24 thoughts on “The Biden Administration

  1. Here’s something odd: I was eager to watch the first press conferences with the new White House press secretary, and I had a specific yearning for boring competence. Given the last four years, I guess this yearning is understandable, not odd, on some level, but to be enthused to hear responses that were cliched or political boilerplate–responses that I had taken for granted and often bored me–is a strange feeling. It reminds me of time I spent 10 days in the French Quarter–with no Asian food (or any other type of food outside of French, cajun, and fried). The teri chicken bowl at the San Francisco Airport was one of the best I’ve had.

    I should say that Jen Psaki, the WH press secretary, wasn’t just satisfyingly boring. I thought was good, really good. I’m interested in seeing how long this will last.

    1. Did you see what she put on Twitter yesterday?

    2. I didn’t see that, but this is cool. I’m really liking her so far. I can’t tell how much of this is just because of the contrast between the previous press secretaries, though.

  2. Handling the Covid-19 Pandemic

    A different approach to leadership

    Straight talk in the beginning. That’s what we need. Americans can handle this. Optism and encouraging words. Conveying he has a plan.

    Now, the Biden Administration needs to execute the plan.

    A different approach to science

  3. Criticisms against Biden Administration and the press coverage of them

    Republicans and conservatives complain about liberal bias in the media, which leads to move favorable coverage for Democrats and more negative coverage for Republicans. I’m going to try to keep track of this, to evaluate and compare to the coverage of Trump and other Republicans.

    I’m also going to try to examine actual criticisms the right directs at Biden and his administration.

    Here’s the first one I came across:

    Another about Kamala Harris: When Kamala Was a Top Cop: from Conor Friedersdorf

    “If elected, can the candidate be trusted to hold government officials accountable and oversee a progressive criminal-justice system? Her past says no.”

    (Note: To me, patterns are critical. One-off signs of bad judgment or bad character do not concern me as much, unless it’s really bad. But a pervasive pattern of something negative is a big deal.)

    Edit

    This is dumb, but if this is just one story that quickly fades, it’s not a big deal.

    2/7/2021

    I tend to agree. I didn’t listen to Biden’s comments, but I don’t think he should promote his son’s book.

    2/12/2021

    I think this is totally fair:

    I don’t know what the WH staff said exactly to the Politico reporter, but it was bad enough to get him a week suspension without pay. Maybe Biden was referring primarily to treatment of employees or subordinates. The statement is not clear–but why wouldn’t it apply to the way his staff treats reporters or people outside the White House? The problem is that Biden made this statement–if he wasn’t going to follow through, saying this was a mistake. (It’s like when Obama publicly drew a red line for Assad. Doing this is mistake if you’re not going to follow through.)

    2/13/2021

    Whether this is right or wrong move, it is consistent with what Biden said.

  4. Good article on the Senate filibuster. (The author leans towards abolishing it.)

    I’d like to hear a good rebuttal to this. If you guys find any, please post it here.

    More:

    Opinion: Democrats are faced with a choice. Protect the filibuster or protect democracy. by E,J. Dionne in WaPo

    Last week, the Brennan Center for Justice reported that, “In a backlash to historic voter turnout in the 2020 general election, and grounded in a rash of baseless and racist allegations of voter fraud and election irregularities, legislators have introduced three times the number of bills to restrict voting access as compared to this time last year.”

    The 106 bills the center identified in 28 states sought to limit mail voting, impose stricter voter ID requirements, roll back voter-friendly registration policies and enable more aggressive voter purges. What Donald Trump and his mob could not achieve before President Biden’s inauguration will instead come through the back door of state-level legislation.

    Dionne argues that the Senate should end the filibuster to pass voting rights package that will prevent voter suppression.

  5. Biden’s Stimulus Package

    A critique–or more cautious support.

    Opinion: The Biden stimulus is admirably ambitious. But it brings some big risks, too. Lawrence Summers WaPo op-ed

    Summers, who was Treasury Secretary in the Obama Administration, after Tim Geitner, has two major concerns as well as ways to address them:

    First, while there are enormous uncertainties, there is a chance that macroeconomic stimulus on a scale closer to World War II levels than normal recession levels will set off inflationary pressures of a kind we have not seen in a generation, with consequences for the value of the dollar and financial stability. This will be manageable if monetary and fiscal policy can be rapidly adjusted to address the problem. But given the commitments the Fed has made, administration officials’ dismissal of even the possibility of inflation, and the difficulties in mobilizing congressional support for tax increases or spending cuts, there is the risk of inflation expectations rising sharply. Stimulus measures of the magnitude contemplated are steps into the unknown. For credibility, they need to be accompanied by clear statements that the consequences will be monitored closely and, if necessary, there will be the capacity and will to adjust policy quickly.

    Second, long before covid-19, the U.S. economy faced fundamental problems of economic injustice, slow growth and inadequate public investment in everything from infrastructure to preschool education to renewable energy. These are at the heart of Biden’s emphasis on building back better.

    If the stimulus proposal is enacted, Congress will have committed with essentially no increase in public investment to address these challenges. After resolving the crisis, how will political and economic space be found for the public investments that should be the nation’s highest priority?

    Is the thinking that deficits can prudently be expanded longer and further? Or that new revenue will be raised? If so, will this be politically feasible?

    2/5/2021

    Thread from economist, Paul Krugman, in response to Summers:

    The jobs report and the Biden plan: the plan is mainly NOT ABOUT STIMULUS: It’s disaster relief to get us through the pandemic. It will, however, have some stimulative effect. And some liberalish economists worry about overheating 1/

    What the weakness in the economy tells us is to worry a lot less (although I don’t think we should have worried much in the first place). The economy seems to be stalling or worse; this means that stimulus from the plan will be a good thing, not a problem 2/

    Far better to run the risk of needing some monetary tightening a year from now than risking an inadequate plan that repeats the mistakes of 2009 … 3/

    Also, he says this later:

    One important point about the Biden plan: to the extent it provides stimulus, that will fall if the economy does better than expected. Unemployment benefits will shrink if unemployment is lower; state and local governments will bank some of their aid if revenue rises 1/

    So any worries you might have about excessive demand should be alleviated by this de facto “automatic stabilizer” aspect of the plan 2/

    From Austan Goolsbee (who worked in the Obama administration–economic adviser, I think):

    Goolsbee on Summers’ op-ed: “I don’t think he’s right … He’s thinking of this as a traditional stimulus. It’s not. This is a rescue and relief package.”

    “We face a bunch of permanent damage if we do not do a relief package big and quickly”

    I feel like Summers isn’t disagreeing that much with Krugman and Goolsbee. Summers seems to be believe that the plan is sound and that going too big is better than going too small. He’s just raising potential risks and suggesting a way to respond to them.

    2/7/2021

    How to Make Biden’s American Rescue Plan Better from Stan Veuger, from the Bulwark

    3/13/2021

    Stimulus Solves Most — But Not All — State and Local Budget Problems from Governing

  6. When U.S. presidents spoke like this, I remember taking their words for granted.

    Now, I don’t. This is great to hear. This is who we are.

  7. Biden’s lies and distortions

    I want to keep track of these–to evaluate the way the mainstream press is covering him and as a way to compare Biden to Trump.

    Fact-checking Biden’s address to the nation from WaPo

    “That’s more deaths than in World War I, World War II, Vietnam War and 9/11 combined.”’

    The president said 527,726 Americans have been recorded as dying from the coronavirus. But, as we have noted before, about 580,000 people died in the three wars he mentioned.

    I’m not sure why Biden is saying this, again.

    “I set a goal that many of you said was kind of way over the top. I said I intended to get 100 million shots in people’s arms in my first hundred days in office.”

    …As for whether many Americans said the goal was “way over the top,” we are unaware of polling that would confirm that. Most news accounts depicted Biden’s goal as potentially difficult, but not impossible, when he announced it in early December.

  8. Immigration can make or break the Biden presidency

    This is an issue I’m going to be watching closely. If the President doesn’t handle this issue properly, he and the Democrats could suffer significant losses in the next two elections. Trump and the GOP will use demagogic rhetoric, and attempt to create the impression that many dangerous immigrants are flooding into the country. Biden has to show that he is strong and in control of the borders and effectively counter these claims. Failing to do this will likely strengthen Trump and the GOP.

    More here:

    Biden Has a Border Problem from David Frum in the Atlantic

    3/24/2021

    From WaPo: There’s no migrant ‘surge’ at the U.S. southern border. Here’s the data.

    We looked at data from U.S. Customs and Border Protection to see whether there’s a “crisis” — or even a “surge,” as many news outlets have characterized it. We analyzed monthly CBP data from 2012 to now and found no crisis or surge that can be attributed to Biden administration policies. Rather, the current increase in apprehensions fits a predictable pattern of seasonal changes in undocumented immigration combined with a backlog of demand because of 2020’s coronavirus border closure.

    This surprised me, particularly the part about the numbers being part of a predictable pattern.

    1. Biden taps Harris to handle border crisis from WaPo

      The first thought that popped into my head when I read this: This is a huge gamble. If Harris and the Biden administration do a go job of reducing and/or controlling the flow of immigrants at the Southern border, including reducing the overcrowding and bad conditions of those waiting for processing, this could really shore a potentially big weakness for Harris as a presidential candidate.

      Failure on immigration will create very fertile ground for demagoguery–and the GOP and people like Tucker Carlson and Trump will definitely exploit this. VP Harris is a black woman, which only makes potentially worse for Harris and the Democrats. However, Biden and Harris handle immigration well, stirring up fears will be that much more difficult.

      A part of me feels choosing Harris to spearhead this seems like a big risk. On the other hand, even if she’s not the point person, the GOP will hammer her and Biden if immigration goes badly. Additionally, she could very well be the best person for this, if she’s had to deal with this as a DA in California. Finally, since the Biden administration wants to work with Mexico and other central American countries, Harris will get some foreign relations experience in the process. If she’s able to work well with these leaders, that only makes her a stronger U.S. president.

    2. Harris-led campaign to stem migration from Central America faces steep challenges from WaPo

      A key part of the Biden Administration’s plan to deal with immigration is to help the economies and governments of Central American countries. The idea is that if those countries improve, politically and economically, less people will immigrate to the U.S. That makes sense.

      The problem is that this could be a huge undertaking by the U.S.–akin to nation building. What should be asked is how feasible are significant improvements? Do the countries have the key components to have a functioning government and healthy economy (with a strong middle class)?

      Here’s a bad sign:

      But similar campaigns under previous administrations have failed to make meaningful progress, leading to cyclical spikes at the border since 2014. And high-level corruption among government officials has complicated U.S. efforts to negotiate with leaders who have little political will for reform.

      While helping those countries to become more stable and economically healthy is a sensible idea, I hope the Biden Administration counting heavily on this. They probably should have a robust plan in place if these improvements are not made.

      To expect Harris to be more effective in this type of nation building seems really unreasonable.

      There’s also this:

      But many migration experts question the entire premise of deterring migration through development assistance, arguing that, in the short term, economic growth leads to more migration, as more people are able to afford the journey. Even security gains don’t always lead to a decrease in migration: In Honduras, the homicide rate was halved between 2012 and 2019, and yet the exodus of Hondurans increased.

      While the belief that improving political and economic conditions would reduce emigration is sensible, what if it’s not actually true? What if, even with improvements, America remains more attractive to a lot of Central Americans? This is plausible to me. I think the Hispanic population continues to grow, and if there are more Spanish speakers in the U.S., with the other benefits America has to offer, even if Central American countries improve, large numbers of Central Americans might still want to emigrate to the U.S.

      A question: What would the conditions have to be in Central American countries to significantly reduce the desire to come to America? Are these conditions realistic?

      In recent years, smuggling networks have grown, along with the ability of would-be migrants to borrow vast amounts of money to pay smugglers. For many rural Hondurans and Guatemalans, migration is a far more accessible option than ever before.

    3. I mentioned that immigration could make or break Biden and the Democrats. But I failed to mention that it’s an issue that could make or break the country. The primary reason for this? In my view, immigration is one of the main sources of fear and resentment fueling Trump’s and the GOP’s political power. I believe this fear and resentment has lead large numbers of Americans to sacrifice principles and values that are essential for our republic.

      If this is correct, the way Biden’s immigration policies can be demagogically used by Trump and the GOP should be one of the main ways to evaluate Biden’s handling of immigration.

      This recent WaPo article about states wanting to share soon-to-expire vaccines with Mexico (and other countries like India) is a good example. In the article, the Biden administration argues the feds must control the use of donating vaccines to other countries, citing liability reasons, as one example.

      That may be true, but even if it weren’t, if the Biden administration allowed states to do this, think of the way Trump, the GOP, and conservative pundits like Tucker Carlson would use this? To wit: “Once again, government resources that should go to Americans are going to others. We’ve already devoted too many resources to illegal immigrants, etc.”

      Biden not only has to worry about politics, but fracturing the country–or, alternatively, keep the country together. One key way of doing this is to minimize the fodder for demagogues.

  9. The danger of overreaching

    Reading about the recent stimulus bill and now this infrastructure and climate change package, I’m concerned that Biden and Democrats are overreaching. For one thing, they’re spending a heck of a lot of money. I support improving infrastructure and dealing with climate change, but I almost get the sense Democrats don’t think one can spend too much. Man, we could sure use a healthy conservative party to balance things out. If the Republicans want to prove they care about bi-partisanship, they should offer reasonable compromises. If the Democrats don’t accept these, that will expose Democrats of being unreasonable.

    Biden’s infrastructure and climate plan emerges as congressional wrangling begins from WaPo

  10. “Opinion: A dumb attack on Biden’s plan actually reveals the weakness of GOP arguments” WaPo op-ed by Greg Sargent

    As Sargent describes it, Republicans calling Biden’s plan of “higher taxes on the wealthy, including an increase in the capital gains tax on those with income over $1 million, and a hike in the rate paid by earners in the top income bracket,” socialism. But this is inaccurate, as a political economist, Steven Vogel points out in the article:

    Government rules enable markets to exist in the first place, Vogel notes, so the choice is how to structure markets, in whose interests and for what purpose. These market rules, Vogel explains, structure power relationships between various players and factors in the economy.

    We always have choices about the structure of the market. Vogel contends that the structure, based on policy choices, have benefited the wealthy. For example,

    Changes in labor market law weakened worker power relative to employers. Changes in corporate governance channeled higher salaries to executives and prioritized shareholder gains over other stakeholders’ interests. Changes in financial regulation helped the financial sector seize a larger share of the economy. A retreat on antitrust enforcement, and more generous government protection for intellectual property rights, have granted more market power (and profits) to dominant firms, such as in Big Tech and Big Pharma.

    The big story: The top has benefited partly from economic rents, or extractive gains rooted in deliberate changes in market rules.

    It seems wrong to say that making a different choice about the market structures is “socialist” just because the wealthy don’t benefit from that structure.

  11. Infrastructure plan

    The controversy, besides the cost of Biden’s proposal, is that he’s included things that are not traditionally considered infrastructure–e.g., childcare and eldercare. Honestly, whether one supports this or not (and I more open to it, but not enthusiastic), this is not infrastructure; including this would expand and redefine the term.

    My preference is to focus on what both sides can agree on, and then get that done. But the Democrats voice worries about this approach:

    Democrats signal they’re open to concessions on infrastructure from WaPo

    All this jockeying makes some liberals nervous that Biden’s overtures could lead to a significantly smaller infrastructure package than his initial $2.25 trillion proposal. A bipartisan bill — particularly one focused on roads, bridges and Internet — could sap the energy for a larger package containing liberal priorities like elder care and child care, they fear.

    I think their fears shouldn’t be dismissed. But here’s what I would say:

    • If the bill can be bipartisan, that will boost Biden and the Democrats politically–at least with moderate Americans–who, I thin, comprise the majority. Such a bill will create the impression that government can work–and I think Biden (and the Democrats) will get credit for this. This is one of the reasons McConnell has taken a more obstructionist stance. His problem, and other Republicans like him, is that they care almost exclusively about power and not actually solving significant problems.
    • If they succeed–if there is a handful of Republicans who cant put the country ahead of themselves and their party–this bill could possibly generate good will among these Republicans with the Democrats. That could possibly create some momentum to work together on future bills.
    • I’m a bit skeptical on that last point, and now is a good time to reiterate the need for GOP to go out their way to show they actually care about bipartisanship and solving problems. The overwhelming evidence is that they only care about power.
    • If Biden fails to get a few Republicans on board, the key is he needs to make a good faith effort. He should make enough compromises that it’s clear that he is being reasonable and that if the Republicans reject this, they are not serious about bipartisanship.

    Going this path could derail bills that address things progressive cares about. But, to me, the bigger picture is restoring faith in the government. I do think a significant number of citizens were so disgusted and frustrated with gridlock that a person like Trump became attractive to them. If Biden and Democrats can show that government can be effective and cooperation between Dems and GOP can occur, people may be less apt to turn to a authoritarian.

    By the way, one possibility is that Biden included childcare and eldercare being prepared to jettison those things from the bill. The GOP attacked the bill for those things, and said they value traditional infrastructure. If Biden agrees to remove those things from the bill, this should increase the likelihood of getting the GOP on board–or it will expose them as not caring about bipartisanship. (This type of exposure has occurred before, too.)

    1. Biden shift reassures Republican senators on bipartisan infrastructure deal from WaPo

      Let me back up. Biden and some Democratic and Republican senators made a bi-partisan agreement on an infrastructure bill earlier last week. But after the agreement was announced, Biden, inexplicably in my view, said he would not sign the bill unless it also came with another bill on “human infrastructure” (e.g., childcare). Republican were angry at this–understandably in my view.

      But this weekend Biden walked back his remarks:

      On Saturday, Biden walked back his remarks somewhat, saying he had not intended to issue a veto threat and that he intended to support the infrastructure plan “without reservation or hesitation.”

      “Our bipartisan agreement does not preclude Republicans from attempting to defeat my Families Plan; likewise, they should have no objections to my devoted efforts to pass that Families Plan and other proposals in tandem,” Biden stated. “We will let the American people — and the Congress — decide. The bottom line is this: I gave my word to support the Infrastructure Plan, and that’s what I intend to do. … I fully stand behind it without reservation or hesitation.”

      According to the article, this appeased a lot of Senate (?) Republicans, which I’m glad to hear.

      I’m hoping this will pass. In addition to moving towards upgrading infrastructure, something that’s been needed for a long time, this should be a salve for those frustrated by Washington gridlock. It’s a sign, albeit a small one, that the federal government can work.

  12. Biden gets snippy and annoyed at a reporter.

    This is not a huge deal, but I believe some Trump supporting outlets are complaining that the media would have strongly criticized Trump for doing something similar. To me, Biden lost his cool, and he should not have, but comparing this reaction to the press with Trump’s is apples to oranges. Biden hasn’t said anything like the “press is the enemy of the people” or calling reporting “fake news.” I’m pretty sure Trump has far more inappropriate reactions to the press than Biden as well.

  13. Opinion: The CDC’s eviction moratorium is almost certainly illegal from the WaPo Editorial Board

    The CDC crafted its new moratorium after a previous eviction ban expired last week. The old policy covered the whole country and had been in place since September. But Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh warned in June that the CDC had “exceeded its existing statutory authority by issuing a nationwide eviction moratorium” and that it could not be renewed absent “clear and specific congressional authorization.”

    If the Trump administration had ignored a direct warning from the Supreme Court, Democrats would rightfully line up to condemn the president. Mr. Biden does not get a pass on the rule of law because his heart is in the right place.

    I think this is right, but I just want to add that if Trump ignored the Supreme Court to do something similar to extending the moratorium on evictions, I suspect many Democrats would not condemn this.

  14. I get the impression that Pete Doocy, the Fox News reporter in this clip, has an agenda to make Biden look bad. However, while he may have this agenda, Biden publicly mentioned that he believed DOJ should prosecute those who refused to comply with to congressional subpoena to testify about the 1/6 incident.

    Does this constitute interfering with DOJ independence, as Doocy claims? If Biden has allowed DOJ to operate independently, as Psaki claims (and she at one point she mentions decision regarding who to prosecute), one could argue that Biden is not interfering. On the other hand, one could also fairly argue that Biden is creating the appearance of interference–and that is not good. The DOJ and FBI fall under the POTUS’s authority, but if he abuses this authority by siccing these agencies on his political opponents or use them to protect himself and his allies, that would be a gross abuse of power–something an authoritarian leader would do. To ensure the POTUS doesn’t do this, or even create the appearance of this, most POTUSes have norms to ensure this.

    That’s something Trump has egregiously trampled over repeatedly–and Psaki mentions ways he’s done this. It’s totally fair to say that there’s no comparison between Trump and Biden when it comes to violating DOJ independence (at least based on what is public knowledge about Biden’s interacting with the DOJ).

    I winced when I heard Biden make the remark (and he made it because a reporter asked him a question). On the other hand, is it controversial to say the DOJ should prosecute witnesses who refuse congressional subpoenas, especially if this part of a pattern? Actually, because these are witnesses are part of Trump’s circle, Biden’s remark can create the appearance that he wants the DOJ to go after his enemies.

    Honestly, I think Trump’s conduct with regard to investigations into him and his administration has been to protect himself–and hide wrongdoing on his part. He’s not operating from a principled position, nor do I think he respects our system of government, that a POTUS is not above the law. I also don’t think he’s doing what is in the country’s best interest.

    Having said that, I tend to think that Biden ultimately should not have made that public statement.

  15. Positive accomplishments

    This thread is a decent summary of Biden’s accomplishments, with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer receiving praise as well.

    While the debate continues to drag on with meaningless amendments that will all be rejected 50-50, Let us pause to acknowledge that this is an immense achievement. The broader public may not recognize it, But Joe Biden has had to navigate through treacherous terrain. 1
    An obstructionist radical Republican Party with no interest in actually governing to help people, cooperating only when it was in their naked self interest. Delaying and blocking critical executive confirmations, not because of qualifications but simply to obstruct governance. 2
    A 50-50 Senate, requiring unanimity among Democrats who themselves represent wildly different views, interests and personalities— and the added obstacle of a filibuster rule blocking most legislative actions. A House with a margin of 3 or 4, also requiring near total cohesion. 3
    But in the span of 18 months, he has achieved $3 trillion in Covid relief, infrastructure and safety net protection, a gun safety law, relief for veterans devastated by toxic wastes, computer chip reform and more, and is on the verge of historic climate change reform. 4
    Along with controlling the cost of drugs for seniors, providing affordable health care for millions, making corporations and wealthy tax cheats pay their fair share. Along with the best jobs record in history and taking out the head of al Qaeda. 5
    Of course, this was not all Biden. Pelosi and Schumer deserve some credit, Schumer esp for this pending deal. Pelosi, with a House ranging from Josh Gottheimer to Ilhan Omar, kept the majority on board. Like it or not, Manchin and Sinema stepped up to the plate on this bill. 6
    The fact is that every president requires help from congressional leaders. That does not dilute the accomplishments of FDR and LBJ, and it should not dilute the accomplishments of Joe Biden. Especially because FDR & LBJ had overwhelming majorities of their own party in Congress 7
    Let me add that Biden has also dramatically transformed the federal judiciary, doing more to make it representative of the country than any previous president 8

    Not mentioned, but should be: Rallying allies to support Ukraine against Russian invasion.

    Failings of the administration

    Off the top of my head, two failings–at least one seems very significant:

    • The handling of removing troops from Afghanistan. (The Russian invasion and war with Ukraine and the tensions between China and Taiwan vindicate the decision to move troops out of Afghanistan, but the way this occurred seemed bad.)
    • Lawrence Summers, the former Treasury Secretary, warned that the Democrats were spending too much to ameliorate economic damage precipitated by the pandemic. He was in the minority, but the high inflation (which he anticipated) seems to have vindicated his warning. On the other hand, if one had to err, spending too much might have been preferable to spending too much. I believe this was the consensus view among experts. It should be also mentioned that inflation is a problem in many other countries, not just the U.S. So it’s unclear to we could have avoided inflation–especially if we vigorously supported Ukraine, knowing we’d feel economic pain as a result.

    (Aside: If you support U.S. and European support of Ukraine, it’s not reasonable to then blame the U.S. government for deleterious effects on the economy. This is one of the costs with supporting Ukraine and opposing Russia in my view.)

    What do the GOP care about, other than tax cuts, shrinking government, and reducing regulation?

    Climate change, health care, cost of colleges–what is the GOP proposals to address these and other problems? I would like to know.

    Also, here’s something I really want to see from the GOP–if they actually care about governing and solving important problems the country faces: offer a reasonable compromises to Democratic proposals that if the Democrats don’t accept them, it will expose the Democrats negotiating in bad faith or behaving in an unreasonable fashion. I would like to compile of list of these instances, so that I can compare it to the times the Democrats did something similar.

  16. Biden’s speech on the threat to democracy

    I think I heard most of it, and while listening to this, I found myself agreeing with much of what he said, although I felt uncomfortable at some points. This feeling increased afterward when I had time to think about it and see some reactions.

    Here’s why I felt uneasy about the speech. To me, polarization is a source of strength for Trumpism. Significantly decrease polarization and that’s the ball game. If correct, we should evaluate actions by Democrats in terms of its effects on polarization. I feel like Biden’s speech is more likely to exacerbate polarization.

    However, one way Biden’s speech could work is if it motivates moderates to vote in large numbers. If that happens we can and will successfully protect our democracy–maybe in spite of increasing polarization.

    But I’m not confident Biden’s speech will have that effect. (If Trump and his supporters act violently or in flagrantly antidemocratic ways, this may add enough validation to Biden’s message and maybe that will activate moderates. That’s my hope, anyway.)

    Some other general comments:

    1. What’s with the red, almost scary, background? This, plus Biden’s perpetual scowl, seemed like the wrong vibe to portray. Maybe they were trying to create an ominous mood?…I do think the moment is ominous, but I’m not sure if this approach will work.;

    2. I’ve heard some criticize using the marines as props. I totally agree with that. I didn’t like it.

    3. Back to Biden’s scowl. To me, conveying anger and irritation is generally not good for presidents or presidential candidates. But I feel like President Biden has been doing this quite a bit. Maybe it’s appropriate, but it doesn’t entirely match the message of hope and optimism for the future.

    4. The saving grace for me is that after four years of Trump, I’m really desperate to hear an American president speak like an American president. Here, I include the boilerplate messages about American values that felt perfunctory. Now, I cherish and savor these lines from an American president–particularly when I accept the sincerity behind them.

    5. (Note: added 9/3/22) I’m noticing people are using “MAGA Republicans” now. I think this has the potential to be a good thing, especially “normal Republicans” is other term used to distinguish the former. It might isolate extremists and scare away more moderate voters. Maybe this was the intention? I Whether it was or wasn’t, I hope it works.

    Important point made in these two tweets–namely, there is no equivalence between what I would consider inappropriate actions by Biden with the inappropriate actions by Trump and his enablers.

    (At the same time, the criticisms have legitimacy, especially if the alternative is: Trump did it, so it’s OK if Biden did it.)

    Critics with zero credibility

    9/2/2022

    Never Trump advice to Democrats

    If the Dems follow her advice, and it proves a successful political strategy, my concerns will be misplaced or my hypothesis will be wrong. I sure hope I’m wrong.

    9/3/2022

    David Frum’s defense of Biden’s speech

    American democracy was in grave danger in the summer of 1864. The military situation was grim. Inflation was devouring wages. The draft pressed hard. The Democratic platform offered the rebel South a negotiated peace. Lincoln’s grip on his own party was loosening. Lincoln recognized – as I trust we all now recognize – that the only way to save the Union was by his own re-election.

    So here is one thing he did to ensure that re-election: crass patronage politics at the New York Customs House. In the 1860s, the NY Customs House was the greatest patronage plum in the federal inventory. Senior employees at the Customs House were compensated by a share in the customs revenues. Appointees could get rich – and kick back handsomely to the politician who got them a post. In summer 1864, Lincoln faced dissent from more radical Republicans. They hoped to replace him with Secretary of the Treasury Chase. Chase had a preferred candidate at the Customs House. So Lincoln dangled that appointment to deter Chase from challenging him.

    Lincoln was renominated, the Union Army took Atlanta and speeded to further victories, Lincoln was re-elected. Crass patronage politics was part of how the war was won and the Union saved. I am sure there were people writing in 1864, “Democracy is in danger. President Lincoln should invoke patriotism, not the patronage politics, to make that point.”

    Lincoln knew otherwise.

    In 2022, many state Republican parties are committed to tampering with state election processes – up to and including allowing gerrymandered state legislatures to over-rule popular votes for president if the majority votes in a different way than the legislature wants. In 2022, most House and many Senate Republican candidates are committed to legal impunity for Donald Trump for January 6 and for the taking of sensitive documents to his Mar a Lago club.

    The only sure way to stop Republican candidates from acting on those commitments is to deny them the power to act on those commitments. Which means beating them. Which means asking: what would Lincoln do in our case?

    In the past few days, Biden has acted to relieve student debt. I personally disapprove that measure. At another time, I’d oppose it vociferously. But it sure does seem to have energized a to-date listless youth vote. In Philadelphia, Biden joined issues of direct and intimate concern – abortion, contraception, etc. – to more abstract issues of democracy that some voters might shrug off. That seems likewise to energize voters Biden and his party need. It’s not all pretty, any more than it was pretty in 1864. If human beings were made of different stuff, Salmon Chase would have said, “Mr. Lincoln, you are the man the country needs, I will have no part in any schemes against you.” But he didn’t. Hence: NY customs house.

    In 2022, it would be nice if every voter realized that honest elections and the rule of law matter most. But some worry more about their personal lives. Hence: join abortion and contraception to rule of law concerns. Some people seem to take the view: Of course there’s nothing much to be expected of Trump and Co. Trump would rant and rave more in 200 characters than Biden in 20 months in office. No point complaining about THAT, it cannot be helped. Biden, however, should raise the tone. And indeed, Biden is raising the tone in all kinds of ways. You noticed the “semi-fascist” comment because it was just about the first derogatory thing Biden has said all presidency about Trump and his faction.

    But if Biden is to continue raising the tone, he needs to avert election results in 2022 that will empower Trump and his faction. And that means politics: Talking to voters about things they care about – and showing them the connection to the things they *should* care about. The man honored in that great white marble monument at the west end of the Mall understood that all his fine words and high ideals would not matter at all if he were maneuvered out of power. He kept power. His ideals prevailed, his words are remembered. Go and do likewise. END

    Frum has a post-script where he points to a longer article making a similar argument. Then he adds another post-script:

    PPS to the Lincoln/Chase custom house story: soon after Lincoln clinched renomination, he rejected Chase’s customs house candidate. Chase resigned from the cabinet, but it was now too late for him to hurt Lincoln. As a consolation prize, Lincoln named Chase to the Supreme Court. Lincoln was a tough SOB, nobody else could have got the job, kept it, and saved the country.

    (Note: I removed the numeration of the tweets and adjusted the spacing of the words to make it more readable.)

    Comments:

    First, I mostly agree with Frum, but the argument makes me uncomfortable–and should make any American uncomfortable. It is essentially a means justifies the ends argument–e.g., the threat posed by the party is so dire, my party is justified in doing bad things. To me, the validity of this rationale rests on at least two main questions: 1) is the threat really dire? and 2) what problematic means do we have in mind. What answers would warrants and means-justifies-the-ends approach? If fundamental principles of the country were really at stake (e.g., free and fair elections) and not violating–at least not egregiously and repeatedly violating–the same fundamental principles.

    In Lincoln’s case, if Lincoln losing really was tantamount to losing the republic then he would check that box. But you can see how dangerous this thinking is. Many presidents can adopt the belief the fate of the nation rests in their election/re-election–therefore, the ends justifies the means (cf. Nixon). As to the second question, while giving out patronage is bad, I don’t think it doesn’t threaten the loss of core principles. (Corruption is bad–we should vigilantly seek to reduce it–but we can have a functioning liberal democracy with some level of corruption.) So he would check off that mark.

    Now apply it to Biden’s case. If the Democrats lose both House and the Senate, I do think the democracy at risk. Frum provides evidence above, but I would also add remarks by Republicans signaling they punish DOJ, FBI for their investigation into Trump–pushing towards politicization of those agencies.

    One final note. It’s not clear to me that Lincoln would not have used patronage if the stakes were lower. Good politicians will do things like this to stay in power. It’s distasteful, but the reality, as Frum alluded to, is that good ideas and a good person mean nothing if they can’t win elections. The good politician has a sound moral compass and judiciously chooses Real Politik maneuvers and also tries to limit them, especially the more flagrant types. To me, Republicans have lost their ability to do this. They don’t seem to have any red lines.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *