I voted for Joe Biden in 2020. He was the best option available for defeating Donald Trump and buying time to organize a defense of American democracy against the neofascist assault. More than a year into Biden's first term in office, I have no regrets. I'd make that same decision again.
Despite tremendous obstruction from the Republican fascists (and their "centrist" allies embedded within the Democratic Party) — a group of sadists determined to cause maximum harm to the American people as a way of obtaining, keeping and expanding political power — Biden has accomplished a great deal as president. This includes slowing down the coronavirus plague, resuscitating the economy, taking long-overdue steps to fix the country's infrastructure and restoring America's leadership role in the world.
In a moment of great crisis when Vladimir Putin and Russia are waging war on Ukraine, to know that America has a leader who, unlike his predecessor, is intelligent, experienced and patriotic, as well as mentally and emotionally stable, brings no small amount of relief. Moreover, one does not have to ask the obvious questions that circled around Trump like flies around manure on a summer's day: "Is the president of the United States merely a useful idiot and stooge for Russia, or is he actually an agent and saboteur?" That too brings considerable peace of mind.
By all accounts Joe Biden is a humble, honorable and decent man who loves his family, has experienced great challenges and losses in life but has not succumbed to bitterness. That also signals to a type of wisdom demanded by the many crises facing the United States and the world.
To see Joe Biden, who overcame a significant speech impediment as a child, give the State of the Union address while millions of people around the world watched — and to watch him stammer occasionally while doing so — shows him to be a role model of perseverance, humanity, and vulnerability. He has been weathered by life, sometimes badly beaten down, and is still standing.
But there has always been a lingering doubt that gnaws at me as I watch Biden's presidency unfold in a time of plague and political crisis, and in a moment where America's present and future are nebulous and greatly in doubt. Unfortunately, his State of the Union address only served to reinforce my anxiety.
Joe Biden is a career politician who is now the leader of the free world and arguably the most powerful person on the planet. And like all politicians, he is a disappointment. Biden is far too quick to seek "compromise" with the Republican fascists — which mostly means outright capitulation. He represents the interests of big corporations at least as much as those of the American people. He is a professional centrist. He will in all likelihood never cancel student loan debt or make other efforts at great and lasting economic relief. Although driven by circumstance to embrace more progressive policies, Biden was one of the Clinton-era "New Democrats" who helped unleash neoliberalism and gangster capitalism on American society, greatly damaging the middle class he claims to care so much about.
My greatest worry about Biden is simple: America needs a fighting champion if its democracy is to be saved. To this point, as this week's State of the Union address made clear once again, he does not appear to be up to that challenge.
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In total, Biden's speech was an attempt to claim credit for his administration's many successes and to soothe an anxious American public that is deeply worried about the war in Ukraine, the economy and the pandemic. On that account, public opinion polls show that the speech was successful.
At the Atlantic, Ronald Brownstein offers this generous summary, arguing that Biden's speech "portrayed him as a resolute champion of financially squeezed families at home and freedom abroad":
Repeatedly through the speech, Biden rejected stark political choices. Vigorous at points, meandering at others, the speech was neither a full-scale course correction, like Bill Clinton's 1996 declaration that "the era of big government is over," nor a stubborn reaffirmation of the strategies Biden employed during his trying first year in office. The president at times gave each faction in his party reasons to cheer, but did not align entirely with either liberals or centrists.
Instead, the address showed Biden and his advisers trying to define a distinctive political space centered on providing kitchen-table assistance to average families, encouraging greater national unity, and reasserting America's role as the leader of the small-d democratic world against challenges from aggressive autocracies symbolized by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
The speech was the performance of a president who remains confident in his political compass, even as the steep and persistent decline in his job-approval ratings since last summer has caused many people in both parties to question it. Throughout, Biden underscored his determination to combine positions often considered incompatible…
Biden also, as Brownstein observes, reverted to his habit of seeking to placate Republicans and to distance himself from Democratic progressives:
Toward Republicans, Biden was alternately conciliatory (proposing "a unity agenda" and praising their involvement in the bipartisan infrastructure bill) and confrontational (denouncing Donald Trump's tax cuts and the surge of red-state laws rolling back civil rights and liberties). He pointedly renounced one of the most polarizing battle cries of his own party's liberal vanguard, calling to "fund the police" rather than "defund the police," while reasserting his commitment to criminal-justice reform and gun control, both enduring priorities for the left.
What was most notably absent from Biden's speech was any forceful and sustained discussion of the country's democracy crisis, the role of the Republicans in creating and amplifying it, and the fact that we now face a moment where the voting rights and civil rights — indeed, the fundamental human rights — of Black and brown people (along with members of other marginalized groups) are under existential threat from a new Jim Crow system.
Black Americans are among the Democratic Party's most important constituencies, and its most loyal voters. Without the support of Black people in both the Democratic primaries and the general election, and especially the support of Black women, Joe Biden would not be president today.
During Biden's victory speech in November 2020, he said: "Especially at those moments when this campaign was at its lowest ebb, the African American community stood up again for me. You've always had my back, and I'll have yours." Those are fine words, but in terms of protecting Black America's voting rights and civil rights, Biden and his administration have not lived up to them.
His State of the Union speech was one more example of that failure. In several key moments, Biden signaled that he is temperamentally unable to do what is necessary to stop the Republican fascists' attempt(s) to end multiracial democracy.
Biden repeatedly spoke of the need to "unify" Democrats and Republicans. That means seeking "unity" with those who actively tried to nullify the 2020 election and supported a violent coup to prevent him from becoming president. Moreover, the Republican fascists have in no way ended their campaign to end American democracy and terminate Biden's presidency.
Biden often speaks boldly about American democracy being in crisis, and draws eloquently upon the images and legacy of the civil rights movement and Black Freedom Struggle while doing so. But he does not act with the "urgency of now" in seeking to defend that democracy.
The reasons for Biden's behavior are not mysterious. He is the product of an American political regime that is dying, but whose leaders and principal figures have, for the most part, not realized that fact. Biden genuinely believes that as a leading member of the American political caste he can somehow save the country's obsolescent political order. He is a Washington insider, an older white man and a "moderate". Once upon a time that might have meant that Republican leaders would work with him in good faith to find solutions to the country's many problems.
But in believing that is still true, Biden has committed a grievous error: Today's Republican Party and "conservative" movement comprise a revolutionary force, which seeks to destroy American democracy and replace it with fascism or some other form of authoritarianism.
When Biden speaks of "unity" or "compromise" with the Republicans he is giving aid and comfort to the neofascist movement --if not surrendering to it altogether. In a recent essay for the New York Times, Charles Blow echoes these concerns as embodied by Joe Biden's description of Mitch McConnell as his friend:
So, how can Biden maintain that McConnell is an honest, honorable friend?
It seems that Biden suffers from the same blind spot as other white liberal leaders throughout history: looking past the oppressive impulses of other white men to see kinship and commonality. Where the oppressed see an existential threat, men like Biden only seem to see a disagreement among decent men on a political issue. They see them as simply on the "other side" rather than "other than."…
But this version of politics is an extension of the Looney Tunes cartoon of Ralph Wolf and Sam Sheepdog, where they are enemies on the clock but are friends off the clock, and is offensive to the people whose very lives are at stake. And yet Biden continues to proclaim his affections for those supporting oppression.
These bonds across bigotry smack of the insecurity of allies. They smack of a privilege of which only white men can boast, because the threat is almost always aimed away for them and at others.
When it comes to the issue of power and politics, the Bidens and McConnells of the world maintain their own affinity group.
In an essay for the Guardian, Thomas Zimmer expands on this:
Over the past few weeks, President Joe Biden has repeatedly emphasized his friendship with Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell. At the National Prayer Breakfast in early February, for instance, he praised McConnell as "a man of your word. And you're a man of honor. Thank you for being my friend."
Biden's publicly professed affinity is weirdly at odds with the political situation. Going back to the Obama era, McConnell has led the Republican Party in a strategy of near-total obstruction which he has pursued with ruthless cynicism. It is true that he has, at times, signaled distance to Donald Trump and condemned the January 6 insurrection. But McConnell is also sabotaging any effort to counter the Republican party's ongoing authoritarian assault on the political system.
The distinct asymmetry in the way the two sides treat each other extends well beyond Biden and McConnell. …
Republicans could not be clearer about the fact that they consider Democratic governance fundamentally illegitimate, yet some establishment Democrats act as if politics as usual is still an option and a return to "normalcy" imminent.
"I actually like Mitch McConnell," Biden said during a press conference a few weeks ago, providing a window into what he sees in Republicans: No matter what they do, underneath they're good guys, they'll snap out of it. Promise. It's the manifestation of a specific worldview that makes it nearly impossible to acknowledge the depths of Republican radicalization — a perspective that severely hampers the fight for the survival of American democracy….
Some weeks ago, a prominent Black comedian asked on Twitter if Joe Biden thought that, because he's a white man, it meant Republicans would work with him in ways they refused to with Barack Obama? The answer to that question appears to be yes.
Whiteness is almost never a liability in American society. But when it comes to the Republican fascists, Joe Biden's skin color may not be helping him much. The Republicans, their followers and their media sycophants view Biden as the white leader of a predominantly Black and brown political party. (That is of course false, but the truth is irrelevant to the Republican fascists and larger white right.) In their eyes, Biden is a "race traitor," even if they do not use that exact term. For the Republican fascists and larger white right, no compromise is possible: Their almost-explicit goal is to create a 21st-century Herrenvolk society in which Black and brown people, to quote the infamous words of Chief Justice Roger Taney, have no rights the white man is bound to respect.
Biden and too many other white liberals and moderates continue to believe that compromise with the Republicans is still possible, and that finding "common ground" can redeem this moment of democratic crisis. That kind of white racial innocence may well be America's undoing.