Making the click-through worthwhile: The 2020 Democratic primary is quickly shaping up to be a battle of realists vs. revolutionaries; one presidential candidate is apparently hoping voters will “shape him” into the candidate they prefer; Yuval Levin offers some sharp thoughts about who is considered “elite” and what is expected of those with the label; and one of 2018’s also-rans is planning some mysterious big announcement.
Will Joe Biden Fight ‘The New Left’?
CNN notices that former vice president Joe Biden, who’s expected to announce his candidacy in the coming weeks, is already acknowledging his likely primary rival:
After a likely announcement in April, Biden is hoping to seize command of the highly-fluid contest through major endorsements and possibly selecting a running mate early to highlight the argument that the party’s most urgent task should be defeating President Donald Trump, Democrats familiar with his plans tell CNN.
“It can’t go on like this, folks. I know I get criticized and told I get criticized by the new left,” Biden said in a weekend speech to Delaware Democrats, before almost announcing he was running for president. “I have the most progressive record of anybody running for the United States — anybody who would run!”
Phil Klein predicts Biden’s “popularity is about to nosedive.” Right now, he’s a beloved elder statesman remembered for goofy statements and making faces behind President Obama at the State of the Union; the day after he’s announces that he’s running for president, everyone else in the field will want to see him taken out. Suddenly the gaffes won’t seem so lovable, he’ll go from experienced to simply old (76 years!) and he’ll face tougher questions about how self-proclaimed “Middle Class Joe” became a multimillionaire after spending his whole career in government.
I don’t think Biden’s views on busing the 1970s are really going to hurt him that much, but I do think he will force the Democratic party to contemplate whether the Obama presidency really achieved what they hoped that it would.
If Barack Obama had picked some other longtime senator from the Northeast to be his running mate in 2008 — say, Connecticut’s Chris Dodd — and Biden had remained in the Senate during the Obama years, would anyone be clamoring for Joe Biden to run for president? The connection to Obama and the Obama administration’s record is the centerpiece of Biden’s appeal to Democrats, along with the perception that he can beat Trump, or at least be competitive, among blue-collar whites. Nobody in today’s Democratic party is searching for a 2020 candidate who really knows how to sing the praises of Amtrak.
Nominating Biden atop the Democratic ticket is like giving the wacky neighbor supporting character on a beloved show his own spinoff. It’s easy to forget but back in 2008, Biden was seen as a risky selection by Obama. Both Biden’s 1988 campaign and 2008 campaign crashed on the rocks. On the campaign trail, Biden had contradicted Obama constantly and kept either lying, misremembering, or hallucinating. Everyone forgets that in 2011, some members of the Obama team briefly discussed dropping him from the ticket for the 2012 election, testing the idea in focus groups and polls.
We’re already seeing a Democratic party split into factions, and Biden’s the guy who’s always been a little too honest about what he thinks about people. Hillary Clinton’s crowd never liked him, and the feeling was mutual. At a time when progressives are hyper about language and sensitivity, Biden speaks with no filter or forethought.
Perhaps the most difficult challenge for a Biden bid is the fact that the candidate is “the Establishment,” whether he and his campaign wants to acknowledge it or not. He was a heartbeat away from the presidency for eight years, and he had an enormous say in policy from 2009 to 2016.
Judging from how the Democratic candidates are courting their party’s grassroots today, primary voters want to tear down most of American society’s existing structures, rules, laws and traditions. Eliminate the Electoral College. Add more justices to the Supreme Court. Enact reparations for African-Americans. Have the government take over large swaths of the economy through the Green New Deal. Ban private health insurance and enact Medicare for All. Raise taxes, including a 77 percent tax on estates, a 70 percent tax on income over $10 million per year, and set up a 90 percent marginal tax rate.
It is unlikely that Joe Biden supports those kinds of radical changes. Even if Biden did embrace them on the campaign trail in the coming months, that would represent an admission that the Obama presidency had largely failed to meet the country’s challenges, as the Obama administration, as liberal as it was, never proposed many ideas like that.
The 2020 Democratic primary could quickly boil down to Biden (or Beto O’Rourke, or some other candidate) as the voice of political reality, and a top rival who embodies a political revolution — likely Bernie Sanders, but perhaps Kamala Harris or Elizabeth Warren or one of the others.
It’s better for the country if Democrats pick reality; it’s better for Trump’s reelection chances if the Democrats pick revolution.
Guess Who ‘Asked Voters to Shape Him into the Presidential Candidate They Want Him to Be’?
The Washington Post, this morning: “In the first five days of his campaign, [Beto] O’Rourke asked voters to shape him into the presidential candidate they want him to be, to help him draft a vision for America.”
He is the empty vessel your hopes and dreams have been waiting for.
“Shape him into the presidential candidate they want him to be”? What is he, Gumby?
After a while, all of the Beto O’Rourke profile pieces in the glossy general interest magazines start to sound like this.
It’s Not About Who’s Considered Elite, It’s About What Those Elites Are Empowered to Do
Lots of folks have weighed in on the college-admissions scandal, but one of my favorite observations comes in the form of this really sharp Corner post by Yuval Levin.
Although the scandal revealed by last week’s arrests involves college admissions, it has touched a nerve not because of a widespread desire to get into Yale but because of a widespread perception that the people who go there think they can get away with anything. It isn’t aggravating because it’s a betrayal of the principles of meritocracy but because it is an example of the practice of it. That’s not a problem that can be addressed through more fair and open college admissions. It is a problem that would need to be addressed through more constraints on the behavior of American elites—constraints built into formative institutions with a lower opinion of the inherent merits of those elites.
Our society is going to inevitably have elites; the question is once, you’re in that role of elite, and have accumulated significant economic, political, or cultural power, what is your responsibility? A couple years back, I wrote a series of articles about “the progressive aristocracy,” a group that regularly demonstrated that minor law-breaking, conspicuous consumption, nepotism, and wild hypocrisy were acceptable as long as you publicly pledged loyalty to the right set of beliefs. Far too many people seemed to think that donating to the right parties and fashionable causes gave them carte blanche to treat anyone they encounter however they wished, and to ignore any rules, standards, or laws they deem inconvenient. Since I wrote those articles, we’ve seen many more vivid examples of this — the self-proclaimed feminists caught up in #MeToo, the consequence-free racism of Virginia governor Ralph Northam and Maryland state delegate Mary Ann Lisanti, the wildly easy plea deal with Jeffrey Epstein, the ever-milder consequences for the anti-Semitism of Rep. Ilhan Omar, the appalling second round of abuse scandals in the Catholic Church.
As our David Bahnsen would say, it’s almost like we’re living through a . . . crisis of responsibility.
ADDENDUM: Remember Andrew Gillum, the Democratic mayor of Tallahassee who ran for Florida governor and finished close but no cigar? The one who’s now claiming the election was stolen? He’s got some big announcement tomorrow . . . but no one seems to know what it is. If it’s a presidential campaign, he’s managed to keep it really quiet.