Jill Biden affirms image as down-to-earth, traditional US First Lady

Mrs Melania Trump (left) rarely spoke at length in public and even less so in unscripted situations, unlike Mrs Jill Biden, an accomplished public speaker.
Mrs Melania Trump (left) rarely spoke at length in public and even less so in unscripted situations, unlike Mrs Jill Biden, an accomplished public speaker.PHOTOS: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The backdrop of flowers, teapot and United States flag said it all: Mrs Jill Biden will be no Mrs Melania Trump as America's new First Lady.

Where Mr Donald Trump's ex-model wife cut a flashy but often distant figure, Mrs Biden's appearance at a Zoom "virtual tea" party on Wednesday (Feb 3) with military spouses affirmed her image as a down-to-earth, traditional Flotus.

"It's hard for me to believe it's only been two weeks since the inauguration and already I've had so much to do," Mrs Biden said.

As different to Mrs Trump as her husband, President Joe Biden, is to Mr Trump, she drew on her own military roots and middle-class American upbringing to connect with others on the video call.

"I learnt my love of this country from my dad," Mrs Biden, 69, said, recalling the ritual of accompanying her veteran father to a war memorial.

At a later event to support the National Cancer Institute, Mrs Biden again underlined her experience with the realities of ordinary life, as she recounted cancer taking the lives of her parents and then her son Beau at just 46 years old.

Do you care?

Mrs Trump, who came from Slovenia to the US as a young immigrant model and met Mr Trump, perhaps had a dramatic American story of her own.

But a private nature held her back from sharing it.

She rarely spoke at length in public and even less so in unscripted situations, unlike Mrs Biden, an accomplished public speaker.

Instead, Mrs Trump's extravagant clothing often got the real attention.

This included the all black Chanel, Dolce and Gabbana and Christian Louboutin ensemble worn on departing the White House for the last time in January.

By the time she landed in Florida, she had switched into a colourful Gucci dress worth thousands of dollars - still, as was widely noted, sticking to foreign designers.

Mrs Biden, who is keeping her day job as English teacher at Northern Virginia Community College, appeared on Wednesday on Zoom in a sensible-looking dark suit jacket.

She did wear designer duds at her husband's Jan 20 inauguration, but rather than fancy European brands, she picked the New York-based label Markarian.

Mrs Trump made many fashion statements, including wearing a colonial-style pith helmet to Kenya.

None, though, was more remarkable, if not downright bizarre, than her 2018 appearance in a jacket reading: "I really don't care do u?"

Mrs Biden appears to be signalling: "yes, she does".

No arguments

First ladies have the odd position of being married to the most powerful man in the country, but without a formal public role.

So usually they pick a topic to focus on, using the power of publicity rather than law to bring change.

For Mrs Trump, it was a somewhat ill-defined "Be Best" campaign for children's well-being, which she promoted only sporadically.

In Mrs Biden's case, there are three topics and all have the extra heft of being deeply personal.

The first is building support for military families, a community that she knew well as mother of the late Beau, who went to Iraq with the US National Guard.

The second strand is promoting support for cancer patients and research - a topic that Beau's death from brain cancer in 2015 seared into the Biden family identity.

The third draws on her life-long career in education. Mrs Biden was marking student papers right through her husband's tense presidential campaign and she makes history as a First Lady with a paying job beyond the White House walls.

"That's my passion," she told People magazine in a joint interview with Mr Biden.

"That's my life."

One more difference?

The state of the relationship between Mr Trump and Melania, his third wife, was a constant source of gossip.

The Bidens, though, are threatening to leave the tabloids empty-handed.

"After 43 years of marriage, there's really not that much more to fight about," Mrs Biden told People.