Friday, January 22, 2021


The first thing you need to know about this gotcha ...

... is that on Election Day -- a mere 80 days ago -- the Times ran this:

That November story read in part:
HELSINKI, Finland — Keijo Paajanen was bewitched by a watch.

So much so that his life became deeply intertwined with the Vulcain Cricket, a Swiss timepiece known as the first mass-produced mechanical watch to successfully incorporate an alarm.

But there was another part of the watch’s past that attracted Mr. Paajanen even more: Released in 1947, it has been presented to many American leaders, earning it the nickname “The President’s Watch.”

... Starting in 1988 with President Ronald Reagan, who stopped in Finland en route to Moscow, Mr. Paajanen sent or personally presented the watch to seven of the 11 American heads-of-state known to have owned the model — almost every one from Truman to Trump.
The Times at that moment seemed delighted by the notion of a stylish presidential watch. (I see the Vulcain President Cricket priced from $3500 to $4500.)

But in today's story, we're told that President Biden wears a fancy watch, while recent presidents (Donald Trump excepted) have worn more seemly timepieces:
President Biden may cast his arrival in the White House as a return to business as usual at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, but there’s at least one way he’s breaking from prevailing presidential tradition: he wears a Rolex.

At his inauguration, Mr. Biden laid his hand on the family Bible wearing a stainless steel Rolex Datejust watch with a blue dial, a model that retails for more than $7,000 and is a far cry from the Everyman timepieces that every president not named Trump has worn conspicuously in recent decades.
Presidents used to wear "power watches," we're told, but they've
gone out of style in the internet age, when most recent presidents, and politicians in general, seemed to consider the luxury watch as a signifier of out-of-touch elitism.

Bill Clinton seemed to thumb his nose at aristocratic gold timepieces by wearing a Timex Ironman, a “plastic digital watch, thick as a brick and handsome as a hernia,” as The Washington Post wrote in 1993.
Or maybe he couldn't afford aristocratic gold timepieces. Clinton wasn't very wealthy when he was elected president.
His successor, George W. Bush, went even more down market, wearing a Timex Indiglo, the kind once sold at drugstores.

The choice of a watch that cost $50 or less was either a man-of-the-people statement — even though Mr. Bush was an oil scion who went to Yale — or a masterstroke of old-money preppyism, where any hint of gilded glimmer is considered vulgar.
I'm going with the latter.
Barack Obama, too, avoided heirloom-level timepieces. During his presidency, he opted for mid-priced all-American watches by Shinola, the Detroit-based brand, or a sporty watch by Jorg Gray, based in Southern California, that cost less than $500.
"Mid-priced" for that Shinola watch is a matter of interpretation. It was a Runwell Sport Chrono, version of which are priced from $875 to $1500 on Shinola's website -- not super high-end, but a lot more expensive than a Timex.
This may come as a shock, but Mr. Trump shattered those norms. He remained on-brand during his term, flashing mogul-worthy gold (what else?) watches by Patek Philippe, Rolex, and Vacheron Constantin.
But the Times gave us dozens of stories over the past four years about how appealing the working class found Trump. Trump's advocates called him a "blue-collar billionaire," even though he was a rich man's son and grew up in a mansion.

We're told that Biden's expensive watches "embody a classic version of the American Dream: that anyone, even a kid from Scranton, can make it to the pinnacle of power." But still, they're expensive watches. "Haute Swiss watches," as they're called in the story.

But it's not as if all recent presidents apart from Trump disdained expensive watches. Bill Clinton has quite a collection of them now:
Since Bill Clinton left the White House he’s become an absolute watch hound. He’s been known to wear a Panerai PAM89 GMT, a Franck Muller, a Roger Dubuis MuchMore, a Kobold Seal, and a gold Cartier Ballon Bleu. The Swiss watch company Quinting has a photo of Clinton on its website wearing the brand’s Dove of Geneva watch.
Those are not cheap watches. Nor is the Rolex Cellini we're told Barack Obama now wears sometimes.

Here's one thing Clinton, Obama, and Biden have in common besides being Democratic presidents: They all made quite a bit of money from writing memoirs. Clinton's presidential memoir My Life was a huge success -- he really wasn't well off until he signed the deal for that book (and maybe that explains his changing taste in watches). Obama wrote two successful memoirs before being elected, plus another one published last fall. Biden's 2017 memoir Promise Me, Dad was a #1 bestseller.

So they've spent some of their royalties on watches. I can live with that. I think a lot of blue-collar people might do the same thing if they came into money.

But the Times has generated fodder for a hundred jabs at Biden from the right-wing media. Was that necessary?

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