As Joe Biden’s presidency continues to flounder, a narrative is growing among progressives that suggests he’s more of a lover than a fighter.
In The New York Times, Michael Shear writes: “While many Democrats argue for a fighter who vents their anger, Mr. Biden has chosen a more passive path…” Politico reported Democrats who are growing “frustrated” with the “lack of Biden’s ‘urgency’ and ‘apparent absence of fire.’ And one Democratic member told CNN what people “want to see is the president swinging.”
Having experienced the #ButHeFights! wars that propelled Donald Trump to the top of the Republican Party, I am well aware of the power of pugnacity. It’s true that there’s often little correlation between fighting and winning, but even performative fighting makes people feel like you don’t care.
Dig deeper and you’ll find the key distinction: it’s not just that Biden doesn’t “fight,” but that he refuses to abandon existing norms and institutions. Increasingly, progressives are blaming ‘institutionalism’, ‘neo-centrism’ and ‘popularism’ for Democratic failures – and suggesting that to win, ‘Democrats will have to cast off any concerns about the appearance of moderation’ .
The acceleration of this anti-Biden narrative suggests to me that progressives are starting to move past the “work the refs” stage (where they tried – often successfully – to push Biden to the left) and have now moved on to laying the predicate to explain (at some point) why Biden’s presidency failed.
Their motive? Some progressives are passionate about issues (like abortion rights, for example) and sincerely believe that Biden could make a difference if he tried harder. For others, telling this story advances their ideological agenda and (in some cases) their own professional ambitions. If the Biden administration becomes a cautionary tale about the dangers of moderation, Democrats will be more likely to nominate someone with a more progressive agenda next time around.
Since the stakes are so high, it’s worth wondering if the tale is actually true. I mean, progressives have a clear 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] rambles around calling things “Jim Crow 2.0”. He’s a guy who told African-Americans that Mitt Romney (!) wants to put them back in chains. It’s not a shrinking purple.”
As The Washington Post Dana Milbank points out: “Biden has said — warmly and repeatedly — exactly what he is accused of avoiding.”
Biden also wants to eliminate the filibuster (at least for the right to vote) and codify abortion rights at the federal level. He is therefore ready to comply with norms and institutions.
You can argue that he’s not a good or convincing fighter, or that he doesn’t want to destroy as many norms or institutions as you want. However, this is a guy who will cavalierly call things “Jim Crow 2.0.” This is a guy who told African-Americans that Mitt Romney (!) wants to put them “in chains” again. It’s not a shrinking purple.
Rather, it’s more likely that Biden’s fundamental mistake was trying to be too progressive and transformative — trying to be FDR and LBJ — despite his run as a norm restorer who would work from outside. across the aisle.
What went wrong with his presidency? Biden’s polling slump has begun one year ago with its disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan. And his biggest political problem is inflation, which he has exacerbated with his spending and his pretense of being transitional for months.
There are certainly valuable lessons to be learned from these mistakes. But the idea that Biden should have been busy destroying more standards is not to be held.
It’s important to get the story right, because otherwise Democrats will make assumptions and calculations based on a flawed premise.
Indeed, one could argue that at least some of Joe Biden’s problems were created because he adopted dubious accounts.
As Liberal columnist Bill Scher illustrates in Washington MonthlyBiden embraced the narratives pushed by liberal thought leaders like Time columnist and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, arguing that Barack Obama has given too little stimulus and spent too much time trying to persuade Republicans.
Krugman was not alone. “The [Obama] the stimulus bill has been cut more and more,” Ezra Klein wrote just after Biden’s inauguration. “A simpler, faster, more generous bill [than The Affordable Care Act] would have been a better policy and a better policy.
At one point this became conventional wisdom on the left, and it’s pretty clear that even Biden accepted it once he was sworn in as president in January 2021. Instead of trying to conclude a agreement with the Republicans, Biden steamed them out of the portal. What’s more, he hasn’t let fears of overheating the economy get in his way. “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 Democrats are doing just that. Reject Joe Biden, if you will. But at least do it for the right reasons.