President Joe Biden has a lot in common with another president, George H.W. Bush, and that may not be a good thing for him.

Like the elder Bush, Biden is a man with long government experience, more comfortable with the clubby, one-on-one relationships of old-style American politics than the showboating, hyperpartisan, social media-driven politics of the 21st century. Awkward and generally uninspiring in their public speaking, both Bush and Biden served as vice presidents to men who could move a nation with their eloquent words and charm a majority of voters with their charismatic presence. Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama were larger-than-life celebrities; Bush and Biden, by comparison, number among the more boringly ordinary commanders in chief.

The big difference between the two is that Bush was the last president to come to the White House before the rise of Fox News and the right-wing media, before newspaper journalism’s decline, before the internet and social media and before Newt Gingrich turned Congress into a vicious partisan battlefield. Biden is struggling in this altered environment.

Biden’s calm and grandfatherly demeanor may have been what voters wanted in 2020 after four years of Donald Trump’s bilious bombast and nonstop violations of White House norms, but the return to a traditional presidency appears to have quickly lost its appeal for a majority of Americans. Biden’s restoration of competent government goes unappreciated. Instead, he is portrayed as both a dangerous radical and a doddering old fool by Fox News commentators, while, on CNN and MSNBC, the president is nearly invisible.

Trump thrived in the new communications era, dominating social media and becoming the obsession of cable news. Thanks to his Big Lie about a stolen election and the investigation into his complicity in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, the ex-president continues to be the constant focus of media coverage and commentary. The current president barely gets a word in edgewise.

Biden gives speeches. He proposes new policies. He travels the country. He heads abroad. He does all the things presidents normally do. But, like a tree falling in the forest, no one hears him because the celebrity-and-scandal-driven American media are busy chattering about more compelling things, while the American public, to the extent attention is being paid at all, is divided into distinct ideological echo chambers where they hear only what they want to hear.

If Biden’s age is a detriment, it may be because his old-style communications skills were honed in a media world that no longer exists.

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