The Corner

Politics & Policy

Mona Charen, Joe Biden, and the Partisan Pickle

Former vice president Joe Biden speaks at a community event in Henderson, Nev., February 14, 2020. (Gage Skidmore)

The usual hysterics are engaged in the usual hysteria over Mona Charen’s syndicated column (which runs here at National Review Online, among other places), in which she argues that Joe Biden could be a “unifying” element in our politics. There have been calls to have her fired, the usual dishonest “National Review endorses” tweets, the usual stupidity.

Sohrab Ahmari sneers that Biden has “won the coveted . . . Mona Charen constituency,” which he dismisses as representing a “very, very, very narrow slice of American conservative opinion,” an interesting line of argument coming from the camp whose agenda is reinventing politics as an authoritarian Catholic domination fantasy.

Charen’s column is wrong for a couple of reasons: One, we do not need a president or a presidential candidate to act as an instrument of national “unity,” and, in fact, it is precisely that mystical and quasi-monarchical treatment of the presidency (Charen cites Queen Elizabeth II’s performance) that has transformed the presidency from an administrative office into a position of sacral kingship. Two, Biden is in reality poorly suited to the role of unifier, because he is a liar, a coward, and an opportunist whose own interests are not going to be served in the near term by blunting tribal differences but by emphasizing them. Biden in many ways embodies the worst of Donald Trump costumed in respectability rather than costumed in insurgency.

Mona Charen’s error is looking for a reason to be optimistic about the 2020 presidential election when there is no such reason.

But imagine, if you will, that the 2020 race were Mitt Romney vs. Bernie Sanders rather than Trump vs. Biden. In a Romney-Sanders race, we might reasonably expect that some number of Democratic-affiliated writers associated with left-leaning outlets would find themselves writing, “Romney’s agenda is not my agenda, but Sanders is a nut, and I can’t in good conscience support him, and it probably would be better for the country if Romney won.” That would not be surprising. That might even be taken as a sign of democratic good health. The desire of some on the right to burn Mona Charen at the stake and the hysterical hissy fits with which Republican partisans are today convulsed at the faintest indication of heterodoxy constitute, in my view, a much better argument for Mona Charen’s disposition than for that of, say, Kayleigh McEnany or your average Fox News mouth or the schoolboy fantasists of right-wing Catholic “integralism.”

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