It’s Gonna Be Biden
He’s got my vote, but that doesn’t mean I’m excited about it
I don’t talk much about Joe Biden here. Part of that is because for much of the past year I’ve been writing almost exclusively for “Eyes on the Right,” which is a newsletter devoted to, well, the right. But since mid-March, I’ve also had the option of writing posts for “Looking Left.” Yet I haven’t been inspired to talk about the president there either.
But now Biden has made it official in a three-minute video: He’s running for re-election. That calls for a post—though I’m afraid it’s going to be one shot through with ambivalence.
I will vote for Joe Biden because I consider the Republican Party a malignant force in American politics. I’ve felt that way, and voted accordingly, since 2004. Let’s just say that events since 2016 have only reinforced that judgment.
If that sounds more like a vote against the GOP than a vote for the Democrats, that’s because it is, in the sense that I know I won’t vote for the Republican candidate, but voting for the Democrat isn’t as automatic. (Not voting at all is always an option.)
I can think of some Democratic officeholders I would have a hard time voting for. But I haven’t yet been confronted with that kind of dilemma in a presidential contest. Over the past 20 years, supporting the Democratic nominee has never been a problem or a struggle for me. I didn’t have to agonize about casting a ballot for John Kerry, Barack Obama (twice), Hillary Clinton, or Biden in 2020—and I won’t agonize about voting for Biden again in just over 18 months. Whether he’s facing Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis, Tucker Carlson, or some other right-wing populist in the general election (a non-populist has no shot of making it through the GOP primaries), the choice will be an easy one: Biden has my vote.
But that doesn’t mean I’ll be excited about it.
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Let’s start with the liabilities.
Joe Biden is 80 years old now. He’s set to turn 82 a couple weeks after the 2024 election. And (if his re-election bid is successful) he’ll be on track to leave the White House in January 2029 having just turned 86.
He’s old. And he looks and sounds like it. Biden ran for president last time in the midst of the deadliest pandemic in a century, which allowed him to campaign virtually from his home office for much of the race. That won’t be an option this time. Is he up to it? How mangled and slurred is his syntax likely to become while crisscrossing our enormous nation for months on end? How well will he hold up in debates with his Republican rival? The questions answer themselves. The only thing we don’t know for sure is how much it will matter.
Ever since the summer of 2021, six months into his presidency, Biden’s approval rating has been stuck in the low 40s, and sometimes (during last summer) sinking as low as the high 30s. That’s the same range where Trump bounced around for four years. Biden’s average may be a point or so higher, but the difference is miniscule. That doesn’t mean Biden can’t win—especially if his opponent is more unpopular than he is. But it does mean his re-election bid is unlikely to be a cakewalk.
We also know that, barring some major (and exceedingly unlikely) improvement in her political skills and public image, Vice President Kamala Harris will contribute nothing positive to the campaign. It’s more likely she will be a drag on the ticket.
And what if Biden becomes incapacitated or dies between now and November 2024? If it happened soon, his party would have a chance to hold primaries to help decide on a possible alternative to Harris. But at a certain point, it would become too late and Democratic bigwigs would likely defer to her for fear of provoking a fight across racial lines within the party. I don’t at all like contemplating such scenarios—or even entertaining the thought of Biden’s increased fragility this time around contributing to voters taking a closer look at the person who would be more likely than most VPs to end up promoted into the top job. That could well turn a drag on the ticket into an anchor around its neck.
Biden’s greatest strength as a candidate isn’t his record, which is solid but modest. Or his policy agenda for the future, which is (with the House in Republican hands) pretty minimal. Or his ideological positioning, which is less moderate on cultural issues than I think it should be. (Defend abortion rights, but not without limits; strongly defend the rights of adult transgender Americans against right-wing bullying and cruelty, but don’t endorse “gender affirming care” for minors or label as bigots the critics of such care; etc.)
No, Biden’s greatest strength is his ordinary American patriotism and defense of normalcy.
The right talks about the country in a way that sounds like a dystopian nightmare: the economy in shambles, cities wracked with violence, Americans at each other’s throats, on the verge of civil war. You’d never know unemployment is extremely low (3.5 percent); inflation is 5 percent (higher than the norm over the past few decades but down quite a bit from its surge over the past year and a half); and violent crime, while up relative to a decade ago, is still far below where it was in the 1990s, and it’s falling.
That’s a mixed balanced sheet. We have some problems, but there are always some problems. A country that isn’t on the verge of a nervous breakdown tries to address such challenges. It doesn’t lose all perspective, throw a temper tantrum, and threaten to make a bigger mess of things. Biden’s case for re-election is that the Republicans are unhinged and that he and his party are not.
That’s what I take to be the import of Biden once again deploying the “fight for the soul of America” line in his announcement video. With Trump ensconced in the White House four years ago, that message promised an exorcism of our demons. With Biden the current president, that same message reminds the country that our demons are still on the loose, threatening to take possession of us once again, inspiring another episode of national madness.
Do you want calm? Sobriety? Politics as normal? Pragmatism in addressing the problems that confront us? Then you have only one choice in November 2024: Vote Biden/Harris.