The Impossible Presidency

I’m not saying things were easy for Bill Clinton, being President is hard. It was easier than it was for Barack Obama though. Being President was hard for Barack Obama, I’m sure of it, but it was probably easier than it is for Joe Biden though. You probably are scratching your head and asking how I came to this conclusion, and where I’m going with this. The fact is, foreign relations are considerably harder today than they were right after the Soviet Union fell. The federal courts were much easier to navigate pre-Trump. The steady decline of Congress is 30 years further along than they were when Clinton came to town. The Republican Party’s decay is accelerating in the post-Bush world. And yes, Joe Biden faces more opposition within the Democratic Party than any Democratic President in my lifetime.

It’s amazing the guy wants the job.

In the moment after the Berlin Wall fell, America was the lone super power to shape the direction of the world. In the time since a lot has happened. Globalization has accelerated. Terrorist groups replaced foreign nation-states as the chief threat to our borders. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan drained our treasury, lost us lives, and diminished our global standing. Maybe most important though, China emerged as a super power and Russia took a newly aggressive posture towards us under Vladimir Putin. A new anti-democratic consensus emerged among our rivals, challenging our world view. Attempts at more normal relations with Cuba and Iran didn’t go very well. Amidst all this, we had our first post-World War II Presidency where the United States questioned our own commitment to our European alliance. In other words, the world just ain’t what it used to be, and I’m not even diving into global issues like climate change.

Presidents Clinton and Obama faced Supreme Courts that were at times adversarial, but they had 5-4 conservative majorities. During their Presidencies, the Solicitor General could defend government actions at the court by focusing on one or two potential swing justices. Sandra Day O’Connor and Anthony Kennedy could be persuaded to allow the government to act on legitimate issues and even to protect the rights of the marginalized on some matters. President Biden faces a Supreme Court, and federal court system radicalized by Donald Trump. There are now six Republican appointees on the bench, and the Biden Administration needs to win over two of Chief Justice Roberts, Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh. The court is showing an open willingness to ignore precedent and act from the bench that we haven’t seen in generations. Worse yet, four of the six Republican appointees are likely to be there for decades to come, so change is very unlikely to come to that branch. Civil rights and government power are likely to be seriously narrowed, and the only option President Biden and future successors have to push back is to eventually either try to get Congress to expand the court (dead end right now) or provoke a Constitutional crisis. This is not workable.

Congress no longer works. There simply aren’t dealmakers on the Hill to get much done with anymore. Like his recent Democratic predecessors, President Biden got a stimulus bill through to deal with the economy, and one major generational bill (infrastructure), and then everything ground to a halt. Even consensus issues like insulin prices, gun safety measures, and raising the minimum wage to at least $12 go to Congress to die. Narrow Democratic majorities are undone by both the filibuster and more aggressive House progressives forcing demands on bills that can’t be squared up. The reality is that Democrats are unlikely to see massive majorities into the future either. With the Rockefeller Republicans long dead, and the Blue Dog Democrats close behind, there’s simply no one to make deals with on Capitol Hill, no way to build legislative consensus. Democrats can only pass legislation where they either have near unanimous support in their own caucus of both houses, or where the bill is so non-controversial that everyone is ready to go along. This is a problem for a nation facing crises with climate change, guns, public education, immigration, and health care. The main goal of many new members of Congress is to get a seat on an oversight committee where they can yell at witnesses and use props to get internet attention, not to get a seat on Appropriations where they can find actual solutions. In short, Congress doesn’t work.

Once upon a time, the Republican Party was an actual governing party. No Child Left Behind was their education policy. Welfare Reform was an actual bill. There was a bipartisan “Gang of 8” immigration bill that John McCain and George W. Bush tried to pass. President Nixon (!) created the EPA. When deficits soared after the 1981 tax cuts, Presidents Reagan and Bush 41 accepted the reality that some tax increases were necessary. President Bush 43 sent record funding to Africa to fight the AIDS epidemic. Some of this was good policy, much of it in my opinion was bunk- but these were policy positions. A political party must have some ideas if they want to be a political party. Basically since President Bush’s failed 2005 attempt at reforming Social Security, the Republican Party has completely abandoned any sort of coherent policies in favor of slogans and “own the libs.” The GOP of today is a grievance party, nothing more and nothing less. They want to cut off immigration with a wall on the border, shame transgender athletes, and make voting harder if they don’t win elections. During the Trump White House their only major achievements on Capitol Hill were a massive amount of federal judges, a major tax cut bill, and “phase 1” of criminal justice reform, which was basically all the really easy stuff nobody objected to. While they talked about major changes to NAFTA and trade agreements, the changes we got were virtually nonexistent. They promised a border wall, but never delivered it. Basically, you got infrastructure week, on repeat, with no infrastructure bill. It should come as no shock that they are proposing no solution to get more workers into the supply chain right now, or that their plan for gas prices is “drill baby, drill,” when we drilled more in 2021 than we did in 2017. They are not a serious party. Their most “successful” policy in implementation was banning Muslims from entering the country for no reason. This is our “partner” party to negotiate with, a party that idolizes Jim Jordan and nominates Herschel Walker and Dr. Oz for Senate. The GOP is completely broken.

As if all of that wasn’t enough, Joe Biden contends with a Democratic Party that more accepted him than wanted him. Had it not been for the wisdom of Black voters coalescing behind President Biden in South Carolina, would white moderate Dems have got their act together and coalesced behind the only electable candidate in the field? While the party rallied behind the Biden-Harris ticket during the election, the White House has faced more attacks from inside the party than any in recent memory. Congressional Democrats and Vice-President Gore had a rally for President Clinton when he was impeached, while Joe Lieberman’s career ended after he opposed Barack Obama in 2008. Today, Elizabeth Warren and Chuck Schumer take to Twitter regularly to criticize President Biden for not using an executive order to forgive student loan debt at levels he never promised to during the campaign. AOC and “The Squad” mostly voted against Biden’s biggest achievement as President, the infrastructure bill. Vice-President Harris routinely faces tough articles from “inside sources” at the White House, criticizing her work and staff members exiting the building. There is open talk of who should run for President in 2024, from Democratic sources, if President Biden does not. When the President speaks on matters of policy, as he recently did about Taiwan, anonymous White House sources race to the media to “correct” what he said to meet their policy objectives. In short, the President and Vice-President do not enjoy unanimous support from their party, far from. Some of this is kind of obvious- in an era where identity and “self expression” drive our politics, an old, straight, white man is leading the Democratic Party, and a chunk of the party wishes they had a different voice. The bigger problem that President Biden faces that President Clinton never really faced, and President Obama only kind of faced, is a shifting geography of Democratic elected officials and activists. The large bulk of Democratic members of Congress, state legislators, and municipal leaders represent super blue urban areas and very diverse suburbs. Most Democratic votes and donations come from those districts. Unfortunately there are not enough of those districts to build a working majority, and people who want White Houses and Congressional majorities need broader electoral appeal than these folks want. When you combine those geographic tensions with a louder, more independent critics class inside the party, you get a President facing larger scale defections in his party than we’ve seen since the 1980 primary season. There is simply now a chunk of voters left of the political center now who demand either a more leftist ideology from the party, or an identity for the party that matches their view of where the votes are from. Joe Biden doesn’t really meet either of those demands, and so he lacks the rock solid support of Democrats in the recent past. While the reality is that these demands make the party unelectable, trying to convince some people of that is seemingly impossible.

Joe Biden inherited a pandemic, a government rocked by scandal, an economy that was shut down, a Capitol that had just been the victim of an attempted coup, and a job that was already extremely difficult because of trends facing our nation that I outlined above. Some of the problems he’s had were predictable, others were not. I have to wonder out loud if there was ever going to be a way to appease the nation in his position. Governing is hard enough, doing it while at the center of a hurricane is nearly impossible. I think he’s doing a good job, I’m just increasingly wondering if anybody cares.

The Phillies Failed in Firing Joe Girardi

The Phillies are not a good baseball team and have not been since 2011. They are 23-29, 11 games out of first and 5.5 out of the Wild Card. They went 82-80 last year, their best record in a decade, but basically the same as the 2018, 2019, and even 2020 versions of the team. They are one of the most dreadful defensive teams you will ever watch play baseball. They’re a decent enough hitting team, but they’re so poor at making contact that they can be shutout any given night, as they already have five times this season. They honestly thought they’d be able to hold leads with the cast of Familia, Alvarado, and Knebel pitching in the late innings, but instead we’re watching another horrible bullpen lose leads. Their top position prospect has been an automatic out at the plate, while their other young infielder has been better than last year, but still lacks power and the ability to catch the baseball. Someone thought they’d find an acceptable center fielder among Odubel Herrera, Matt Vierling, and Roman Quinn while waiting for former #1 overall pick Mickey Moniak to heal up and hopefully become a starter out there. I honestly thought this team would hit enough to mask their problems and make the playoffs, before the season. At this point I accept what is. I just don’t think this group is much more than a .500 group, at best.

None of this is meant to absolve Joe Girardi for his performance as manager. His bullpen management stands out in particular as a problem. He uses far too many relievers and neither pushes them to get more outs or appear in more games each week. His continual decision to use Brad Hand in the 6th and 7th inning, while using Jose Alvarado as a late inning lefty drives me nuts. It seems like he had multiple relievers unavailable every night. Girardi’s management never bothered me like Gabe Kapler’s, but I wouldn’t honestly say he did great. He tried to close a pivotal game in Atlanta with Nick Nelson.

The problem with this team has very little to do with the manager. With hindsight now as a guide, it wasn’t the manager with Gabe Kapler either. The roster simply isn’t good. Joe Girardi doesn’t make the first baseman throw the ball away when it’s hit to him. No manager is going to make the closer handed to him by the big name team President stop giving up home runs. It’s not the dugouts fault that their high priced catcher has a sub-.700 OPS in June. The manager isn’t at fault when a wild throw to second base from the catcher ends up rolling through the center fielder’s legs, a center fielder that same team President brought back on a guaranteed deal. it’s not the manager hitting .181 in June in year one of a four year free agent deal paying him almost $20 million a year. I’m going to be blunt- this team is mostly bad because former GM Matt Klentak destroyed it, but the current brass of Dave Dombrowski and Sam Fuld made a ton of clear mistakes building this team. The blame for this belongs in the composition of the team.

I’m basically saying you’re not likely to find a manager who can fix this. I almost certainly am sure it’s not handing the team over to Girardi and Kapler’s long time bench coach. Is this even a change? The GM said he will “communicate” better as a reason he’ll do well. What? That’s going to change things for a team that’s not doing much right? The team needs to play 90 win pace the rest of the way to get to 85 wins and sneak in the playoffs. I can count 7 teams in the NL that are better than this team. There are 6 spots. I don’t really think any manager changes that right now. I’m puzzled about how this move is an attempt to change anything.

So here’s where I give you a glimmer of hope, then snatch it from you. This team has played worse than I thought, and they will play better. The schedule starts getting easier the rest of the way. The Phillies will play their way into at least the Wild Card race. This will happen under Rob Thomson and you’ll see lots of people say he’s doing a better job. All of this would have happened under Joe Girardi too. Unless the roster changes, this improvement won’t get them to the playoffs though. They will be eliminated in the final week of the season, again. That would of happened under Girardi too. It’s not going to be much different under Thomson. The problem is the players the front office puts on the field.

Demographics are a (Red) Destiny

Here’s some maps for you…

2004 under the 2024 electoral vote values.
2008 under 2024 electoral vote values.
2012 under 2024 electoral values.
2016 under 2024 electoral vote values.
2020 under 2024 electoral vote values.
The 2024 outlook.

Back in the Obama years, we heard a lot about “demographics are destiny.” In fact they are, just not how those smart folks thought. There were thoughts of Democrats building huge electoral majorities as late as just after the 2012 election. The only part of that huge majority that has held as “permanent” so far is Colorado and Virginia, totaling 23 electoral votes. Democrats could probably count turning Nevada, Arizona, Georgia, and North Carolina all purple, totaling 49 electoral votes, as a somewhat positive outcome as well (Bush won them all somewhat easily). But for those 72 electoral votes, let’s be clear about what Democrats have seen slide against them. Pennsylvania, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin all blue from 1992 through 2012 and somewhat comfortable Obama wins, now are the 54 most competitive electoral votes in our nation’s politics. Florida, Ohio, and Iowa, 53 electoral votes that President Obama carried twice, are now almost certainly red moving forward. Indiana and Missouri, two of the three most competitive states in the 2008 election, are 21 electoral votes of red bastion. And of course, the promised movement of Texas to the left doesn’t look all that close to fruition. That’s 128 electoral votes Democrats thought as late as 2008 were no worse than battlegrounds that have slid away from them to varying degrees.

So the obvious question is why? An underrated part of this is Republican gains with Latinos and Black men in 2020 putting Democrats on defense. Even this though understates the bigger problem Democrats have had for a while- they put all their eggs in the demographic tsunami’s basket, and never understood what that meant under our federal system. This will become even more crystal clear in Senate elections over the coming decades. Population growth is in fact more non-white than ever before, but it’s all in a couple of states. By 2040, half the population will live in eight states, and 70% of the population will live in fifteen states. What that means in short is that half the country will elect 16 Senators and the other half (which will be much whiter and possibly have less education) will elect 84. The 70% of the country in 15 states will get just 30 Senators and the 30% in smaller, more rural, less diverse states will get 70 Senators. The United States Senate, before I am 60 years old, will be one of the least representative legislative bodies in the democratic world. While the House of Representatives, and by extension the electoral vote count for President, should at least partially move with population growth, even that won’t be perfect. Worse yet for Democrats, even if the GOP just keeps up marginal growth with non-white voters, they will keep Texas and Florida in their column for President, keeping them in the ball game to win elections if they continue doing well with white voters. Basically, if Democrats can’t change their 60 year trend line with white voters, Presidential elections remain on a knife’s edge, the Senate’s future is fairly conservative, and the House will only lean Democratic, not permanently tipped left. This is not even getting into state level governments, or what the Supreme Court will look like and do.

Demographics are not the destiny we hope for.

Maybe Social Media and the Internet Were Mistakes…

On Monday I decided to post a video of the Phillies-Giants game to TikTok with the national anthem dubbed over it. I figured what’s more American than baseball on Memorial Day, maybe a few people would like it? Well, a few did. Of my 12 videos I’ve ever posted on there, it’s my first to cross 1,000 views, with over 6,800 right now. It has 50 likes. And the comments… oh, the comments. See for yourself below…

Some people complained about the usher “making himself a seat in the aisle.” Others complained about fat people. Most talked about the fans sitting and the players playing through the national anthem though, which did not actually happen, of course. I put the music over the video, it was not playing in the ballpark. As I said, the comments are gold…

If actual TikTok users accidentally can be fooled by a video on TikTok into believing that two Major League Baseball teams and 26,000 plus fans would just ignore the national anthem and play the game through it, what does that say about Social Media and actual efforts to fool the public? Is the free flow of information on the internet actually a good thing? Can we actually function and handle the things we see? Increasingly, I doubt it…