Thursday, June 13, 2024

Replacing Joe Biden

For now it’s a distant drumbeat. As time advances and the Democratic National Convention approaches, you will hear more and more columnists and pundits doing their level best to persuade Joe Biden to withdraw his candidacy for the presidency.

Some consider it a potentially noble gesture; others see it as a sign of an ignoble defeat. For Democrats what matters is holding on to political power. They are usually willing to do just about anything to win elections. Losing to Donald Trump, perhaps decisively, is their ultimate nightmare scenario.

Yesterday, Bret Stephens took a swing at the problem, hoping against hope to persuade senile Joe Biden to drop out. According to Stephens, Joe Biden’s executive leadership manifested a lack of true courage, so withdrawing from the fray now, before he has been reduced to ignominious defeat, would be an act of courage.

Dare we say, it’s a rhetorical ploy. We will see whether it works; and we will also hear how loud the drumbeat becomes.

Stephens couches his advice in ethical considerations. Given that the Biden administration policies have been decidedly cowardly, lacking in any manifestation of manly courage, Stephens offers a path to redemption. Retiring from the fray would count as a courageous act, one that would, if we follow Stephens, be out of character.

So, Stephens suggests that, in stark opposition to Ronald Reagan,  Biden does not understand the concept of victory. He believes that Biden is more comfortable managing threats than defeating them.

He writes:

He doesn’t appear to have one. His style of governance is to manage threats, not defeat them. He has sought to provide Ukraine with sufficient weaponry not to lose to Vladimir Putin. But even before congressional Republicans forced a spending hiatus, he was reluctant to give Ukraine the types or numbers of weapons it needed to evict Russian forces from its territory. He believes Israel has a right to protect itself. But his previous insistence that Hamas has to be defeated has given way to a U.S.-backed cease-fire resolution that effectively ensures Hamas’s survival.

He has vowed that Iran will never get nuclear weapons. But in the face of Iran’s refusal to give international inspectors access to its nuclear facilities, the United States worked to soften a diplomatic censure. He has promised to defend Taiwan in the event of an invasion. But projected U.S. military spending, when adjusted for inflation, is essentially flat, and U.S. naval power isn’t keeping pace with China’s growth.

One might say that the problem lies in the inability to take sides. In the Biden policy on Israel and Hamas he tries to take both sides of the issue, the better to avoid a commitment. This makes it impossible to lose, but it also makes it impossible to win. 

Anyone who refuses to take a risk cannot fail, but also cannot succeed. One notes that one of the two sexes is especially prone to avoid taking risks. One might say that men are less risk averse because they are trying to impress women. One might also say that men take more risks because their reproductive potential is largely superior to that of women. It is much easier to replace a man than it is to replace a woman. You see, it’s all about replacement value.

Stephens explains that even if Biden negotiates a ceasefire in Gaza it will not count as a victory. Not least, he fails to mention, because the horrors that befell Israel happened on Biden’s watch. When Biden’s predecessor was in charge, October 7 did not happen. Again, do you prefer the Abraham Accords or October 7? It is not a trick question.

Stephens writes this:

The Gaza cease-fire isn’t it, at least not in itself. It merely punts a problem that needs to be solved: Hamas’s continued grip over the territory. It begins with a six-week pause in the fighting that might lead to the release of some Israeli hostages in exchange for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners. But it risks falling apart because no Israeli government will retreat from all of Gaza while Hamas retains power, and Hamas won’t release all the hostages or meet the deal’s other terms while Israeli forces remain in the territory.

That means the cease-fire could fall apart closer to the election, when Biden will least want another Middle East crisis. What could rescue it is a deal with Saudi Arabia — the kingdom’s recognition of Israel plus an Arab security force in Gaza in exchange for a U.S. defense guarantee and ambiguous Israeli promises of an eventual Palestinian state.

Will it work after the administration has done so much to insult and antagonize dislikable leaders in Jerusalem and Riyadh? Or will those leaders bide their time to deliver the prize to Donald Trump? That’s a question — and a lesson — for the future.

The last paragraph deserves emphasis, not least because I have often made the same point. That is, conducting foreign policy with insults and invective is largely a losing game. At the very least, the people you insult will be less likely to take your calls when you need them.

Moving on to domestic policy, Stephens is none too optimistic there either:

It won’t be his executive order all but banning asylum for migrants: That only confirmed that he had failed to use every option at his disposal to tackle the crisis. It won’t be low unemployment: No magic wand will erase 2022’s inflation or today’s high interest rates. It won’t be Trump’s legal travails, which seem to have galvanized his supporters at least as much as it has delighted his opponents.

And it won’t be finding a way to offload Kamala Harris from the ticket, easing the apprehension many voters have about a feeble president being succeeded by his unpopular and unconvincing vice president. Pushing out the first Black female vice president would alienate a lot of Democratic voters.

Stephens concludes that Biden would be a profile in courage, would demonstrate a character trait that he has failed to manifest up to now, if he retires from the fray.

The problem would then be, how do you prevent Kamala Harris from garnering the nomination. True enough, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has won the Botox derby-- her face has not moved in a decade-- but Kamala is waiting in the wings. 

One agrees with those who believe that the Democrat game plan is to elect Joe Biden, and then to have him retire from office, leaving the presidency to Kamala Harris. Evidently, this would require that both Joe and Kamala remove themselves from consideration. Good luck with that.

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