I’ve been quite frustrated by the progressive-left’s reaction to the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade. Blaming the Democratic Party for five Republican appointed judges, confirmed by Senate votes almost entirely from Republicans, doing damage to the constitution is insane. All three Democratic appointees to the bench opposed this madness. Joe Biden’s lone appointee hasn’t been seated yet. I get it, you want him to react as angrily as you are, but you knew that wasn’t him when he ran. Besides that, Presidents shouldn’t compel the most angry among us to converge on the Capitol to enforce our will- we saw that in the last Presidency. The guy appointed a pro-choice judge to join the court this Fall. He just doesn’t have the power to do more. As he has said, he would need more pro-choice members of Congress to codify Roe. He’s right. Presidents can’t lead revolutions.
There are two rather clear and obvious critiques that could be made about Democrats based on what I said though, and both criticisms would be fair. First off, maybe our reliance on “the system” doesn’t work. The majority of the country supports Roe and gun laws, as does the President, Speaker, and Majority Leader of the Senate they elected. The court still just struck down popular precedent on both, and there’s not a damn thing the President can do about it within our system. One could argue that it’s at least partially a lack of real support that gets you here, but one can’t deny that most of the country did vote for the popular position and the system flipped them the bird anyway.
The second critique I’d not only support, but agree with, is that we’re here in part because the Democratic Party is not overly good at doing the thing it’s supposed to do- win elections. Since Clarence Thomas was appointed to the court, supplying the first anti-Roe vote from this crew, Roe has been under constant assault because Republicans have controlled the levers of power. I’m the last 30 years, Republicans have controlled the House for two-thirds of that time, and the Senate for 16.5 years (a bare majority). While much has been made of the two actual legislating months or so that the Obama Presidency also had a 60 seat majority in the Senate, people forget the multiple independent members and pro-life Democrats he had in those coalitions. The state level is even worse- for example Democrats have not held the Pennsylvania Senate since 1994, and they actually have held the New York Senate for less time than the GOP has in those 30 years.
Democrats simply don’t win enough elections to govern in America. When you say there aren’t enough votes to overturn the filibuster and pass Democratic initiatives, you’re implicitly acknowledging that. Yes, having a moral pluralistic party to start with makes this harder, but it’s a party’s job to figure that out. Is the Democratic messaging bad? Does the consultant class that dominates the campaign committees fail to understand how best to reach voters? Do they spend poorly? Do the major donors and independent expenditures that dominate the conversation in the party fail to talk about things that matter? I think it’s fair to question any tactical decisions the party and their supporting organizations have done over the past few decades. Republicans win more elections than we do. That’s not opinion, it’s objective fact. I’m hesitant to put it on people like the Biden-Harris ticket, who managed to win, but I didn’t see many defenses of Bill Clinton or Barack Obama after losses, so you almost have to.
It’s one thing to acknowledge that there are boundaries to what elected officials can do with their powers. I’m reminded though that when LBJ told MLK Jr. he lacked the political capital to do more on Civil Rights, King’s response was to tell his inner circle it was their job to go out and get it for him. I don’t think marches and protests are going to move today’s GOP, but clearly the Democratic Party needs a jolt of something to go get the seats it needs. If the punditry and majority of polls this year are right, Republicans are about to roll them this year, like 2010 and 1994. Accepting quick boom to bust political cycles is not acceptable. Some self-examination is more than a little fair.
The year was 1946 and things weren’t going so well for President Harry Truman. His party got beaten so badly in the midterm that his fellow Democrats were even floating that he should resign, not just not run in 1948. Truman resisted those calls and was elected President in 1948. In 1979, President Carter faced criticism from within his own party and also managed to at least beat back a primary challenge in 1980 from Ted Kennedy. Presidents Clinton and Obama faced critiques from within their own party after midterm beatings. Basically, Presidents don’t lose re-nomination in the Democratic Party.
If Joe Biden wants to run again in 2024, he’ll be the Democratic nominee for President. There is no one in the Democratic Party with the standing, fundraising prowess, broad support within most wings of the party, and pathway to the nomination. Yes, President Biden has definitely seen some slippage in the polls, even within his party. No, he’s not beatable in any sane campaign. The scorched earth campaign anyone who beat him for the nomination would have to run would be utterly divisive and disqualifying in a general election. A serious primary challenge, from literally anyone you would like to mention here, would leave the party unelectable and in ruins. The Republicans would use the attacks and wreckage to damage that person out of the gate.
None of this means President Biden should or should not run in 2024. He’ll be 82 years old. His polling numbers are objectively awful right now. He could recover, as Presidents Clinton and Obama did (or not, as Carter). There’s a decent chance that in early 2024 Covid is well in the rear view, interest rate hikes halted inflation, and job creation is booming- in which case Biden will be putting the GOP to bed with a beating in November. He also could get lucky and get to run against someone weak like Ron DeSantis. There’s at least a decent argument that he’s politically damaged though, or that his age is such that he should consider retiring. But we just don’t know about any of that in the Summer of 2022.
For the sake of the nonsensical though, let’s entertain the idea that he doesn’t run. If there is a vacancy to be filled on the ticket, I’d there a realistic world where Kamala Harris isn’t the Democratic nominee? My answer is that it is unlikely. What damage would the Democratic Party do to it’s most faithful voting block, Black women, to deny the first Black woman to serve as Vice-President the nomination to succeed her boss? I won’t totally deny the possibility of another candidate that may be popular with Black voters (aka- Senators Booker and Warnock, maybe Mayor Adams, or even *gasp* Hillary again) being able to win the nomination and credibly unite the party against Trump or a similar GOP nominee, particularly with the VP’s polling numbers looking rough. Again though, which of the names I just mentioned is likely to try it or do it credibly? Every Democratic Vice-President from Truman forward has ascended to the Democratic Presidential nomination. Now we’re going to entertain denying it to her in favor of what would likely be a white candidate such as Warren (lol), Sanders (for real?), or Buttigieg (who to his credit is doing everything right to be nominee, someday) that is far less popular with Black voters right now? Even if everyone made up afterwards and said the right stuff, a very small drop in raw Black voter turnout or in the percentage of said voters voting Democratic would be enough to destroy Joe’s entire margin of victory from 2020. Vice-President Harris is almost as likely as President Biden to win a 2024 primary fight to begin with, and the train wreck necessary to stop her might even be more damaging than a primary challenge to the President.
The only two times a sitting Democratic President faced a credible primary challenge in the last century were 1968 and 1980. Both times, Democrats lost the general election. Both of those elections contributed to the fall of the party as the dominant political party in this country post-1994. Running a primary against Joe Biden would be a stupid and likely fruitless fool’s errand. Running a primary against Kamala Harris could do generational damage to the party. I’d certainly never say absolutely never, but I personally have almost no appetite for this talk.
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.