The Return of Dumb Political Stories

Who watches the watch, man?

Via the NYT comes some fast-breaking, hard-nose news that asks the tough question Is That a Rolex on Biden’s Wrist?

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.

To many, a president wearing a luxury watch might not seem unusual. Shouldn’t the leader of the free world wear a power watch befitting his position? (Never mind that it costs the equivalent of dozen or so stimulus checks.)

The piece then goes into a bit of a history of presidents of recent years going a bit lower-end on their choice of timepieces.

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.

His successor, George W. Bush, went even more down market, wearing a Timex Indiglo, the kind once sold at drugstores.

So, several thoughts occur at once.

First, how nice to return to the days of tan suit, mustard, or cheese choice controversies (as opposed to deeper, darker controversies of the previous administration).

Second, and almost simultaneously, do we have to return to the days of these silly kinds of “controversies”?

Third, if a 78-year-old who had a taxable income of $944,737 in 2019 wants to buy an expensive watch, what’s the big deal?

(Side observation: how awesome and normal is it for me to be able to look up the sitting president’s income so easily?)

Fourth, the stimulus check dig is just unnecessary. It isn’t like Biden is more in touch with the people if he pretends not to be a wealthy man.

To pretend like any person capable of being elected president is a “man of the people” in the sense that he or she should wear a watch purchased at a drug store is flatly ridiculous.

Look, I haven’t worn a watch in at least ten years now, as I used my phone as my timepiece so it isn’t like I am going to go out and spend thousands of dollars on a watch. Indeed, I have never truly understood the desire to spend that much on adornment (if I was going to drop $7k on an item, I’d rather buy a camera lens, but to each his own). By the same token, the man can clearly afford it, and pretending like it means anything other than that is pointless.

Do better, American press. Do much better, please.

FILED UNDER: Media, US Politics, , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. Modulo Myself says:

    It was the Fashion section. This is what Fashion writers have to write about. There’s also an article by Guy Trebay about how Italian menswear designers have responded to the age of remote work and lockdowns. Think $3000.00 onesies. Trust me when I tell you that the Trebay’s article means, to certain people, way more than anything that Biden said.

  2. Michael Reynolds says:

    My wife bought me a Rolex long ago. Haven’t worn it in 20 years. I let my kid talk me into an Apple watch – wore it for an hour, now it sits in a cubbyhole.

    If you have a phone, why do you need a watch?

    And yes, we can now talk about absurd stories. Less doom-scrolling, more normalcy-scrolling.
    It’s going to take getting used to.

  3. @Modulo Myself: This is not unfair, and I did consider what section the piece was in. Still, I am not sure that “sections” of the paper have the same salience they once did.

    If you write a story about the president, you are writing a political story.

  4. @Michael Reynolds: I have my phone with me all the time, and I also spend a huge amount of time each day at a computer (even moreso during the pandemic). The time is right there are the bottom right.

    I have considered an Apple Watch, but am not sure it is worth it.

  5. Scott F. says:

    I blame Biden. Three days into his term and Biden is already failing to tweet something outrageous enough to drive those precious daily page views. No juicy leaks out of the WH about one of his massive tantrums either. I don’t think he’s been caught in a blatant lie even once yet. If he doesn’t fire someone from his senior staff by the end of this week, I think it is not too early to call his presidency a failure.

    Between Sullivan‘s gross distortion of Biden‘s order to treat everyone with respect that James wrote about and this timepiece controversy, our future is clear. If the Biden administration doesn‘t feed the outrage machine, they‘re going to make outrage up.

  6. James Joyner says:

    Apparently, Eisenhower was the first President to wear a Rolex and LBJ and Reagan both wore thin in office. (Reagan also wore tan suits.)

  7. CSK says:

    @James Joyner:
    Reagan also wore that truly heinous glen plaid suit.

  8. Jen says:

    My husband likes nice watches, and has several, including an Omega that probably is in the ballpark of Biden’s Rolex, if not a bit more. My father owns a Rolex, and has worn it almost every day for as long as I can remember…and I’m in my 50s.

    Some men like nice watches. {shrugs}

    While I get this was in the Fashion section, I hate pieces like this. It’s an attempt to tear down a person, make them something “other,” and it gets repeated ad nauseam. Blech.

    I wear a watch because I can’t stand the optics of constantly looking at my phone.

  9. Sleeping Dog says:

    Joe with a Rolex is a blow against faux populism and as Rolex’s go, a Datejust is low rent. Sort of like buying a Leica D-Lux 7 when you really wanted an M10. Plus Joe won’t do the reputational damage to Rolex that Trump did to poor Brioni by wearing poorly fitted suits.

    Yes, in the internet age with news feeds, the section of the paper an article appeared in is immaterial.

  10. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Jen: When I was in junior high or high school (can’t remember which), I had a teacher who thought that removing the clock from the classroom would help us to be more focused on the work and less on the time.

    My solution, I started carrying a watch (I only wore it for that class because I had an allergy to nickel–which was why it lived at home in the first place). I really liked when pocket watches became a thing again in my 30s. I even started buying vested suits.

  11. Sleeping Dog says:

    @James Joyner:

    It is understandable that Eisenhower would wear a Rolex, considering, at that time, Rolex was considered to be the most accurate timepiece a person could wear. As a field officer or seaman, who is using celestial navigation to find your way, knowing the accurate time is important.

  12. Mister Bluster says:

    …our future is clear.

    Now the time has come
    there’s no place to run
    I might get burned up by the sun
    but I had my fun
    been loved and put aside
    been crushed by tumbling tides
    and my soul has been psychedelicized!

  13. Kathy says:

    I haven’t worn a watch in decades. Probably since the late 90s. These days you can look up the time just about anywhere: the car, the TV, the microwave, the computer, the phone. Having a device that just tells time seems superfluous.

    When “smart” watches came out, i wasn’t even mildly interested. Just more data for big tech to mine.

  14. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I have considered an Apple Watch, but am not sure it is worth it.

    The Apple Watch is more of a fitness tracker than anything. It measures how much you walk, records heart rate, SpO2, how long you’re washing your hands, reminders to stand, can do sleep rhythm stuff… and it also can tell the time and transfer some functionality from your phone to your wrist, but I would put that into the category of meh.

    And Apple Health gives you all sorts of fancy graphs so you can see your progress or lack thereof. I also have a scale that connects to the phone to record my weight.

    If the fitness stuff appeals to you, it’s really nice. If it doesn’t, than the whole thing is probably a worthless gimmick that will end up sitting in a cubbyhole like Michael Reynolds’.

    It can take a 2 point ekg. When I felt dizzy and had a weird flutter in my chest, I recorded it, and at the ER when I was hooked up to their machines and it wasn’t happening, they were able to look at the little graph on my phone and say “oh, that’s bigenimy, potentially concerning, but you’re probably not going to die this weekend — you’ll want to see a cardiologist, he’ll probably want to do long term measurement to see how often it happens…”

  15. James Joyner says:

    @CSK: I love glen plaids. I own more glen plaid suits than most men own suits. But they’re all pretty subtle.

  16. Daniel Hill says:

    I have a gold Omega that’s 30 years old and haven’t worn for years. I’ve worn a fitbit for the past five years, almost always have my phone with me, and at home can easily ask Alexa the time. What do I need a watch for?

    And my price point for a phone is <$200. Anyone who spends $1000 on a phone is an elitist in my book!

  17. CSK says:

    @James Joyner:
    I’m sure yours are tasteful. That one Reagan wore to meet with Margaret Thatcher was…bioluminescent.

  18. James Joyner says:

    @CSK: It’s definitely borderline. Reagan was a clothes horse, so maybe the cameras don’t do it justice. But it looks a bit loud for the occasion. I’d wear that as a sport coat but not as a matching suit.

  19. Joe says:

    I agree that an Apple Watch is at best tertiarily (or whatever 4th and 5th are) a time piece. It is a fitness tracker and, for people I know, an early onset email box and occasionally a Dick Tracy phone. I am not motivated to buy one mostly because I like cycling through the 3 watches: I wear one for running, one for black/grey clothing and one for other color and informal clothing. All 3 of them as a group retail at under $400. I still look at my watch for the time as I purposely don’t carry my phone in my hand.
    I have only one gripe about those of you who have given up wearing a watch. I developed a tactic a decade or two ago to look at other people’s watches when I am concerned about the time (or how much time is left). People see you look at your own watch – they usually don’t notice you looking at others’. Hell, GW Bush would have been a two-term president if he had glanced at Bill Clinton’s Ironman.

  20. CSK says:

    @James Joyner:
    Oh, definitely as a sport coat.

    I read somewhere that Trump always looked as if he’d slept in his suits because he didn’t have the patience for fittings. Given how ludicrously vain he was about his hair and make-up, though, you’d think he’d have paid more attention.

  21. Mister Bluster says:

    @Joe:..a Dick Tracy phone.
    That would be the Dick Tracy Wrist Radio. My mom and dad got me one for Christmas a year or two after Ben Franklin discovered electricity.

  22. OzarkHillbilly says:

    I have never been able to wear a watch (severe eczema) and gave up on pocket watches in HS. Consequently I spent most of my life not caring what time it was (plenty of other folks on a job site to do that job) and now that I have a cell phone? Guess what? 98+% of the time it is turned off. Not because I don’t want to know the time but because I’m not a dog on a leash. I just don’t care what time it is unless I need to. And if I need to be somewhere at a specific time? I am. No watch/phone necessary. I have an alarm clock, a stove clock, a microwave clock, a computer… clocks are damn near everywhere.

    You want to know the funny part? It feels like I spend half my damned life waiting on other people to show up/get their shit together. I’ve been doing it all my life.

    Apparently, knowing the time is not the secret to punctuality.

  23. Gustopher says:


    I read somewhere that Trump always looked as if he’d slept in his suits because he didn’t have the patience for fittings. Given how ludicrously vain he was about his hair and make-up, though, you’d think he’d have paid more attention.

    Did you see his hair and makeup? Vanity does not imply competence or good taste.

  24. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: My kingdom for an edit function!

    Oh yeah, the clock in my truck? It died years ago.

  25. CSK says:

    Yes, but he clearly thinks his hair and make-up look good. And so do the Trumpkins.

    I think he looks ridiculous.

  26. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @CSK: The only picture that I could see on the Internet of Reagan in a glen plaid was in black and white. That noted, I’m not sure that was a suit. I think that a full-length picture would show that he was wearing plus fours and that it was a golfing outfit.

  27. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Same problem with wearing a wristwatch. I do like a pocket watch and have a couple of chains that clipped to the waistband of my pants, but I got so used to not wearing a watch when I was young, that even a pocket watch was more about fashion than about time, so when I stopped caring about being in style…

    Unlike you, I’ve always liked knowing what time it is, so the first thing I do anywhere I am is search the environs for where there are clocks or other people’s watches I can see. But you’re right about punctuality. Punctuality is a function of caring about being punctual, not knowing what time it is.

  28. CSK says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:
    There’s a pic of Reagan and Thatcher walking together. He’s wearing a glen plaid suit.

    I think plus fours went outwith Taft.

  29. Monala says:

    A few folks on Twitter have shared photos of Beau Biden wearing a Rolex, and commenting that it’s possible Biden’s Rolex is the one that once belonged to his son.

    In keeping with the issues of some of our pundits, Politico’s Ben White is being dragged for tweeting this:

    Deep down in places you don’t talk about at cocktail parties you want him tweeting those tweets. You miss him tweeting those tweets. … And the sweet rush of outrage that followed. If you say you don’t you are lying.


  30. @Monala: I saw that. He deserves to be dragged.

  31. DrDaveT says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    If you have a phone, why do you need a watch?

    I’ve never understood this view. It’s like saying “If you own a car, why would you ever walk anywhere?”.

    If I’m wearing a watch*, it takes me literally 1 second (and no hands) to learn what time it is. If I want to use my phone for the same purpose, it takes me 5+ seconds and both hands, if the phone is on. If the phone is off, it’s faster to walk into a room that has a clock. Plus the watch is an item of jewelry that sits out of the way of the rest of my life, and the phone is not. Indoors, the phone is too big for any pocket in the clothes I prefer to wear.

    *Pre-COVID. At present all 3 of the watches I own — a vintage Seiko, a Citizen, and a Giorgio Armani — have dead batteries.

  32. @DrDaveT: It very much depends on the person, I expect. I am the type that has my phone almost all the time.

    My phone is never off and clicking the button to illuminate the time takes about one second.

  33. Gustopher says:


    Plus the watch is an item of jewelry

    Men don’t get enough jewelry options. If you’re lucky, you get glasses as an option, and they can completely change the profile of your face. The watch is a bracelet, but because it’s a bracelet for manly men, it has to have a function, so there’s a clock on it.

    If you go outside of glasses and a watch, you get into gender bending stuff, and real men in Real America don’t do that. And even the watch will get a side eye if it is to fancy.

  34. DrDaveT says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I am the type that has my phone almost all the time.

    I guess that depends on what “has” means. My phone is pretty much always with me, but it’s not immediately accessible the way a watch is. It might be in a pocket, or on my desk, or on a side table. It’s not in my hand unless I’m using it — and since I don’t use it for web browsing or tweeting or other social media, I’m not often using it. For people who spend their lives with a phone in hand, I can see that there’s no point to a watch.

  35. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    The only places – literally, the only places – my iPhone does not go are the shower and the pool. Even then it’s never more than 20 feet away.

  36. Michael Allen says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: An Apple watch will just be obsolete in a year when the far better and way cooler model comes out anyway.

  37. Michael Allen says:

    @CSK: That white tie (or whatever you call it) outfit Donald wore to see the Queen the last time was an epic self-own.

  38. E.A. Blair says:

    Years ago, I won a watch at a customer appreciation party held by a Bang & Olufsen stereo dealer. The make was Ole Mathiesen, a Danish import I’d never heard of before. When I finally got around to looking up its price, I was amazed to find that I was wearing a $2,500 watch as my everyday timepiece. It is probably the second most expensive item I own, after my Bang & Olufsen stereo. I still wear it almost every day, since I don’t have one of those newfangled smartphones yet.

  39. de stijl says:

    I kinda have a fetish for watches.

    No gold. Gods help me, no not that. I like nickel finish with proper Arabic numbers not that Roman innumeracy. Can you imagine doing proper math with that mess of a system?

    Shinola is a solid company out of Detroit. Tag Heuer is pricy, but puts out a solid design. My day-to-day is WW2 era vintage Hamilton.

  40. de stijl says:

    @SLT I just noticed your sub-head.

    Very clever, man.

  41. @de stijl: 🙂