As Joe Biden’s presidency continues to falter, a narrative is developing among progressives that suggests he is more of a lover than a fighter.
in the The New York Timeswrites Michael Shear, “While many Democrats advocate a fighter who vents anger, Mr. Biden has chosen a more passive path…” Politico reported on Democrats becoming increasingly “frustrated” with Biden’s “lack of urgency” and “appearing Lack of fire.” And a Democratic member told CNN that people “want to see the President swinging out there.”
After going through the #ButHeFights! Wars that have propelled Donald Trump to the top of the Republican Party, I am acutely aware of the power of belligerence. It’s true that there’s often little correlation between fights and wins, but even performative fights make people feel like you don’t give a damn.
Dig deeper and you’ll find the key difference: It’s not just that Biden isn’t “fighting,” but that he refuses to abandon existing norms and institutions. Progressives increasingly blame “institutionalism,” “neocentrism,” and “popularism” for the Democrats’ failure — and suggest that in order for Democrats to win, they “must jettison any concern about semblance of moderation.”
The acceleration of this anti-Biden narrative suggests to me that progressives are beginning to move past the “let’s the refs work” phase (where they attempted—often successfully—to push Biden to the left) and are now at it have proceeded to put the predicate on explaining (at a later date) why Biden’s presidency failed.
your motive? Some progressives are passionate about issues (such as abortion rights) and genuinely believe that if Biden put in more effort, he could change things. For others, telling this story advances their ideological agenda and (in some cases) their own career aspirations. If Biden’s administration becomes a cautionary tale about the dangers of moderation, next time Democrats are more likely to nominate someone with a more progressive agenda.
With the stakes so high, it’s worth questioning whether the tale is actually true. I mean, progressives have an obvious incentive to tell a story that makes them both Cassandra and the solution to the problem.
So is it true? Not in my book.
“[Biden] goes around blithely calling things “Jim Crow 2.0”. This is a guy who told African Americans that Mitt Romney (!) wants to “put them back in chains.” He is not a shrinking violet.”
As The Washington Post Dana Milbank insists, “Biden has said — heatedly and repeatedly — exactly what he has been accused of avoiding.”
Biden also wants to atomize the filibuster (at least for voting rights) and codify abortion rights at the federal level. So he is willing to bow to norms and institutions.
You can argue that he’s not a good or convincing fighter, or that he doesn’t want to burn down as many norms or institutions as you might prefer. This however is a dude who goes around recklessly calling things “Jim Crow 2.0”. This is a guy who told African Americans that Mitt Romney (!) wants to “put them back in chains.” He is not a shrinking violet.
On the contrary, it’s more likely that Biden’s fundamental mistake was being too progressive and transformative — trying to be FDR and LBJ — even though he was running as a norm-restorer who would work across the aisle.
What went wrong with his presidency? Biden’s electoral collapse began a year ago with his disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan. And his biggest political problem is inflation, which he has exacerbated with his spending and months of pretending to be ephemeral.
There are undoubtedly valuable lessons to be learned from these mistakes. But the idea that Biden should be busy destroying more norms is hardly the right one.
Getting the story right is important, otherwise Democrats will be making assumptions and calculations based on a flawed premise.
In fact, one could argue that at least some of Joe Biden’s problems were caused by it he accepted dubious tales.
As liberal columnist Bill Scher illustrates over there Washington MonthlyBiden embraced narratives pushed by liberal opinion leaders like Times Columnist and Nobel laureate in economics Paul Krugman, who said Barack Obama spent too little on stimulus and too much time convincing Republicans.
Krugman was not alone. “That [Obama] The stimulus bill kept getting cut,” Ezra Klein wrote right after Biden’s inauguration. “A simpler, faster and more generous bill [than The Affordable Care Act] would have been better policy and better politics.”
At some point, this became conventional wisdom on the left, and it’s pretty clear that even Biden accepted it after he was sworn in as president in January 2021. Instead of trying to strike a deal with the Republicans, Biden pushed them right out of office. In addition, he was undeterred by concerns about the economy overheating. “We’ve learned from past crises that risk doesn’t do too much,” Biden said in January 2021. “Risk doesn’t do enough.”
Parties that learn the wrong lessons are doomed to repeat past mistakes, and it looks like the Democrats are about to do just that. Reject Joe Biden if you want. But at least for the right reasons.