Is President Lame Brain really a lame duck?
What Biden's legislative failure means for his own future and America's.
During 2020 a number of political pundits, not all of them conservatives by the way, predicted that the Joe Biden candidacy was a non-starter because no presidential hopeful had ever failed on two tries only to come back and win on the third. During the nomination debates the “experts” at FiveThirtyEight who do nothing but stare at graphs and poll numbers actually said that he has an advantage in a crowded debate where he has less time to speak. If historians ever take an honest look at the Biden-Harris 2020 campaign they will be forced to admit that it was largely a vehicle of media contempt for the Trump Administration. Indeed the year following the 2020 election was conspicuous in the amount of energy spent not on focusing on the merits of the new president but on the absence of the previous one. How else can one explain the fact that while holding both houses of Congress the Democrats’ biggest accomplishments are the American Rescue Plan in March and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of November, neither of which have improved the mood of the electorate, while devoting so much time to a nine member House select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol Riot?
To cap off the year The American Prospect even listed six events that showed how Democrats blew it in 2021. The most famous phrase in politics is “Let’s Go Brandon”, a euphemism for the “F*ck Joe Biden” chants popularized by sports crowds as a middle finger to CDC guidelines advising against attending live events. Even German bloggers are taking notice of the ubiquity of this slogan which is seen in such places as highway caution sign boards.
The pivotal moment many are now citing as the one where Joe Biden finally took the L was when he was quoted as saying that the solution to the COVID19 pandemic was not at the federal level but with the states. Biden’s candidacy was buoyed by the perception created by the media that Donald Trump had bungled the handling of the pandemic and was an obstacle to ending it. Biden famously said that he would not shut down the economy but rather shut down the virus. But after almost one year in office the President cannot point to Trump as the obstruction. Republican governors? Yes. Trump-appointed judges and Supreme Court justices? Also yes. But these bogeymen don’t have the resonance that the Great Orange Ogre did, and in any event it is states that are solidly Democratic like Vermont that are seeing record high case totals.
Some like former Obama spin-doctor David Axelrod are calling reports of Biden’s demise premature, citing his former boss’s eventual success at passing the Affordable Care Act in 2010 after suffering the loss of a Senate seat in Massachusetts following Ted Kennedy’s death. However, Axelrod is either misreading the landscape or misleading his readers. The world in 2010 saw higher public dependence on cable news and mainstream press sources of information. Polarization of the right and left had begun with the Tea Party Movement and soon Occupy Wall Street yet both were limited in their resonance among the broader public. Obama ultimately prevailed in his 2012 reelection because Wall Street and the media saw in him an adequate figurehead for the status quo in American domestic and foreign policies. He was by any measure, even those of his opponents, a suave and debonair advocate for the liberal globalist tendency in American politics.
None of those qualities are present in Joe Biden, who will literally pull a Ron Burgundy and read the actual cues on his teleprompter. Another major difference is that Biden and Obama have dealt much differently with economic turmoil. Thanks to federal vaccine mandates enacted under Biden, hospital and medical workers have been fired or suspended creating staffing shortages at many hospitals and medical centers across the US. While more Americans are going back to work, their earnings buy them less due to record inflation. The polarization that was already evident under Obama (and earlier in other forms) is today a yawning chasm with residents of some states fleeing to others due to tax and COVID19 policies. There are so many articles and predictions from multiple sides regarding a “new civil war” that there is a news aggregator dedicated to it. On the world stage Biden shamed America with the bungled and bloody Afghan withdrawal and even managed to anger France with a backdoor submarine deal with the Anglosphere-centered AUKUS alliance.
David Axelrod’s main solution for salvaging the Biden Administration is to work on messaging and focus on core topics in public communications while quietly working to pass the Build Back Better plan in the background. This is in many ways fighting today’s (political) war with yesterday’s weapons. Again, while Obama’s personality and communication style were inspiring to the liberal media, Biden’s is so clumsy and outdated that many of them are visibly uncomfortable at having to cover him. His presidency defines the results of the past twelve plus years of Democratic Party betrayals of their own voting base - from the scuttling of universal healthcare through Obamacare to the embrace of drone warfare and persecution of anti-war dissidents like Julian Assange to the Clintonian partnership with corporate globalist trade policies in the form of the TPP. Yet many of the institutions and personalities that spent their entire lives supporting the Democratic Party have allowed themselves to remain loyal to it. And here is perhaps the one advantage that could “save” Biden’s presidency while dooming his agenda.
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At the moment it would be fair to assume that the Democrats lose the House of Representatives in 2022 along with several governors’ offices. Control of the Senate hinges on some races in states like New Hampshire where Democrats may not have high approval but there is not yet a strong GOP candidate. Even with the Democrats nominally controlling the Senate since the beginning of 2021, the White House’s legislative agenda has been mired in intra-party squabbles between a small fringe of left-leaning Democrats in the House known as “The Squad” and another handful of centrist Senate Democrats usually consisting of Joe Manchin (WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ) with some periodic support from other purple state colleagues. Thanks to the current composition of the Senate three major Biden Administration executive nominees have been withdrawn due to lack of support: Office of Management and Budget nominee Neera Tanden, ATF chief nominee David Chipman, and Comptroller of the Currency Saule Omarova.
Triangulation Corn Pop style?
An option that would have been open to Biden after the 2022 midterms assuming losses of one or both houses is known as “triangulation”. He does not have the option of publicly browbeating the Republicans using the bully pulpit, because as mentioned before he doesn’t possess the verbal or intellectual acuity to pull it off the way an Obama or Bill Clinton would. Triangulation was Clinton strategist Dick Morris’s backroom deal strategy of defanging the Republicans by having the White House hand them most of the policy goals that were popular among the Republican base. After the 1994 Republican Revolution, Clinton famously proclaimed in the 1996 State of the Union address that “the era of big government” is over.
But almost thirty years later is Triangulation actually a viable strategy, or is it just as outdated as Axelrod’s “pretend they’re listening to us” idea? This year the Supreme Court is expected to rule in cases that could overturn Roe v. Wade and possibly gut state assault weapons bans, both paramount policy planks of Democratic liberals. Triangulation would mean that Biden would effectively wave the white flag on economic issues to the Republicans and potentially on these fronts. It would be a total betrayal of the agenda of his supporters to a degree that even the Clintons had never engaged. The left wing of the Democratic Party as led by the likes of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, has already swallowed a number of bitter pills under Biden. They have witnessed him renege on promises of student loan forgiveness and a public healthcare option. Would they be able to stomach images of Biden glad-handing with the likes of Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy or even Jim Jordan?
Let’s say they could, on the other side of the coin it is entirely possible that there is no partner for triangulation. There are currently several Republicans like Mitt Romney and Liz Cheney that are paying lip service to bridging the gap with Democrats and eliminating “extremism” but their influence within the party has largely evaporated. The party that is likely to emerge from 2022 would be hungry to investigate the Biden-Ukraine ties and stonewall all of his nominations and agenda. It would be a repeat of the last two years of Obama’s presidency. In such a scenario, the Biden Administration will likely head down the road of an early lame duck, with the President declining to run for reelection and the candidacy of Kamala Harris also being questionable owing to her dismal showing in 2020 and association with the border crisis.
All of this is months if not a year into the future (the next Congress takes office in January 2023). Until then there are numerous domestic and foreign policy decisions that Biden could take that may change the calculus. So I will answer the question as cautiously as possible: Joe Biden may not be a lame duck today on New Year’s Eve 2022, but he seems to know that he’s jumped the shark. Otherwise why else would he agree to say “Let’s Go Brandon” on that now famous Christmas call?
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