Thursday, September 14, 2023

Irony overload: Washington Post columnist calls for Joe Biden to step aside after admitting he is an admirable, honest guy who has been a good president


Joe Biden and David Ignatius

A Washington Post editorial stating that President Joe Biden should not run for re-election in 2024 is tinged with irony. Why? Columnist David Ignatius, while writing that Biden (and Vice President Kamala Harris) should step aside for the likely alternative -- the abominably incompetent and corrupt Donald Trump -- plainly states that Biden is an admirable person who has been a good president.

So, why should Biden step aside for an opponent who has been indicted four times? Ignatius cites two reasons: (1) Supposed concerns among the electorate, including Democrats, about Biden's age; (2) Stagnant polling numbers for the incumbent. In short, Ignatius and the Post are sending mixed messages. From the Ignatius column:

Joe Biden launched his candidacy for president in 2019 with the words “we are in the battle for the soul of this nation.” He was right. And though it wasn’t obvious at first to many Democrats, he was the best person to wage that fight. He was a genial but also shrewd campaigner for the restoration of what legislators call “regular order.”

What I admire most about President Biden is that in a polarized nation, he has governed from the center out, as he promised in his victory speech. With an unexpectedly steady hand, he passed some of the most important domestic legislation in recent decades. In foreign policy, he managed the delicate balance of helping Ukraine fight Russia without getting America itself into a war. In sum, he has been a successful and effective president.

Gee, a president who governs effectively, speaks honestly to the nation, and keeps his promises. What a concept; this guy should remain in office, right? That's what Ignatius seems to be saying, except when he is saying something else. Here is more from the column:

But if he and Harris campaign together in 2024, I think Biden risks undoing his greatest achievement — which was stopping Trump.

Biden wrote his political testament in his inaugural address: “When our days are through, our children and our children’s children will say of us: They gave their best, they did their duty, they healed a broken land.” Mr. President, maybe this is that moment when duty has been served.

Ignatius is correct that Trump must be stopped; Trump is a deeply flawed, dangerous character who shook the foundations of our democracy in his first term; he is signaling that a second term likely will be much worse.

But Biden already has stopped Trump once, so we know he's up to the task and should be able to do it again, right? Well, Ignatius says, there is this age thing:

Biden would carry two big liabilities into a 2024 campaign. He would be 82 when he began a second term. According to a recent Associated Press-NORC poll, 77 percent of the public, including 69 percent of Democrats, think he’s too old to be effective for four more years. Biden’s age isn’t just a Fox News trope; it’s been the subject of dinner-table conversations across America this summer.

Because of their concerns about Biden’s age, voters would sensibly focus on his presumptive running mate, Harris. She is less popular than Biden, with a 39.5 percent approval rating, according to polling website FiveThirtyEight. Harris has many laudable qualities, but the simple fact is that she has failed to gain traction in the country or even within her own party.

Biden could encourage a more open vice-presidential selection process that could produce a stronger running mate. There are many good alternatives, starting with now-Mayor of Los Angeles Karen Bass, whom I wish Biden had chosen in the first place, or Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. But breaking up the ticket would be a free-for-all that could alienate Black women, a key constituency. Biden might end up more vulnerable.

Politicians who know Biden well say that if he were convinced that Trump were truly vanquished, he would feel he had accomplished his political mission. He will run again if he believes in his gut that Trump will be the GOP nominee and that he has the best chance to defeat Trump and save the country from the nightmare of a revenge presidency.

Ignatius has had a distinguished career in journalism for more than 40 years; his words carry weight and merit serious consideration. But does he reach the correct conclusion on Biden? In my view, the answer is no? Here are several reasons: 

(1) Ignatius' conclusions seem to be based largely on opinion polls. But are such polls accurate? A 2020 University of California study found polls are "95 percent confident, but only 60 percent accurate";

(2) A 2022 Fortune magazine report says pollsters got it wrong on national elections in 2018, 2020, and 2022, and it explained why the system failed, calling the polling process "statistical sophistry"; 

(3) Even the Washington Post ran an opinion piece four days ago under the headline "I don’t write about polls. You shouldn’t bother with them, either." From that editorial, written by Jennifer Rubin: "First, the polling field is broken. Or, if you listen to pollsters’ complaints, it is consistently misapplied and misinterpreted. Polls didn’t come within shouting distance of the right result in either 2016 or 2020. And they misled voters about the fictitious red wave in 2022. Whatever the reasons — call blocking, excessive hang-ups, incorrect modeling of likely voters — even polls taken much closer to elections have consistently turned out to be far off base. The fixation on low-cost, horse-race coverage might satisfy the political media’s desire to project insider expertise or to appear neutral (hey, it’s the voters who say these things!), but there is no excuse to recycle highly suspect information from sources known to be flawed.

"Second, voters tell us utterly contradictory things. Around 60 percent tell pollsters that four-time-indicted former president Donald Trump should drop out. But then nearly half say they’ll vote for him. Which is it? There is a hefty amount of research that what voters say they want doesn’t align with how they vote. Whether it is gas prices or the war in Ukraine or the candidates themselves, respondents often give contradictory answers, suggesting they either don’t understand the question, don’t really know what they think, or respond based on tribal loyalty.

"Third, even if you think polling is somewhat reliable, there’s no evidence that polling more than a year (or even eight months) before a presidential election is accurate. Democratic consultant Simon Rosenberg (one of the few to debunk the red wave in advance of the 2022 midterms) recently wrote: “At the end of the day, polling is only a snapshot into a moment, and cannot predict anything. Things change all the time in politics — change is the constant.”

As for age, in a country that supposedly believes in civil rights, shouldn't we be uncomfortable with anything that suggests older people shouldn't fully enjoy their civil rights -- that there are certain things an older person cannot do?" 

Ronald Reagan was 77 at the end of his second term, three years younger than Biden is now. And yet, he is seen by many on the right as something of a saint, and they want to name every other public building in his honor.

Like Reagan, Donald Trump is 77. Considering his fondness for Big Macs and an exercise regimen that appears to involve mostly riding around in golf carts, who knows what kind of condition Trump is in, compared to Biden.

If Trump is elected in 2024, he would be able to serve one term, due to Constitutional provisions that keep anyone from being elected president more than twice. If elected again, Trump would be 83 years old at the end of his term, which is older than Biden is now. Should Republicans, and the Washington Post, get ahead of the game and start pushing for Trump to step aside right this minute?

For now, we have more thoughts from David Ignatius about President Biden:

Biden has never been good at saying no. He should have resisted the choice of Harris, who was a colleague of his beloved son Beau when they were both state attorneys general. He should have blocked then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, which has done considerable damage to the island’s security. He should have stopped his son, Hunter, from joining the board of a Ukrainian gas company and representing companies in China — and he certainly should have resisted Hunter’s attempts to impress clients by getting Dad on the phone.

Biden has another chance to say no — to himself, this time — by withdrawing from the 2024 race. It might not be in character for Biden, but it would be a wise choice for the country.

Biden has in many ways remade himself as president. He is no longer the garrulous glad-hander I met when I first covered Congress more than four decades ago. He’s still an old-time pol, to be sure, but he is now more focused and strategic; he executes policies systematically, at home and abroad. As Franklin Foer writes in The Last Politician, a new account of Biden’s presidency, “He will be remembered as the old hack who could.”

Time is running out. In a month or so, this decision will be cast in stone. It will be too late for other Democrats, including Harris, to test themselves in primaries and see whether they have the stuff of presidential leadership. Right now, there’s no clear alternative to Biden — no screamingly obvious replacement waiting in the wings. That might be the decider for Biden, that there’s seemingly nobody else. But maybe he will trust in democracy to discover new leadership, “in the arena.”

I hope Biden has this conversation with himself about whether to run, and that he levels with the country about it. It would focus the 2024 campaign. Who is the best person to stop Trump? That was the question when Biden decided to run in 2019, and it’s still the essential test of a Democratic nominee today.

Biden has passed that test once. Who is to say he can't do it again.

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