As a reformed canceller of plans, I reckon Biden left it too late

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Picture this. It’s a week before Anthony Albanese’s big Quad summit, and the prime minister is suffering from an acute case of party anxiety.

Vibes at the Lodge are tense as Albanese checks the BOM app and sees they’re predicting rain for next week in Sydney. He makes a mental note: cancel BOM funding.

It’s my summit, and I’ll sob if I want to.Credit: Marija Ercegovac

To make matters worse, his partner Jodie has just gone and done A Big Shop, but she’s forgotten the fancy cheese from the nice deli in Kirribilli. Luckily, she remembered the artisanal crackers – that will have to do.

Besides that, everything is good to go; staff have organised to get three, no wait, four bags of ice from the servo. All that’s left to do is add a couple more songs to the carefully curated Spotify playlist.

Albo drops a hype message – “Can’t wait for next week, boys, keen to catch up!” – into the Quad Squad WhatsApp thread. Two blue ticks from Biden, he’s seen it. He’s typing. But then, no reply.

Last week, US President Joe Biden pulled out of the May 24 Quad leaders’ summit in Sydney. Biden was meant to attend the summit alongside India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida but will instead remain in America to deal with emergency debt ceiling negotiations.

“Hey Albo, soz can’t make it next week, man. Debt ceiling is crumbling LOL. Next time for sure.” US President Joe Biden broke the news to Albanese over the phone. But did he leave it too late? Credit: AP

According to an obviously off-it Albanese, Biden called him on Tuesday to break the bad news. “President Biden called me this morning to discuss his upcoming visit to Australia,” Albanese said in a statement.

“The president apologised that he would now have to postpone this visit because of the unfolding difficulties he is facing in his negotiations with the US Congress over the US government debt ceiling.

“One thing I’m certain of is that the president certainly wishes this wasn’t happening,” Albanese added.

One thing I’m certain of is that Albanese went home and tore down the “WELCOME JOE!” bunting he spent hours hanging, and then gorged himself on triple cream brie before going to bed feeling sorry for himself and sick in the stomach.

“How many slabs do you reckon we need for the Summit? Wait, what? What do you mean Joe is bailing?”

But the problem isn’t that Biden can’t make it; I’m not exactly sure what a debt ceiling is, but it sounds pretty serious, and from what I do know about ceilings, you don’t want them to crumble.

The issue is that he left it until the last minute to cancel.

As a reformed flaker, I’m well aware of the dread that comes with avoiding bailing on a plan you’ve previously committed to. You know in advance that you probably can’t make it, but you delay and delay in the hope that the person you intend to disappoint gets in first.

Inevitably that doesn’t happen, and then you’re forced to fire off a grovelling “Zomg, I can’t believe I double booked!” text followed up by half-baked promises to definitely, without doubt, reschedule the Quad party for another date.

My flake journey ended after several friends called me out on it, explaining that being unreliable wasn’t just annoying; it also sent a message about their perceived position in my life: I’d take time to make time for others, but not for them.

Basically, the optics were terrible.

No doubt Albanese is feeling that way right now because Biden’s 11th-hour withdrawal makes him look unimportant, and Australia appear as an afterthought. Especially considering the President has still found time to visit Hiroshima for the G7 Summit this weekend – ouch.

Imagine the head noise when Albanese got wind of that. Whichever way you spin it, it feels like he’s chosen the summit with all the cool kids (Did you hear Zelenskyy might be there!) and ditched the weird Quad summit.

But with a little more notice, Biden could’ve spared Albanese’s blushes and done the right thing. Give us a proper heads up, and no harm, no foul.

These days I firmly believe that for certain events – birthday parties, catch-up dinners with friends, global Quad summits – anything less than two weeks’ notice is flake territory.

Everyone’s lives are busy, and things pop up that we can’t plan for; we all have our own version of defaulting on government debt and sending the entire country into recession.

All it takes to be a good ally and, more importantly, a good buddy is to follow the above protocols when cancelling plans.

Otherwise, you risk tarnishing your reputation forever, and next time the Quad Squad might go ahead and plan a catch-up without you because no one wants to hang out with the President of the United Flakes.

Find more of the author’s work here. Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Instagram at @thomasalexandermitchell and on Twitter @_thmitchell.

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