avoided facing high-stakes questions from a massive simultaneous audience.

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The parallels reflect how both presidents retreated from public scrutiny at a perceived time of weakness, rather than capitalize on the national spotlight. But some historians argue it’s smart to dodge exposure when besieged by critics eager to pounce on any verbal stumble, soundbite, or gaffe.

Massive Missed Opportunity

Nearly 120 million Americans will tune into Super Bowl LVII this Sunday, making it by far the highest-rated program of the year and a priceless chance to connect with a captive, receptive viewership.

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Yet despite intense public interest in the game, sports still can’t escape tinges of politics, from vaccine rules to kneeling protests, to even Senate hearings over the Washington Commanders. These tensions both explain Biden’s wariness of jumping into a lightning rod event, yet also underscore the unique opportunity to speak to masses of Americans distracted from their usual partisan media diets. If anything, avoiding stewardship of that conversation seems a missed chance.

Not The Consensus Builder of Old

Perhaps today’s hopelessly polarized climate convinced Biden not to risk ruffling feathers with a political opening amid America’s last bipartisan event. With the slight exception of concerts and holidays, even sports fail to transcend the country’s partisan passions anymore.

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So Biden may have simply and soberly assessed his words would likely only drive further controversy, not any meeting of the minds. If so, it’s an acknowledgment his unifying, consensus-driven brand now means little to a public demanding absolute partisan loyalty on all fronts, including their entertainment.

Opting Out of National Unity

As Super Bowl parties from coast to coast hunker down with hot wings, cold beer, and friendly wagers, Joe Biden has made a conscious choice to abstain from this unique pause in national polarization.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Supporters say he realizes that, sadly enough, even light-hearted sports escape zones now provoke culture war controversy in this hopelessly fractured media landscape and political climate. But critics counter that a leader must foster unity however possible, not just throw up their hands and leave Americans to divide even over Sunday leisure activities. Either way, this Sunday the president punts.

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Matty Jacobson

Written by Matty Jacobson

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