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  • Collegian staff

Opinion: Joe Biden’s inauguration watch says as much as his speech

David Flanagan

Opinions editor

You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. That said, perhaps the most minute choices of the President of the United States - a man with over 300 staff and presumably at least one fashion consultant under him - can be examined a bit more harshly.

During his inauguration just over a week ago, President Biden broke a standing tradition of wearing an “everyman watch,” instead opting for something more opulent. Specifically, Biden wore a Rolex Datejust worth over $7,500. Contrast this to twelve years ago, when Barack Obama was inaugurated wearing a Jorg Gray 6500 that would have set him back only 395 big ones. George W. Bush campaigned in a Timex Indiglo he could have found in a drugstore (~$60) and Bill Clinton famously, or perhaps infamously, wore a Timex Ironman - a digital watch.

As one of the few fashion choices male politicians can make, along with tie color (red or blue?) and suit color (blue or black?) wrist watches play a special significance in conveying political messaging. George Bush Jr. picked his budget-friendly watch to waive a bit of his Yale/Harvard oil tycoon image, while Clinton essentially strapped a TI-84 to his arm to contribute to his fun loving and unpretentious attitude. Donald Trump wouldn’t be caught dead without a bevy of golden watches to exemplify his 24 karat personality - or perhaps his gaudy, nouveau-riche aesthetic. So what message is Biden trying to send with his timepiece?

One thing is for certain: Biden’s watch is his own statement. It is not a coincidence that this experienced politician crafted his image to a T on his most visible day. Economical watches are a new-ish fad which took off in the 80s and 90s as increased visibility, and eventually internet image sharing, made the use of luxury watches look a touch out place, a remnant of old-fashioned elitism (“Pokemon Go to the polls,” anyone?)

That old-fashioned, classic style is exactly what Joe Biden is going for. In reverting to an opulent watch, he’s confirming the image of his administration not in policy, but in presence. Biden is harkening back to the days where a president was a distinguished elderly statesman who shook hands with the opposition and was a quiet reassurance to the American public, knowing that at the end of a long day he’d be eating at the same clubs and restaurants as his political rivals. Eisenhower and Johnson wore upscale timepieces; they also stayed scandal free, out of the press, and were lauded for their “nose to the grindstone” mentality. There were no pretensions about looking like an everyman - these politicians were elected by the people, sure, but were also their paragon. In contrast to the revolutionary youth pandering of Clinton and Obama, Biden’s watch has a simple statement: I’m qualified, I’m elite and I know what I’m about.

Is this what he should be doing? Shouldn’t the president at least pretend like he has working class interests? For some, a luxury watch shows a lack of understanding. Allegra Starr, ‘22 weighed in, saying “It’s upsetting when the people try to help others are so distant from the reality of the people they’re trying to help.” For others, the fact that Biden is more blatant about his wealth and status might be refreshing, and might even seem to be just plain honest. At the end of the day, it’s worth paying attention to everything politicians say, even if they don’t say it out loud. Follow the money, but watch the watch.

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