It is precisely because his to-do list is so long that boredom is required. I'm using the term in the same sense as Leon Panetta, who I interviewed about the presidency a few years ago. "A rational, experienced president is going to be very, very boring,” said the former defense secretary, CIA director, and White House chief of staff.
Panetta's remark came as a preamble to a discussion of the skills and attributes required to master the modern presidency: prioritizing what is important, not what is consuming the Twitter hive mind; avoiding dead-end fights with opponents trying to bait you; and focusing on the distant consequences of immediate action, or distant problems that can only be addressed by planning today. Like, say, a pandemic.
A president who tries to fit this mold might not keep the country riveted, but he will be effective. A presidency based on ratings or the trill of the news alert, by contrast, is as distinct from the vital requirements of the job as The Apprentice was from the habits of effective corporate governance, or The Bachelor is from nurturing relationships.
Such a presidency would return the executive branch to its role of informing the public. Briefings, charts, and a parade of forgettable public officials can explain to the citizens of the country—or, more likely, their representatives in the press—what is being done in their name. America showed a distinct preference for this approach during the pandemic. Governors who simply laid out what they knew became heroes. Anthony Fauci inspired such blooming affection throughout the land by explaining what he knew—and where he’d been wrong—that people planted signs thanking him in front of their azalea bushes.
The public craves information. This is the basic lesson of CDC guidelines and emergency-management books: Information, even when it ultimately proves flawed, gives people a sense of control over their lives.
As we saw during the Trump administration, holding a press conference is not the same as informing the public. It is possible, it turns out, to achieve a net reduction in public knowledge with a press conference. Instead, a boring administration must put governing ahead of campaigning, using information to instruct, educate, and build on accumulated knowledge, and not to spin and create a politically favorable refuge. Governing prioritizes science and durable facts, while campaigning prefers flimflam. The only objective of campaigning is surviving the next news cycle, while governing is good for actual survival.
No presidency will be free of political interest or confirmation bias, but a presidency that puts persuasion over assertion, facts over piffle, has a chance to achieve real successes. In the Trump years, where the lie was the president's basic unit of measurement, fantasy pushed out reality. But while assertion thrilled the crowds at rallies, it did no good against the coronavirus, or in restoring economic confidence. Insisting that it’s safe to return to bars and restaurants might convince the home team, but boosting consumer confidence requires persuading the entire country. Lots of people need more than CAPS LOCK when the hospital-admittance rate is going up like a hockey stick.