With his refusal to follow fellow Democrats in calling for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to resign, though going up to the edge of it on Tuesday, his delayed press conference tactic, and his general refusal to take political risks, a gambit used since his campaign for president, Joe Biden is utilizing a classic Fabian strategy of political warfare. He can do it because, in regards to the press and the culture, he always knows he is on friendly ground.
Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus, surnamed Cunctator (c. 280 – 203 BC), was a Roman general of the third century. His agnomen, “Cunctator”, usually translated as “the delayer”, references the strategy he used against Hannibal’s forces during the Second Punic War. The Fabian strategy is a military strategy where pitched battles and frontal assaults are avoided. The side adopting this believes time is on its side because they are fighting in, or close to, their homeland.
Republicans and conservatives can’t employ this strategy when dealing with the press because they are always in dangerous territory, if not behind enemy lines.
But witnessing press relations with the Biden administration, from the recent AP flap to the ongoing embarrassment that is CNN, is like watching question time at a preschool. Hard left outlets like MSNBC, which resent what they perceive to be Biden’s moderation, have been holding administration feet to the fire more than the usual leftist media suspects. The culture, encompassing entertainment, academia, and corporate social media, are kowtowing big time, lest they be left out when federal goodies are distributed to Biden pals.
During daily press briefings by White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki the media are meek as lambs, as they gloss over and cover up for statements and evasions from Psaki they would have burned Sarah Sanders or Kayleigh McEnany at the stake for. Thus Biden has carte blanche to do what he wants when he wants, as few pesky press snoops will be holding him accountable. He knows the ground is good.
So like Fabius, Biden delays press conferences, sending out raiding parties to attack Republican lines while staying generally above the more vicious aspects of the partisan fray. Like Fabius he refuses to engage in a pitched battle over Cuomo, letting state cohorts nip at Fredo’s entrails as Biden hedges his bets. Like Fabius he cuts and runs over appointments like Neera Tanden, when he feels the battle could not be on favorable ground.
There’s another aspect to it. People and voters were tired of the never-ending petty dramas that Donald Trump pursued through Twitter and other media vehicles. A president who knows how to shut up once in a while is a good thing when it comes to public relations. A chief executive who knows when to pick his battles will win more of them. A politician who does not overexpose his political persona may find a friendlier reception when he finally turns around to fight. So absolutely not in the policy sense, but in the political communications game, playing on optimum terrain, Biden channels Fabius. Someone on his team has read their history.