Former Vice President Joe Biden, who’s deliberately projecting a moderate image in his campaign against President Donald J. Trump, was accused Monday of being “firmly planted to the left” by Republican National Committee Chairman Ronna Romney McDaniel.
Ms. McDaniel, the niece of one-time GOP presidential nominee Utah Sen. Mitt Romney, told FBN’s Stuart Varney that Biden, to win the backing of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and other hard-left leaders in the Democratic Party, had positioned himself well outside the mainstream of U.S. politics in his latest effort to win the White House.
“I do think he is firmly planted in the left,” the top RNC official said, citing Biden policies that would raise taxes and abolish jobs in the U.S. energy industry to underscore her point. Rather than be vague or misleading about his intentions as he has been doing, she said it would be fairer to the voters if the onetime U.S. Senator from Delaware went “on the road with Bernie and AOC” to talk about his real agenda.
Objectively, Biden is running farthest to the left of any Democrat seeking the presidency since Michael Dukakis ran in 1988. After famously bragging that he was a “card-carrying member of the ACLU” and defending the controversial state prison furlough program that allowed even those convicted of murder in the first degree and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole to be allowed out on weekend passes, the former Massachusetts governor ended up losing the popular vote to then-Vice President George H.W. Bush in what amounted to an Electoral College landslide.
Biden has vowed to roll back the recent tax cuts that sparked considerable job creation and growth in the U.S. economy before the economic lockdowns instituted in many states because of the onset of the novel coronavirus brought on a recession. He’s also pledged to end fracking, which would severely threaten America’s new-found energy independence, expand Obamacare, and has suggested he would abolish the federal law preventing labor unions from requiring workers to join them as a condition of employment. He’s also suggested that as president he would push for the repeal of the so-called “Hyde Amendment” that prohibits federal dollars from being used directly to fund abortions.
The political potency of the abortion issue, which generally adheres to the benefit of candidates who take what is known as “the right to life” position, will be tested in the upcoming election. Trump has made his opposition to abortion rights a cornerstone of both his campaign and his presidency, pointing frequently to the number of judges he has appointed to the federal bench whom he believes are in sync with his thinking on the issue. Stunningly, several recent polls suggest that Biden is nonetheless gaining support among Catholics and self-described evangelicals who the abortion issue is a major motivating factor in determining how they will vote.
Biden and his running mate, California Sen. Kamala Harris, are also on the leftward edge of the gun issue. During the campaign, both have talked openly about banning the private ownership of certain kinds of weapons and accessories like high-capacity magazines as well as suggesting they are willing to consider confiscation of firearms already in private hands.
The risks of Joe Biden’s basement strategy
At first glance, Joe Biden’s strategy of avoiding the spotlight is paying off. He maintains his consistent lead over Donald Trump in national polls. In June, in the aftermath of the Lafayette Park fiasco, his advantage in the RealClearPolitics average expanded to 10 points. The critical swing states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Florida are trending his way. His lead gives him the freedom to mollify the progressive wing of his party by shifting leftward on policy. The Democrats smell victory and dream of unified control of government for the first time in a decade.
There is no question that President Trump is in trouble. But look again at the polls. The national race has tightened. Biden is still ahead but by a 6-point margin. Michael Goodwin of the New York Post observes that Hillary Clinton enjoyed a similar lead at this point in the 2016 campaign. The CNBC poll conducted in late July found a much closer race in the battlegrounds. Biden’s leads in Arizona and Pennsylvania were within the margin of error. His greatest advantage was a 5-point spread in Wisconsin. Recent days have brought news of GOP gains in registration in Pennsylvania and of the Trump campaign’s huge lead in voter contacts. The 2016 election was decided by a relatively small number of voters across a tiny number of states. If a similar scenario plays out in 2020, then Donald Trump may well emerge the winner.
The truth is that, except on the air and online, the presidential campaign really hasn’t started yet. The coronavirus has upended traditional forms of electioneering. It’s forced Trump to cancel his tentpole rallies, driven both parties to hold virtual conventions, and blotted out the daily back-and-forth between candidates and campaigns. That has left the race in a form of suspended animation, with Biden enjoying the fruits of leaving Trump to his own often self-destructive devices.
But the strategy is not all upside. It has left Biden offstage during a multifaceted national emergency. The Democratic nominee has made a series of speeches detailing his “Build Back Better” agenda, but has anyone really paid attention to them? Nor did Biden take a strong stand against the violence in Seattle and Portland. He’s been AWOL. The Trump campaign has turned the minuscule audiences that attend his livestreamed events into the butt of a running Twitter joke. A philosopher might say that Biden has transcended his physical form and become the Platonic ideal of a “generic Democrat.” He is running more or less in line with the congressional generic ballot. But voters do not vote for generic presidents. They choose between two individuals.
This lack of definition is a potential danger for Biden as the presidential race enters its final months. “No other major-party presidential nominee has spent so long in politics,” wroteEdward-Isaac Dovere of the Atlantic in late June. “Biden was first elected to the Senate in 1972, before anyone currently serving in Congress. And no other major-party presidential nominee has led the polls despite basically coming off as a fuzzy white space.” Dovere cited “data from focus groups and polls conducted by Biden allies” that showed voters basically know Biden is old, worked for Barack Obama, and seems to be a genial and well-intentioned, if sometimes weird, elder statesman. That’s it.
A few weeks ago, the “Engagious” swing voter project, which conducts focus groups, gathered together some Michigan voters who had pulled the lever for President Trump in 2016. The participants were drawn from the “Obama-Trump” demographic that gained so much attention last cycle but has since been overshadowed by groups trending Democratic, such as college-educated women, suburbanites, and independents. “Over the past several months, most of my ‘Obama-Trump’ voters couldn’t name a single thing Biden has said or done regarding the pandemic,” wrote Rich Thau, president of Engagious, for CNN last week. “In bellwether Macomb County, on July 21, none of the nine voters I interviewed could name a single thing Biden had achieved in nearly 50 years in national politics.”
The problem for Biden is that the campaign is about to enter a phase where he cannot help being defined. A preview of this new reality came the other day. When asked if he has taken a cognitive test, Biden exploded and said, rather offensively, that the question was as silly as wondering if the black CBS reporter he was talking to had been tested for cocaine. The coming weeks will bring three major events that will convey Biden’s strengths and weaknesses before audiences of millions. He won’t be able to hide in his basement. And that may be where the fun begins.
The first event is his vice presidential announcement. Biden unintentionally backed himself into a corner by limiting his options at the start of the process, and now several of his choices would offer the Trump campaign avenues for attack. Republicans have signaled their eagerness to go after potential candidates such as Rep. Karen Bass (D., Calif.) and former national security adviser Susan Rice. Choosing Elizabeth Warren would amount to flipping the order of the ticket and allow Trump essentially to run against the Massachusetts senator rather than the former vice president. Kamala Harris seems to be the safest pick. But she’s also an uninspiring and potentially clumsy one.ADVERTISING
The second occasion where Biden will be center stage is his convention. It’s unlikely that Milwaukee will be as chaotic as Philadelphia in 2016, especially now that neither Biden nor his running mate will be there, but one wonders if radicals want to enjoy a split-screen with the televised speeches (of either party). There is also the question of how much Barack Obama will loom over the proceedings. The Biden team and Democrats in general are convinced that more Obama is always and everywhere a good thing. But they might want to consider the possible reactions of the Obama-Trump voters mentioned above.
The former president’s political interventions thrill partisans and the media wing of the Democratic Party. But they also remind Republicans and independents of everything they disliked about the Obama years. Biden’s address will be the first time in years that the American people will hear from him without interruption or mediation. His campaign strategists have not behaved as if this is something they look forward to.
Finally, the debates are scheduled to begin on September 29 in Cleveland. What Biden says and does in response to President Trump’s inevitable braggadocio, interruptions, denials, and needling about his son and his mental capacity will go a long way to determine voters’ confidence in him. Biden has displayed a tendency to snap, ramble, and use bizarre turns of phrase when asked tough questions, and it’s unknown whether voters will respond favorably to an aggressive and probably often bewildering performance. Biden also trips over his words. The contrast between a commanding Trump and a confused Biden would be damaging.
I have a feeling Democrats recognize this hazard, which is why a few liberals have raised the possibility of getting rid of the debates altogether. The first trial balloon came from Tom Friedman in a July column, and the most recent from Elizabeth Drew in an August 3 New York Times op-ed. There is no way Biden could try to do this without looking afraid, and so it’s unlikely to happen. But the very fact that media figures are having such a debate over the debates is evidence of the anxiety some on the left feel about Biden’s capabilities.
And with good reason. Joe Biden has not faced a serious in-person rebuke since Harris’s surprise attack in June 2019. He hasn’t experienced a significant setback to his campaign since March. Yes, the race is his to lose. But others have lost similar races before. And not being Trump might not be enough.
There’s a lot riding on whether the nation’s children go back to school in the fall. The restoration of the economy. The ability of many parents to return to work. The safety and continued education of our kids. All of that, one way or another, is contingent on the return to things as they were before COVID hit.
The science says it’s safe if reasonable precautions are taken. Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics are, to one degree or another on board. Keeping kids out of school might be more harmful, say the experts, than letting them attend.
Leading the fight against the return to normalcy is the usual cast of characters, many of whom oppose a normal school year because President Donald J. Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos want it. That’s a reflexive response, hardly meaningful as these are the same people who’d probably try to give up breathing if Trump said it was good for you.
Teachers and their unions are also resisting. You would have thought they’d be anxious to get back to work, especially since the science shows it is in the best interest of the children. But no, they’re on the frontlines arguing against any proposal that doesn’t at least cut back on the time that will be spent in the public-school classroom.
Some are going further. In Washington, D.C., where bad decisions by local politicians have caused the novel coronavirus to hit especially hard, public school teachers this week briefly lined up “body bags” outside the city’s administrative offices to pressure Mayor Muriel Bowser to keep the government-run schools closed.
It’s not in the kids’ best interests to do that. Yet the teachers’ unions who are the first to proclaim they are the guardians of that sacred trust anytime something like a tax increase to fund education comes up are leading the charge to keep schools closed and more. A coalition of unions, including those representing teachers in Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, St. Paul, Milwaukee, Racine, Little Rock, and Oakland has assembled a list of demands that is at best self-serving and, as they say, “non-negotiable.”
They won’t come back to work, they say, “until the scientific data supports it.” Which it does, even if they won’t acknowledge it. Also on the list is “police free schools,” a “moratorium on new charter or voucher programs and standardized testing,” a “massive infusion of federal money to support the reopening funded by taxing billionaires and Wall Street,” “Support for our communities and families, including (a) moratorium on evictions/foreclosures, providing direct cash assistance to those not able to work or who are unemployed, and other critical social needs,” and “All schools must be supported to function as community schools with adequate numbers of counselors and nurses and community/parent outreach workers.”
There may be a couple more, but you should understand their intent by now. The unions representing these teachers want to bring an end to any chance students might have, especially those in the inner cities, to a better education leading to a better quality of life than they knew growing up by putting an end to accountability and an end to the competition posed by charter schools.
We shouldn’t be funding these people with our tax dollars. We should be doing education differently, starting with what we pay for. We should be funding learning instead of schools and children instead of teachers. What we’re doing now doesn’t work unless you’re a politician who backs things as they are because you get political support for doing so.
Thomas Sowell, the great economist and public intellectual who has long been a leader in the fight for education reform once said, “Propagandists in the classroom are a luxury that the poor can afford least of all. While a mastery of mathematics and English can be a ticket out of poverty, a highly cultivated sense of grievance and resentment is not.” Yet that’s what we’re seeing in the demands the teachers’ unions and their coalition partners are making before they’re willing to let the schools reopen. They’re showing us they’re not in it for the kids as they claim. They’re in it for themselves and they’ve finally, because of the COVID crisis, exposed themselves for what they are.
If summertime polls were reliable, or even predictive, former Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis would have a presidential library and the Bush family wouldn’t be an American political dynasty. But they’re not, so he doesn’t and they are.
People forget, but Dukakis opened up a 14-point lead over then–Vice President George H.W. Bush by the time the national party conventions rolled around in 1988. The pundit class interpreted that as America rejecting limited-government Reaganism and an ideological approach to governing in favor of a non-ideological, technocratic approach that focused on what worked, à la the so-called Massachusetts Miracle.
That was before the Bush campaign got going. By the time his team, led by the legendary Lee Atwater, got finished, Dukakis’ miracle turned into a mirage, just like the idea of him in the White House. Bush won the election with almost 49 million votes, 53.4 percent to 45.6 percent, and carried 40 states. Remember that the next time folks try to tell you Donald Trump is finished.
Admittedly, Trump has a tough row to hoe, but that was true in 2016 too. Trump never led in the polls. The debates were a sloppy mess. And he had more than one “setback” during the general election that led most forecasters to conclude he was over and done, fully baked, had bought the T-shirt, worn it out and sent it to Goodwill, and was certain to lose.0:29/2:09
He lost the popular vote—but that matters little. Americans don’t decide presidential contests based solely on who gets more votes. It’s where those votes come from that matters.
Had it been a popular vote contest, both campaigns would have approached the contest differently. But instead, they focused on swing states and largely abandoned voters in states they were sure to lose. That’s why Trump went for Wisconsin, which Hillary Clinton never once visited, but didn’t focus on New Jersey, which Clinton was certain to win but is a big state with many Trump voters.
The bottom line is both parties can make the math work for them regardless of which style of campaign is conducted and whether or not the popular vote determines who wins. The national polls that show former Vice President Joe Biden with a commanding lead, at least at this point, are almost meaningless.
The trends are important, and with as many polls showing Trump behind nationally and in key states, it’s no surprise there’s been a change at the top of the president’s campaign team. And there will probably be more to come, but the outcome of the race is not at all certain.
Consider a survey released Wednesday by Rasmussen Reports, a firm with a reputation for leaning to the right but also for more often being right than the media polls. It showed Trump and Biden neck-and-neck, with the former vice president at 47 percent and the president at 45 percent among the likely voters surveyed with a plus/minus 2 percent error margin.
Statistically, according to Rasmussen, the race is tied. Considering the pollster had Biden starting the season with a 10-point advantage over the president, one can argue his lead is shrinking even if the other polls don’t show it.
There are a lot of reasons polls differ, including sample size, the types of voters surveyed and the weights applied to the breakdown of the participants, so the sample in the view of the pollster resembles the likely makeup of turnout in the fall. One could almost say there’s as much opinion going into how the polls are done as they measure.
One major finding in all the surveys is Biden’s continuing lead among non-affiliated voters. Independents matter since, in every presidential election since 2000, the number of ticket-splitters has been in continual decline. It’s no secret that self-described independents have a particular dislike for Trump’s tweets, his rough edges and his approach to the presidency.
Trump’s running against that right now, not Biden. He’s running against his own image, something that’s impossible for almost everyone to do. That changes once the Republicans start defining the former vice president as something more than “Sleepy Joe” and “Basement Biden” and start talking about what he’d do as president. The list of things they have to work with is fertile indeed.
The GOP’s mission is to make independents especially but all voters worry more about what Biden might do as president than they care about what Trump does. If they can convince those voters to believe Biden is the tax hike guy, the one who wants to abolish the suburbs and resume the bad trade deals that send America jobs overseas, then Trump’s not out of the race at all. In fact, he probably wins.
Every argument supporting gay marriage—‘Love is love,’ ‘we deserve equal protection under the law,’ and ‘we’re not harming anybody’—also supports group marriage.
The Massachusetts town of Somerville has become the first in the nation to legalize polyamorous relationships. It’s evidence of the slippery slope social conservatives warned would follow legalizing gay marriage.
Polygamy was the obvious evolution of redefining marriage. After all, every argumentsupporting gay marriage—“Love is love,” “we deserve equal protection under the law,” and “we’re not harming anybody”—also supports group marriage.
Somerville’s legal recognition of polyamory came about on June 25 while the city council was changing its domestic partnership application to a gender-neutral form. When Somerville council member Lance Davis was challenged over why the form was limited to two applicants, he replied, “I don’t have a good answer.”
Indeed, if we are going to ignore the fundamental, dual-sex form marriage has employed for millennia, there is no good answer to why government-sanctioned adult relationships should be limited to two adults. That is, unless we consider the rights of children to be known and loved by the only two adults to whom they have a natural right—their mother and father.
Yet, according to the prevailing view of marriage, endorsed by the Supreme Court’s ruling mandating gay marriage in 2015, marriage has nothing to do with children. These days, marriage is simply a vehicle for adult fulfillment.
By such reasoning, there is no limiting principle for the sex, number, duration, or exclusivity of a marriage relationship. While the same cannot be said of the children resulting from their unions, plenty of adults feel fulfilled by short term, single-gendered, non-exclusive, or multi-partnered relationships. SCOTUS was indifferent to the needs of the children in their 2015 decision, and Somerville is following suit.
The Republican Party’s founding platform sought to abolish what they referred to as “the twin pillars of barbarisms,” slavery and polygamy. Republicans were successful in legally eradicating both: slavery in 1865, and polygamy in 1890, but pockets of polygamy persisted, especially within the Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints (FLDS) church.
A woman who was raised in one such FLDS home until her mother left with her five children— we’ll call her “Cheryl”—noted of the Somerville decision, “I do not think that governments should legalize polygamist homes because they are generally abusive and harmful to children and women within them.”
While she concedes there are “polygamist families who function quite well,” the families she was exposed to were “almost always education deprived, low on resources and food, isolated from mainstream society, abusive, and perpetuated pedophilia.” She added that while the women in the home shared the workload, the children’s emotional needs would often go unmet.
Cheryl isn’t the only child to reject a polygamous life after growing up with parents who had several concurrent partners. Story after story after story of children who have abandoned the polygamous world of their youth has surfaced in the last few years. They often report power imbalances and jealousy among the wives, and inequality among the children.
Leftists proclaim, “But there’s a difference between polygamy and polyamory!” Right. Just like “pure socialism has never been tried.”
Progressives posit polygamy and polyamory are “vastly different.” They decry polygamy, in which typically one man has several wives, as oppressive and patriarchal, while the amorphous “polyamory” is consensual and liberating, even for the kids.
Amy Grappell, one such child of a poly relationship, would disagree. In Amy’s youth, her parents began spouse-swapping with the neighbors. In today’s terms, Amy was subjected to polyamory, or “ethical non-monogamy,” and it was no picnic.
In her documentary detailing her parents’ “Quadrangle,” Amy discloses how more adults in her home did not result in more parental love. Rather, the household dynamics centered on adult sexual desire, and the jealousy and competitiveness between the women was a constant.
Amy felt abandoned by her parents, and describes her feelings as “the enemy of their utopia.” The emotional and psychological fall-out from her parents’ sexual experiment has plagued Amy into her adult life.
James Lopez, who was also raised in a “modern” poly home, rejects the idea that polyamory just means a larger family for kids. “The problem is that children in homes with extended family members do not ever see those members kiss either their mom or dad, as is the case in poly homes. I didn’t like seeing my dad show affection to another woman, especially to a woman who wasn’t my biological mother. Those images still lurk in the back of my mind today. And they don’t bring a sense of ‘family’ to me.”
James believes that, “Instead of promoting poly-ships, our political institutions should revive the ideas that fatherhood matters, that motherhood matters because both are essential for the flourishing of children.”
There are very few reliable studies on outcomes for children raised in poly homes, but we don’t really need them. We already have a mountain of data on family structure that shows the presence of non-biological adults does not improve outcomes for kids, no matter what type of relationship exists between the adults.
Conversely, the data invariably proves that children fare best in the home of their married biological mother and father. Throughout nearly every religion and culture in history, heterosexual marriage has been to be the tool society used to encourage that child-centric union.
The officials in Somerville mistakenly believe embracing this “progressive” policy indicates they are making progress when, in fact, their new statute is a regression that sets society back by 130 years and comes at children’s expense.
Imagine you’re sitting at home, enjoying dinner when a sudden “crash” gets your attention. Looking out the window you see hundreds of demonstrators pouring through the wreckage of a gate that blocked the public’s access to the private community in which you live.
What do you do? Do you hide in fear or do you take steps to defend yourself and your property? You have only moments to decide if you are in imminent danger in an atmosphere charged by continual news reports of violent personal assaults in cities through America following the death of a man in Minnesota at the hands of the Minneapolis police.
If you’re in fear, as a St. Louis couple named Mike and Patricia McCloskey were several weeks ago, you might grab your guns and head out the door, determined to protect what’s yours from the mob. And if you do, as the McCloskey’s did, you might find yourself in a mess of trouble.
St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner, who’s one of the new breed of progressives elected to office over the last four years, charged the McCloskey’s with the crime of brandishing their weapons in a threatening manner as the protestors approached their home
“It is illegal to wave weapons in a threatening manner at those participating in a nonviolent protest, and while we are fortunate this situation did not escalate into deadly force,” said Gardner, who reportedly had the backing of billionaire progressive George Soros’ political machine during her run for the office she now holds.
If it has come to this, where the protestors rule the streets and law-abiding citizens are at risk, then we are all in trouble. It used to be that man or woman’s home as their castle. Indeed, Missouri is one of those states with a “castle doctrine” on the books making it legal to use deadly force in defense of your life and home. Gardner, however, doesn’t care. She has other fish to fry and must appease the mob that put her in office. In this way, she brings to mind the infamous Lavrentiy Beria, the onetime head of Stalin’s dreaded NKVD who famously encapsulated his view of justice by saying “If you show me the man I’ll find you the crime.”
If it were not for the sensibility of other Missouri politicians, the McCloskey’s might find themselves in a kind of Kafkaesque nightmare. GOP Gov. Mike Parsons has promised to pardon them if they’re convicted while state Attorney General Eric Schmitt moved Monday to have the charges vacated. Sanity still reigns, at least in other parts of the state.
St. Louis, meanwhile, has been given over to the mob which, as we’ve seen in other cities like Seattle, Portland, Atlanta, Louisville, and New York is calling the shots while the politicians bow and scrape, trying to pass them off as the vanguard of another “Summer of Love.”
Given what they and the rest of us had seen on TV and our social media, the McCloskey’s had every right to be afraid for their lives and the security of their property. The protestors, who once confronted wisely decided to move along, threatened to burn down their house and harm their dog who, it should be noted, was at the time outside. Standing up to threats like that is the American way while throwing rocks through windows, setting fire to fast-food establishments and federal courthouses, looting superstores, and beating small business owners with two-by-fours are just the kind of things we expect the police to protect us from.
Right now, they can’t do that – at least not in some of the nation’s biggest cities. The politicians who run them, most of whom are Democrats, won’t back them up if they do. And that’s a sad commentary on the situation in America today. In some places the lawbreakers are in charge while the local politicians impotently posture, hoping probably that things don’t get out of control and that they don’t lose votes because of it.
What we’re seeing from these people, the politicians I mean, is moral cowardice at its most contemptible. We’re fortunate things have not gotten worse or spread farther. The idea we have an inherent right to defend ourselves and our property is basic to our concept of what America is. The progressives who would take away that right, and who would prefer to have us living in fear of the mob are trying to take the nation in the wrong direction. Those who remain silent are complicit in their efforts to undo much of what is best about this country which, while far from perfect, is founded on ideas of equality and rule of law that remain mankind’s best hope for a better future.
Two recent pieces in Vox and the New York Times say outright what many of us have long understood is an implicit belief among our elite media: that the media are motivated — and should be motivated — by ideology, not objectivity.
Of course, the ethics guidelines and mission statements of leading outlets have yet to acknowledge this reality, and many still read like paeans to the old gods.
“Our fundamental purpose,” the New York Times cautions its reporters, “is to protect the impartiality and neutrality [of our] reporting.” The Washington Post insists on strict “fairness” and that it “shall not be the ally of any special interest.” We are “unbiased, impartial, and balanced,” declares the Associated Press. “Non-ideological objectivity” is what the Los Angeles Times assures readers it maintains. “Professional impartiality . . . without our opinions,” is the standard declared by National Public Radio.
But if you look at what journalists actually say about each other and their racket behind closed doors, at the champagne-soaked galas where they hand each other prizes, you’re hard-pressed to find an acknowledgment that impartiality or balance are even virtues at all.
The most insider-y of these onanistic lovefests is the annual Mirror Awards, hosted by the prestigious Newhouse School of Public Communications and focused on reporters who cover the journalism industry itself.
One of this year’s nominees for “Best Story on the Future of Journalism,” the Pacific Standard’s Brent Cunningham, perhaps captures the new media zeitgeist most starkly in an article spotlighting reporters who hold the “belief that journalism’s highest calling [is] not some feckless notion of ‘objectivity,’ but rather to . . . expose the many ways the powerful exploit the powerless” and “f*** ’em . . . with the facts.” Indeed.
Reporter Jon Marcus was nominated for a piece in Harvard’s Nieman Reports about reporters who withhold certain facts — say, the name of a mass shooter — in a move that’s come to be called “strategic silence.” While Marcus says it’s a “fraught and complex debate” that “media organizations are struggling with,” he rehearses an Olympian leap of logic from a left-wing activist at Media Matters, who argues that reporters should apply this strategic silence to the leader of the free world, too: The idea is that they should refrain from reporting statements by President Trump that they determine are not “inherently newsworthy” or that they classify as “misinformation.” Say what you will about the man — he probably shouldn’t be covered like a gunman.
Forget about laying out the facts, or airing competing viewpoints, or writing “the first draft of history.” Americans are far too thickheaded for that. Marcus cites another sage who observes that “assuming media literacy . . . may be optimistic.” Yet another one of his sources bemoans journalists who assume that if you merely “throw facts at someone . . . that’s going to change their minds.”
The other nominees for the 2020 Mirrors (19 in all, across six categories) hardly need the encouragement to selectively slant their reportage. The list includes a host of liberal media darlings singing straight from the progressive hymnbook. In the eyes of the Newhouse School, apparently no conservative writers came up with any worthy media criticism in the last year.
Elsewhere The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer, a writer whose leftism is more knee-jerk than a can-can dancer’s, was nominated for an essay called “Trump TV,” which explains that, gee whiz, Fox News tends to support the president. Move over, Bob Woodward.
The Mayer love gets meta, too. Nominated for “Best Profile” is a piece by Molly Langmuir that appeared in the glossy magazine Elle, titled “What’s Next for New Yorker Reporter Jane Mayer?” Here is what the awards committee regards as an exemplar of “hold[ing] a mirror to their own industry for the public’s benefit”: “In person, Mayer, who is petite with brown shoulder-length hair she usually wears down, the tips slightly flipped up, displays a confidence that has no visible fault lines. She also has a tendency toward self-deprecation. And while her mind often seems to whir with seamless elegance, this appears to fuel in her not impatience but curiosity.”
And here’s a detail that didn’t make it in alongside the flipped tips: Mayer was recently excoriated by critics across the ideological spectrum for a baseless and uncorroborated hit piece she co-wrote, the central claims of which were later disavowed by “several dozen” sources contacted by the New York Times.
In an Orwellian flourish, Langmuir explains that to Mayer, the “furor from both the left and right” over the piece was a consequence of her and co-author Ronan Farrow’s own “attempts at carefulness.” Mayer told Langmuir that she had focused on the “‘accountability portion, trying to be fair,’” you see. Plus, Mayer’s certainty on the unsubstantiated accusation she did get into print was “informed by [another] incident Mayer learned about, the one she didn’t get into print.” Got that? The reporting rejected by every other mainstream outlet except The New Yorker was backed up by reporting rejected by every mainstream outlet — including The New Yorker.
If Mayer was at all chastened by the denunciation of her work by her peers, it’s hard to tell. In her most recent piece, “Ivanka Trump and Charles Koch Fuel a Cancel-Culture Clash at Wichita State,” she returned to one of her pet obsessions. Riffing on original reporting in the Wichita Eagle, Mayer deceptively claimed that Koch Industries “threatened to withdraw its financial support for the university” after Ivanka Trump was disinvited from giving a commencement speech. But the source article makes clear that neither Koch Industries nor Charles Koch threatened any such thing. A company spokesperson said explicitly that the company was not pulling funding and in fact stressed its commitment to “academic freedom.”
Maybe Elle ought to hold off on the puff profiles, and Mirror on the awards, until Mayer can master faithfully representing all the facts she finds reported in regional newspapers?
And that isn’t even the biggest coffee-spitter Mirror Awards nominee. That honor would go to David Zurawik of the Baltimore Sun, saluted for his opinion piece applauding MSNBC host and serial prevaricator Brian Williams. “At this moment when journalism and a free flow of reliable information are under continual attack from the Trump administration and its many media allies,” Zurawik proclaimed, “our democracy is made stronger by having Williams . . . at the end of each weeknight to offer perspective on the political and cultural warfare” in our “nation’s civic life.”
But that’s tame stuff compared to the outright agitprop of the nomination for a multipart series jointly published by the Columbia Journalism Review and The Nation, “The Media Are Complacent While the World Burns,” which argued that the press doesn’t spend enough time talking about climate change. Right, and the New York Post ought to devote more ink to a plucky ballclub from the South Bronx called the Yankees. A recent report found that in 2019 the top five U.S. newspapers combined ran between 400 and 800 articles per month that mentioned climate issues. The top seven TV news outlets (ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, NBC, PBS) combined covered climate issues between 200 and 400 times a month.
For the authors of that series, Mark Hertsgaard and Kyle Pope, the sheer volume of this reporting isn’t good enough if it doesn’t send readers to the ramparts. “Instead of sleepwalking us toward disaster,” they insist, “the US news media need to remember their Paul Revere responsibilities — to awaken, inform, and rouse the people to action.”
Let me suggest a different historical analog for Hertsgaard and Pope. It was a former newspaper editor, Vladimir Lenin, who once wrote, “A newspaper is what we most of all need . . . [in] the pressing task of the moment. . . . Never has the need been felt so acutely as today for reinforcing dispersed agitation . . . that can only be conducted with the aid of a periodical press. . . . A newspaper is not only a collective propagandist and a collective agitator, it is also a collective organizer.” That’s why, to turn the sleepwalkers into the fully woke, Lenin created the infamous Department of Agitation and Propaganda, or “agitprop” for short.
For all that they say the quiet parts out loud, most journalists still want to have it both ways. They want the satisfaction of slanting coverage to suit their ideological commitments but without giving up the authoritative veneer of neutral objectivity. This duplicity helps explain why surveys from leading media groups like Pew Research show a fast-growing majority of Americans no longer trust the news.
The Mirror Awards, at least, seem to have sensed which way the winds are blowing and are sailing in that direction. They’ve moved away from their promise that the prizes should “recognize reliable reporters who criticize the media and put their own views aside [to] be transparent and objective” and toward the consensus that the problem is “the media’s reliance on objectivity and what some see as false equivalency,” as Newhouse professor Joel Kaplan puts it.
Objectivity is for suckers. A reporter’s own subjective assessment is what counts, and the public is depending on the media to tell them what to think and how to vote.14
Fine. But treat readers like grownups. Polemic masquerading as unbiased reporting demeans everyone involved, making liars out of the press and treating the public like idiots. So why not end every article with a shirttail stating plainly the reporter’s point of view? The author of this piece is a committed progressive and would like [insert desired political result] to come from the issues raised here.
The Newhouse School could even give the first New York Times or Washington Post reporter to adopt the practice an award for bravery.
Critics say law will exacerbate $54 billion deficit, economic downturn
California Democrats allocated $20 million in a recently passed budget to enforce a controversial labor law that some experts say has hampered the state’s economy and pandemic response.
The budget, which passed the Democrat-controlled state legislature on a party-line vote, provides $20 million to enforce Assembly Bill 5 (AB5), a law that limits employers’ ability to classify workers as independent contractors. The money is divvied up between three state agencies—the Department of Justice, Department of Industrial Relations, and Employment Development Department—to conduct audits, carry out prosecutions, and levy fines and penalties on employers. Republican assemblyman Kevin Kiley said that ramped up enforcement will only hurt businesses struggling in the wake of statewide shutdown orders tied to the coronavirus.
“That’s what the money is for, specifically—to go after small businesses and independent contractors at a time when they’re struggling more than they ever have before,” Kiley told the Washington Free Beacon.
The budget provision comes as the state faces an impending $54 billion fiscal deficit. Democratic governor Gavin Newsom revised his initial $222 billion budget proposal in May, saying that he would fund only the “most essential priorities.” The $20 million allocated to enforce AB5 survived the chopping block in the $143 billion budget passed by the assembly and state senate. Newsom, who did not respond to a request for comment, slashed education funding and said that first responders would be “the first ones to be laid off.”
The budget proposal sparked criticism from House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.), who said that the proposal will hurt his constituents. He called the multimillion-dollar allocation for enforcement “disappointing, but not at all surprising.” He criticized state leaders for misplacing their priorities and refusing to adapt to the economic challenges brought on by the pandemic.
“Gig economy workers have felt the ramifications of this legislation for months now, and the coronavirus pandemic has only made securing work that much more difficult,” he told the Free Beacon. “California’s independent contractors deserve a government that can adapt to unanticipated challenges, not one that exacerbates problems by continuing to pursue a half-baked idea.”
Democratic leadership in the state assembly and senate did not respond to requests for comment.
Newsom in April rebuffed calls from state and federal legislators, small business owners, and more than 150 economists to suspend AB5, touting the law as an example of the state’s national leadership. Under AB5, employers must meet strict requirements in order to classify their workers as independent contractors. Its 2019 passage led to widespread layoffs as businesses struggled to afford the increase in legally imposed labor costs. Experts argue that the law has made it nearly impossible for unemployed workers to take on temporary jobs from home, further exacerbating the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. More than 5.4 million Californians have filed for unemployment—more than the population of 28 states.
“You’d think at a time when we shut down small businesses for months, we’d be doing everything we can to help them out,” Kiley said. “It’s a failure to understand the need of the moment, which is to propel economic recovery, to help small businesses get back on their feet, to promote workers.”
Reallocating the $20 million set aside to enforce AB5 would hardly alleviate the state’s budget shortage—the Los Angeles Police Department alone has spent $40 million in overtime pay for officers handling ongoing Black Lives Matter protests. But according to Pacific Research Institute fellow Kerry Jackson, Newsom’s refusal to suspend AB5 has contributed greatly to the fiscal crisis, and stricter enforcement will only exacerbate the problem.
“The pandemic lockdown dried up tax revenues because so many jobs were lost. Some of the lost revenues could have been made up if those who’d been laid off had been able to work as independent contractors,” Jackson told the Free Beacon. “But the law made it illegal for them to work. So no work, no income tax revenues.”
While Monday’s budget is unlikely to be signed by Newsom in its current form, the governor’s own budget proposal also includes $20 million to enforce AB5, meaning the money is unlikely to be cut. Kiley said that Democrats’ unwillingness to budge on the law reflected the power of special interest groups in the state—AB5 was written by the AFL-CIO, the country’s largest federation of labor unions.
“Unfortunately, so far there hasn’t been any movement towards doing away with the $20 million or redirecting it somewhere else,” Kiley said. “It shows how influential these special interests are, that the governor and the legislature will not budge, no matter how strong the arguments are for doing things differently.”
Newsom has until June 30 to sign the budget into law.
Liberals and conservatives are approaching the COVID-19 pandemic through very different moral frameworks.
In a 2008 TED Talk, psychologist Jonathan Haidt said the worst idea in psychology is the notion that humans are born as a “blank slate.”
Like the cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker, Haidt was rejecting the notion that the human mind is a blank slate at birth, an idea that can be traced to thinkers from Aristotle, to John Locke, to B.F. Skinner and beyond.
“Developmental psychology has shown that kids come into the world already knowing so much about the physical and social worlds and programmed to make it really easy for them to learn certain things and hard to learn others,” explained Haidt, a Professor of Ethical Leadership at NYU’s Stern School of Business.
Citing research from the brain scientist Gary Marcus, Haidt said the initial organization of the brain essentially comes with a “first draft.” Studying the anthropological and historical records, Haidt found that five pillars of morality exist across disciplines, cultures, and even species:
What’s interesting is that these moral pillars differ sharply across ideological lines in America today. Haidt found that both conservatives and liberals recognize the harm/care and fairness/reciprocity values (though liberals value these a little more than conservatives). Things change, however, when examining the three remaining foundational values—loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, and sanctity/degradation. While conservatives accept these moral values, liberal-minded people tend to reject them.
The difference is extraordinary, and it helps explain the different ways Republicans and Democrats are experiencing the coronavirus. In May, a CNBC/Change Research survey found that while only 39 percent of Republicans said they had serious concerns about COVID-19, 97 percent of Democrats said they had serious concerns.
While some of the divergence could stem from the fact that blue states have been hit harder by COVID-19 than red states, Haidt’s research would suggest that another reason Democrats are more concerned is because liberals have an intense appreciation of the care/harm moral pillar.
Indeed, the preeminence of the care/harm moral can be found in the rhetoric of many progressives.
“I want to be able to say to the people of New York, ‘I did everything we could do,’” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in March. “And if everything we do saves just one life, I’ll be happy.”
The care/harm moral is even found in the latest social media emojis. Last month, as USA Today reported in an exclusive story, Facebook rolled out its new “care” emoji.
“The new Facebook reaction—an emoji hugging a heart—is intended as shorthand to show caring and solidarity when commenting on a status update, message, photo or video during the coronavirus crisis that allow users to express how much they care about others,” the paper reported.
Cuomo’s language (and to a lesser extent Facebook’s emojis) suggests that, for many, care for others is the preeminent virtue. As such, efforts to protect people must be taken above lesser social considerations.
Understanding the different moral framework conservatives and liberals are using helps us understand why blue states have taken a much more aggressive approach in efforts to limit the spread of COVID-19.
As The Atlantic explains, with a few exceptions, such as Ohio, Republican governors have been much more reluctant to impose sweeping restrictions on their residents than states led by Democratic governors. While governors in these states no doubt value care/harm, their moral framework likely gives them a heightened concern of other social considerations, particularly civil liberties.
The lockdowns, the Constitution Center explains, have threatened many of America’s most cherished civil liberties—the freedom to assemble, the right to purchase a firearm, the ability to freely travel, the freedom to attend church or visit a reproductive health facility. They’ve also put thousands of companies on a path toward bankruptcy by prohibiting them from engaging in commerce.
These infringements tend to be viewed as reasonable to liberals, who emphasize the care/harm moral but are less likely to recognize the sanctity/degradation moral. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, for example, said he never even considered the US Constitution—a document considered sacrosanct by many Americans—when he issued his lockdown order.
“That’s above my pay grade,” Murphy told Tucker Carlson in April. “I wasn’t thinking of the Bill of Rights when we did this. We went to all—first of all—we went to the scientists who said people have to stay away from each other.”
Similarly, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer saw no problem in suspending the Freedom of Information Act to prevent outside groups from assessing the model state officials used to justify locking down the entire state.
Those who view civil liberties and constitutional rights as sacred, however, are less than comfortable with such an approach. They will be less inclined to sacrifice sacred principles to support sweeping state efforts to protect people (and are probably more likely to see such efforts as counter-productive).
To be sure, some progressives do see civil liberties as sacred, and some of them have expressed dismay and bewilderment that so many progressives, in their enthusiasm for the care/harm moral, have abandoned civil liberties.
“[The COVID-19 crisis is] raising serious civil liberties issues, from prisoners trapped in deadly conditions to profound questions about speech and assembly, the limits to surveillance and snitching, etc.,” the progressive journalist Matt Taibbi recently wrote in Rolling Stone. “If this disease is going to be in our lives for the foreseeable future, that makes it more urgent that we talk about what these rules will be, not less—yet the party I grew up supporting seems to have lost the ability to do so, and I don’t understand why.”
If Haidt’s theory is correct, the reason is liberals and conservatives are, generally speaking, approaching the COVID-19 pandemic through divergent moral frameworks.
After all, the argument isn’t whether we should protect people.
“In any country, the disagreement isn’t over harm and fairness,” Haidt says. “Everyone agrees that harm and fairness matter.”
The argument isn’t even over how to best balance the care/harm moral with other considerations.
The disagreement is over whether efforts to protect individuals from COVID-19 should be balanced against other considerations—including constitutional and economic ones—at all.
'It speaks to an absolute ignorance of expert opinion and defiance of common sense'
Democratic California governor Gavin Newsom on Wednesday rebuffed calls to suspend a controversial labor law that experts say hinders the state’s pandemic response and hurts vulnerable workers.
State and federal legislators, small business owners, and more than 150 economists and political scientists have urged Newsom to suspend California Assembly Bill 5 (AB5), the controversial 2019 bill that limited companies’ ability to classify workers as independent contractors. They argue that the law has impeded the state economy and burdened health care systems already strained by coronavirus. Many hospitals, particularly in rural communities, rely on independent contractors to provide health services, as they lack the resources to support full-time employees. And as thousands of Californians face unemployment due to the pandemic, AB5 makes it nearly impossible for workers to take on temporary jobs from home.
Despite these concerns, Newsom, who did not respond to a request for comment, praised AB5 during a Wednesday press conference. He touted the law as an example of the state’s national leadership.
“The state of California prides itself on being a national leader as it relates to protecting our workers from misclassification,” Newsom said. He added that the state is “advancing the cause in righting those wrongs and continuing to transition in the implementation of AB5,” indicating that the law will remain in effect for the foreseeable future.
Though AB5 is unique to California, backlash over its enforcement could have national implications. Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden endorsed the law in March, calling it “ground-breaking.” Biden’s support for the law—which was written by the AFL-CIO—could place the presumptive Democratic nominee at odds with disgruntled Californians as he woos the country’s largest labor union.
AB5 mandates stringent requirements employers must meet in order to classify workers as independent contractors, who do not receive benefits like unemployment and health insurance. The law caused many who had made a living as contractors to be reclassified as direct employees. Widespread layoffs followed, as companies struggled to meet the increase in legally imposed labor costs—putting thousands of freelancers out of work.
Now, as coronavirus increases the demand for flexible employment for food delivery drivers, online tutors, and even medical professionals, experts say AB5 is exacerbating the pandemic’s strain on California’s economy and health care system.
“If you want to minimize economic damage, AB5 makes no sense,” Pacific Research Institute senior fellow Wayne Winegarden told the Washington Free Beacon. “Whether it’s health care or the broader economy, AB5 is hurting our response to this virus,” he said.
AB5 is typically associated with “gig economy” jobs, including food delivery apps that connect consumers to independent service providers working on their own schedule. While these services are especially vital during the coronavirus crisis—they help at-risk populations stay at home, limiting the virus’s spread—independent contractors are also common in professions key to California’s health care system. Winegarden said that because California has large non-English-speaking populations, many residents rely on translators to communicate with their health providers. Before the Newsom administration implemented AB5, medical interpreters typically worked as independent contractors, and many were able to perform their jobs from home.
“Anything we can do to help people not just earn income for themselves, but provide services for at-risk populations, that’s important, and AB5 is restricting that,” Winegarden said. “I would never have thought of how important translators are to addressing the virus, how important food delivery people are to addressing the virus. The fact that AB5 interferes with that, in ways that aren’t particularly obvious, is a very important cost.”
Lawmakers at both the state and federal level have called on Newsom to suspend AB5 until at least the end of the pandemic. Republican state assemblyman Kevin Kiley introduced a bill to suspend the law in February. The spread of the coronavirus and resulting lockdown have added a sense of urgency to the repeal effort. Kiley said AB5 has left jobless Californians unable to gain the flexible employment they need to survive financially amid the state’s stay-at-home order.
“It speaks to an absolute ignorance of expert opinion and defiance of common sense and human decency,” Kiley told the Free Beacon. “We have people in their homes right now, at a time when 2.6 million unemployment claims have been filed, who have the skills and desire to work, yet applications to work remotely for different companies specifically say that if you work in California, you’re not eligible. We need all the economic opportunities we can get right now.”
Opposition to the law is not limited to Republican lawmakers and local think tanks. More than 150 Ph.D. economists and political scientists, including Nobel laureate Vernon Smith, sent Newsom a letter calling on the governor to suspend AB5. The group of experts wrote that the law is causing “substantial, and avoidable, harm to the very people who now have the fewest resources and the worst alternatives available to them.”
“You have people telling me they lost half their business because of AB5, and now they lost the other half because of the virus,” Kiley said. “When it comes to economic policy, Newsom continues to outsource to the state’s most powerful special interest groups.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) echoed calls to suspend AB5 after urging Newsom and the state legislature to repeal the law.
“With California’s shelter in place order in effect for nearly a month, it’s clearer than ever that the state’s AB5 policy continues to hurt gig-economy workers,” McCarthy told the Free Beacon. “Though I am encouraged to see that Governor Newsom has begun to implement the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program created under the CARES Act, gig economy workers deserve to maintain their livelihoods throughout the duration of this pandemic and afterwards.”
The last Democratic debate was a snooze fest. Aside from the pro forma Trump-bashing, this time over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the only memorable moments were former Vice President Joe Biden’s promise to pick a woman as his running mate and appoint a black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The high court nomination is blatant pandering to a key Democratic constituency. One might prefer he commit to considering candidates on their merits and legal experience rather than gender or skin color, but that would go against what it means to be a member of his party these days.
Of much greater interest is his plan for the vice presidency, an office he held for eight years under former President Barack Obama. Even though some will say otherwise, it’s not at all ghoulish to point out how, to put it subtly, the former vice president is bumping up against the upper ranges of the actuarial tables. If victorious, Biden’s ticket mate may end up occupying the Oval Office sooner than anyone voting Democrat in November might think.
The vice presidential candidate always comes under scrutiny, especially when the media starts probing for weaknesses that could hurt the top of the ticket. George McGovern’s chances in 1972, which were already slim to none, weren’t helped when the public learned his original running mate, Missouri Senator Thomas Eagleton, had at one time undergone electroshock therapy. Walter Mondale’s 1984 campaign against Ronald Reagan was hurt by ethical issues concerning the business affairs of his running mate’s spouse. And it’s generally agreed former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin did more to drag John McCain’s 2008 campaign down than she ever did to boost it up.Ads by scrollerads.com
Vice presidential choices matter, even if running against them is a nonstarter. Michael Dukakis found that out in 1988, when he warned about the possibility of “President Quayle” instead of focusing on George H.W. Bush’s vulnerabilities. Picking Al Gore helped Bill Clinton “pick the GOP lock” on the Electoral College in 1992, and eight years later, Gore was almost lifted into the White House by Florida voters who backed his selection of Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman for the No. 2 slot on his ticket.
Many political analysts are predicting that Biden’s pick will come from among the women who ran against him in the primary, most likely Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren or Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar. Both, after all, were endorsed by The New York Times, and neither hit him too hard during any of the debates. They haven’t said anything particularly damaging that the media and GOP could exploit, and both have won office on their own.
Nevertheless, these analysts are wrong. Neither Warren nor Klobuchar helps Biden get any closer to the White House than he is now. The most important thing a running mate can do is deliver a state to the ticket that may be out of reach. Providing an ideological balance is nice but not usually helpful. Winning in a state you’re not expected to, as both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton found out in 2016, can be everything.
The Democrats have Massachusetts. And the progressives who bow to Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders on every issue aren’t going to be any more persuaded to vote for Biden with Warren on the ticket. The one thing that unites most Democratic primary voters is the desire, some might call it an aching wish, to see Trump kicked out of office.
If the Biden campaign’s main theme is the need for a change at the top, ideology doesn’t matter. He’ll have the Democrats he needs. This is why Klobuchar, while she makes more sense than Warren, isn’t the right pick either.
Trump almost won Minnesota in 2016, but it hasn’t gone Republican since Richard Nixon’s re-election in 1972. It may be on the bubble; indeed, many GOP election experts think it is, but Klobuchar on the bottom of the ticket isn’t enough to guarantee it stays in the Democratic column. It’s a high risk–low reward pick that’s probably not persuasive enough, especially since African Americans, a key Biden constituency, have a problem with her that the GOP can exploit.
The Democrats also have California and, as Biden all but promised the next Supreme Court seat to Senator Kamala Harris, she won’t be the pick. Neither will Tulsi Gabbard, who endorsed him when she quit the race last week. He’s got Hawaii in his pocket.
Who does that leave? The smart pick, the one that helps Biden most and causes the most trouble for Trump is Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, whom most Americans met when she gave one of the more impressive responses to the president’s State of the Union address in recent memory.
Whitmer is a former prosecutor and former state legislator and, as a state chief executive, has vital leadership experience Biden lacks.
Biden has never been in charge of anything larger than a committee of the U.S. Senate. He can tout his experience with Obama all he wants, but he can’t get past the fact he worked for him, that the ultimate authority was always vested with someone else. Moreover, as someone who defeated her opponent in the general election, the statewide elected GOP attorney general, by 10 points she’s a proven vote winner in a state Trump needs to win re-election. And, as a bonus, her presence on the ticket would probably help keep Democrat Gary Peters, who is facing a stiff challenge from Republican John James that many expect him to lose, in the U.S. Senate.
Biden’s choice of running mate is the first major decision he’ll make. If he makes the right one, he may get to live in the White House. If he makes the wrong one, he hands his opponent an unexpected advantage that might lead to defeat.
And then there were two.
Thanks to South Carolina and Super Tuesday, the race for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination is between a candidate of the left and a candidate of the far left. The moderate, market-friendly, free-trade wing of the party has collapsed into nothingness. Clintonism is dead, long live the new left.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, whose come-from-behind and back-from-the dead win in South Carolina drove Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar out of the race, is widely considered to have been the big winner on Super Tuesday. True, he got more votes in 10 of the 14 states holding primaries that day but Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who took a third of the vote in California, also did exceptionally well.
The count as it now stands has Biden ahead but by only about 60 delegates. This is not, even given the way the remaining primaries and caucuses in the remaining states line up on the way to Milwaukee, so substantial a lead that it cannot be overcome.
This should give Biden pause. The combined vote for Sanders and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was bigger—outside the South anyway—than what Biden was able to draw. With Warren out and her vote presumably up for grabs, the calculations of future outcomes must be altered. The former vice president can no longer presume he’ll benefit from a split among primary voters who consider him part of the problem because he’s part of the party establishment.
One would think this would give the GOP pause as well, leading party leaders to think carefully about what President Donald J. Trump must do to secure a second term. Instead, they still seem to be counting on the vicious divisions among the opposition party to prevent the kind of unity needed to prevail in November.
This, to employ a shopworn but appropriate adage, is whistling past the graveyard. The turnout among Democrats participating in the 2020 nominating process is up considerably from 2016, suggesting the enthusiasm gap, which the Republicans hoped to benefit from, may not exist. Trump may have to fight to win.
To do that, he needs to have the kind of positive message that thus far seems to be eluding him. It will not be enough for him to define his opponent as so far outside the mainstream as to be unelectable—a strategy they are sure to use on Sanders and will try on Biden to see if it works. Trump is going to have to explain, to use his term, what he intends to do to “keep America great” in his second term. And, right now, with potential disaster seemingly around every corner, he’s not getting the job done. The fears connected to the spread of coronavirus are taking the markets and are poised to kick off a business contraction that could lead to a recession. If that happens, the president loses his principle talking point in favor of his re-election.
This may be why the scramble to respond to this entirely unexpected global crisis is being hyped by the mainstream, Trump-hating media as well as the Democrats but the epidemic is a reality the president and his campaign advisers must prepare to deal with. The fact he’s been right on many of the key points regarding ways to prevent the spread of the virus—by blocking incoming flights from China, by urging people to wash their hands repeatedly throughout the day, and his efforts to mobilize the free-market healthcare industry to get to work on a vaccine and a curative—isn’t helping calm people’s fears.
If you then add to all that the fact some people seem to have decided that since Trump appears to distort the truth its oaky for them to distort the truth in response and you have a recipe for disaster in the making, the kind that kills a re-election campaign in the cradle.
That the Democrats have moved so far away from the center in their drive to the left gives Trump and the other Republicans on the ballot in 2020 time to seize what historian Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., used to refer to as the “vital center” of American politics. Sanders and Biden will duke it out over whether real healthcare reform means ending private insurance and private health care in America—as some versions of the Medicare-for-All plan would do. The GOP, meanwhile, can step in with a reassuring message: not only will they preserve both, but also that what they’re prepared to defend what is, in fact, the best guarantor that the spread of a disease like the Coronavirus can be stopped before it becomes as lethal as the Spanish Flu, which killed so many Americans just over 100 years ago.
Despite what many analysts suggest, we’re a long way from clarity in this election. Sanders and Biden both have viable paths to their party’s nomination—and we still cannot discount the possibility a third candidate will emerge from a convention deadlock that could make for a whole new ballgame. The problem for Trump is that he must prepare for all these eventualities, while still performing the duties of his office which, to be candid, is a bigger challenge for him than the Mueller investigation or impeachment. The reason for this is simple: from here on out he’s at the mercy of “events” which, as former British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan once observed, are the thing most likely to take a government off the course chosen by its leader.
Column: How a flight to safety helped the former vice president
On the day before the South Carolina primary, the stock market finished its worst week since the global financial crisis of 2008. Fear of Bernie Sanders and of coronavirus had investors panicked. They wanted safe returns. Bond yields fell to record lows.
The flight to safety was not just economic. It was also political. When the future looks grim, you turn to the familiar. And there aren’t many politicians more recognizable than a man first elected to the Senate when Richard Nixon was president.
South Carolina was Joe Biden’s last defense. It held. Credit congressman Jim Clyburn with the assist. His February 26 endorsement was powerful—and more decisive than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s backing of Sanders last October. Biden trounced the field in the Palmetto State, winning 48 percent to Sanders’s 20 percent.
The first signs of a Biden coalition of black voters, suburban women, and moderates became visible. These are the same people who returned the speaker’s gavel to Nancy Pelosi in 2018. After South Carolina, the non-Sanders vote consolidated behind Biden. And on Super Tuesday he pulled ahead in the delegate count.
Biden is too old to be called “the comeback kid.” He needs another moniker. Let’s call him “the comeback gramps.”
His achievement is something to behold. Not since 1992 has a candidate vaulted into frontrunner status after losing the first contests by such stunning margins. And circumstances were different 28 years ago. Back then, Iowa went to local hero Senator Tom Harkin. New Hampshire chose neighboring Senator Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts. Both men enjoyed homefield advantage.
Bill Clinton didn’t have a victory until Georgia and South Carolina. Whereupon his spin room went into action, persuading the media that the Arkansas governor was the “comeback kid.” Clinton was 45 years old at the time.
The bloom of youth left Biden long ago. And, for a while it seemed, so did any chance of becoming president. He placed fourth in Iowa. He came in fifth in New Hampshire. He finished a distant—light-years distant—second in Nevada.
Bernie Sanders and his red brigades threatened to sweep all before them. What saved Biden and the Democratic Party was panic. Worries over socialism, over handing the election to President Trump, but also over the invisible contagion whose global spread appears to be unstoppable.
Biden is not unstoppable. He’s had a great week. But it is not a straight line from here to the White House. For one thing, Sanders is still in the race. The slim possibility remains that he could deny Biden a majority of the 1,991 delegates necessary to win on the first ballot of the convention. That would complicate matters. And widen the Democratic divide.
Biden’s resuscitation was contingent on discrete events. Who knows what the situation would look like today absent Bernie’s striking momentum, Bloomberg’s flameout, Clyburn’s endorsement, South Carolina’s place on the electoral calendar, and the appearance of coronavirus? There is plenty of time for further developments. Not all of them will play to his advantage.
Biden is not a strong candidate. His brain and his mouth never seem to be in the same place at the same time. He hasn’t given a satisfactory answer to the question of what his son Hunter was doing on the board of a Ukrainian gas giant. He suffers from the brand confusion of a septuagenarian Washington insider calling for change. He has a habit of making bizarre and rude comments—to his own supporters. His agenda is vague at best and regressive at worst.
He promises a return to the status quo ante Trump. For many people, that’s enough. For how many? In which states? Biden is the secure choice, the comforting presence, the genial (if slightly out of it) grandpa you like to have around. You turn to him in threatening times not because of what he has done, but because of who he is. That is why Barack Obama put him on the ticket after Russia invaded Georgia. It is why so many Democrats chose him on Tuesday.
Threats recede. Panic fades. Good times return. And you are left with grinning, affable, ordinary, unexciting, flawed Joe Biden. Who might not be a safe bet after all.