If this humorous photo of President Joe Biden in Fort Myers doesn’t lift your mood, please seek therapy.
Humor heals, relieves stress, helps us connect to people and is especially beneficial when shared with those who think differently from us. We need large doses of the tonic in irascible, 24/7 political Florida.
But, thanks to Biden’s ability to undercut politics, we got to laugh a little this week.
And, of all the places, during his visit to hurricane-ravaged Southwest Florida, where the rescue operations have turned into the grim task of body recovery and tens of thousands have lost homes and businesses.
So very sad, tragic, and at least the rising death toll, preventable.
The president marked the gravity of the moment, and in a joint press conference with Gov. Ron DeSantis, the political enemies seemed to put their differences aside as Biden pledged to support hurricane-recovery efforts with billions in federal aid and services.
Then, the meet-and-greet with the president and DeSantis began. The photographic record of the scene has the feel of a funeral where someone remembers something funny about a loved one and laughter does the job of restoring something lost.
Biden & ‘true cracker’
In the photo, taken by Evan Vucci, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press photographer, Biden is engaged in animated conversation with an unidentified man, notable for his choice of wardrobe.
He’s wearing a camouflage-patterned cap, blue jeans and black T-shirt with a “True Cracker, Endangered Species” license plate engraved.
The get-up might indicate a certain political persuasion, more Trump and DeSantis than Biden.
But the self-anointed “cracker” — a racial epithet considered offensive when directed at whites, especially the poor — actually seems delighted to chat it up with the president, scoring one for breaking the stereotype.
Perhaps he was, indeed, a rare species, an old-Florida Democrat in a red-leaning state, happy to meet his president.
If the candid exchange, ingeniously framed and captured by Vucci, were hanging at the Louvre, as a Twitter user suggested, curators might be tempted to title it, given our state’s reputation: “Wacky Florida Man Meets Joe Biden.”
Until you focus on the unhappy-looking DeSantis slouching in the forefront in the blue sports jacket. Then the image’s subtitle becomes: “As Pouting DeSantis Walks By.”
He’s the one who always over-stirs the political pot and has disrespectfully called the president “Brandon,” shredding some of his own dignity as a leader in the process.
His pout was interpreted as annoyance at how well Lee County received Biden in a place that voted almost 60% Republican in the last presidential election.
We expected an awkward meeting between political foes, but the white-haired president who showed up in Fort Myers was engaging, sympathetic, in command and relatable.
A moment of levity
He managed to lift spirits — and keep the internet entertained for days when the profanity he used went viral. The GOP seized on it, but their drumbeat fell flat.
For a rare moment, he was Cool Joe, so relaxed he forgot his microphone was on, chatting with Fort Myers Beach Mayor Ray Murphy.
“No one f---- with a Biden,” the president said.
The conversation is mostly inaudible, but Murphy told NBC News that they were discussing things they had in common. Both are devout Catholics, and they both knew some of the same people in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and Dewey Beach, Delaware.
Murphy said he doesn’t recall what led up to the F-bomb.
“It was not directed at anybody. It was just two guys talking,” he said. “It didn’t faze me one bit. That’s just the way two guys talk to each other from our respective backgrounds.”
Biden: “No one f---- with a Biden.”
Murphy: “Yeah, Goddamn it.”
Biden says something else inaudible.
Murphy: “That’s exactly right. That’s exactly right.”
“Thanks for coming down. We appreciate it.”
Not exactly a loss for Biden.
He’s too proud to even entertain the notion, but truth is that DeSantis, 44 , has a lot to learn from veteran Biden, 79. Republicans love to demean him for the slower pace of delivery that comes with age, but Biden rocked it with style, charm and savvy in Florida.
And a little help from Florida man.
I first saw his photograph on a Twitter post by Miami pollster Fernand Armandi. I was sipping my morning coffee and, hand shaking by laughter, some of it landed on my keyboard.
“Who would you rather have a beer with?” Armandi teased.
Hands down, the crowd voted with Biden, dubbed him “the fun guy.”
The highest approval ratings here.
But me, I say: I’ll have beer with the cracker!
I’ll drink with the unlikely guy who found Biden funny. I want to know what was running through his mind and what he thought of Biden, before and after. And: Was that his woman in the blue dress Biden was embracing — as if he didn’t give a damn anymore about the accusations during the campaign that he was too touchy-freely with women?
It’s genius that the photograph caught the spirit of Biden’s visit to sad, traumatized Southwest Florida. It’s a show of camaraderie, of working together for the common good, but also proof of the political capital to be gained for both leaders.
Surely, they put politics aside — for a nanosecond.
After all these years of Donald Trump and disciple DeSantis, however, I saw a true endangered species: bipartisanship.
Derisively calling Biden “Brandon” won’t be the same, Republicans. Fort Myers showed how respect is achieved.
I don’t want to read too much into this episode, but maybe there’s hope for us after all.