What do they think the alternative is?

My man Joe in Kyiv today, doing the job and doing it well.

Today, David Leonhardt’s daily email briefing (or as it is billed, the NYT’s “flagship daily newsletter”) begins with an explanation of Joe Biden’s thinking, and why he and his team are looking toward re-election.

The email headline is “How Biden thinks,” and the blurb at the top says:

Good morning. On Presidents’ Day, we go inside the West Wing to explain a crucial way that Biden is different from many Democrats.

From the text:

I spent time at the White House last week talking with senior officials and emerged with a clearer sense of why Biden and his inner circle believe that he should run for re-election.

You may not agree with them. He is already 80 years old. But even if you think his age should be disqualifying for 2024, Biden’s analysis of American politics is worth considering. He believes that he understands public opinion in ways that many of his fellow Democrats do not, and there is reason to think he is correct….

As always when I run across such language, I am reduced to inarticulate mumblings, saying such things as “Ya think?” and “Duh.”

Because I just really have trouble understanding why anyone needs to have it explained. (Perhaps someone can explain that to me, but based on the “thinking” I’ve seen among those who doubt Joe should run again, it seems unlikely.)

The next thing I think is: What do they think the alternative is? Mind you, I’m wondering what the semi-rational people think the alternative is, not people who would consider voting for Trump or someone just as unthinkable. So basically, we’re talking Democrats, independents and unreconstructed, Never-Trump Republicans.

We can probably set those real Republicans aside, since it seems extremely unlikely that anyone they would support would have the slightest chance of getting the debased party’s nomination.

So I’m wondering here about the independents, and especially the Democrats. And among the Democrats, I don’t worry, say, about the majority who voted in the South Carolina primary in 2020, giving an overwhelming win to Joe, essentially handing him the nomination and eventually the presidency. It’s good to have neighbors such as those.

I’m concerned about the ones who actively want someone other than Joe. Who do they think would be a better candidate at this moment in history?

What would we be facing if Joe didn’t run, if he made like LBJ in 1968? Well, I think we have a pretty good idea what that would look like. A record 28 people (other than Joe) sought the Democratic nomination in 2020, and no other Democrats have surged to overwhelming prominence since then, so we can look at that bunch and get a very good idea of what a 2024 field would look like without the obvious choice, Joe Biden.

I look at that bunch, and my reactions range from unimpressed to horrified. Since the “horrified” part is hardly worth talking about — despite what you might think, I’m not here to rant — let me elaborate on the “unimpressed.”

Some people in that mob did impress me. For instance, I liked Amy Klobuchar a lot. I thought of everyone in that crowd, she’d be the best running mate for Joe. I was very disappointed when she backed out, saying Joe should choose “a woman of color.” I was particularly disappointed that she didn’t limit that by saying “as long as it isn’t Kamala Harris.” OK, I’m being a little facetious there, but it’s true that I’m a less forgiving than my man Joe is, and have not forgotten what she did to him in that first debate. (Some would consider her a better candidate for the top job now that she’s been a loyal vice president. I’m not there.)

I was also favorably impressed by Pete Buttigieg. I thought him very bright, and someone who would be in a good position to proceed from having been mayor to running for, say, a House seat. And if he did a good job there, maybe governor, or the Senate. And if he kept doing well, in another two or three decades, we could talk about national office.

(Oh, by the way, before I have to explain to someone yet again why relevant experience is important, let me just make one important point among many: If a candidate has significant public office for a significant length of time, it means we have had the opportunity to observe how that person acts in the white glare of public life — which is unlike any other kind of experience. It seems that anyone, regardless of ideology, should be able to see the value in that. But watch. Someone won’t. That’s the way the world is.)

There were some people who ran who did have significant experience as governors or legislators. But they never got any traction, so I never got to the point of studying them enough to offer an opinion about them. So, you think, maybe one of those people would rise to the fore if Joe didn’t run. No, they wouldn’t. The kind of people who don’t want Joe wouldn’t go for them.

Joe has done a tremendous job as president of this fractious country. Some day when I’ve got hours on my hands, I’ll give you a list of ways, from his careful, effective leadership on Ukraine to his series of domestic accomplishments that exceeds those of any president since LBJ. Can I find fault with him? You bet. Abortion and Afghanistan, for starters. But is there anyone else in the world likely to run for president who would please me on those issues and not send me screaming into the night about a dozen other things? No.

So we’re left with the age thing. Do I wish Joe were younger? Of course. I’m sure he does, too. And I feel bad that I’m willing to exploit his willingness to serve — at an age when he should be able to kick back and enjoy his grandchildren full-time — in the most stressful job in the world.

But I don’t see any alternatives. I really don’t. I don’t think Leonhardt does, either. Here’s how this part of his email briefing ends:

But Biden has demonstrated something important. He occupies the true middle ground in American politics, well to the left of most elected Republicans on economics and somewhat to the right of most elected Democrats on social issues. Polls on specific issues point to the same conclusion. That’s the biggest reason that he is the person who currently gets to decide how to decorate the Oval Office.

All of which underscores a dilemma facing the Democratic Party. In 2024, it either must nominate a man who would be 86 when his second term ended or choose among a group of prominent alternatives who tend to bear some political resemblance to George McGovern….

He then links to an NYT story that sets out the three words that explain Joe’s coming candidacy: competence beats crazy

13 thoughts on “What do they think the alternative is?

  1. Doug T

    100% agree with you (again!!). I read where Joe’s friend former Senator Dodd tried to talk Joe out of naming Harris VP running mate. I did not like Harris then or now. Shoulda picked another woman of color or pulled in Klobuchar.

    Buttigieg is brilliant, so eloquent, but we know maybe later, not now.

  2. bud

    Kamala Harris would make a fine follow on to Biden’s presidency. I find your issues with her unfounded. Brad you have this strange blind spot to Biden’s obvious frailties. Giving a shout out to a deceased congress woman is hard to ignore. He may be up to the job now but clearly his best days are behind him. I’m 13 years younger than Biden and my infirmities are catching up with me. Time to move on from Biden.

    1. Brad Warthen Post author

      I’m not blind to anything, Bud. I just don’t get distracted by things that don’t matter. I wonder what historians will think about the people of our age who focus intently on the occasional slips (ones I feel quite capable of making myself), and ignore the rather remarkable achievements Biden has had getting things done in such a bitterly divided country.

      I’m certainly not picking on you saying that, Bud. I’m talking about professional media people as well, who function in an environment now known as the attention economy. A slip-up gets clicks. Substantial policy achievements do not.

      I notice the important things, and wonder why so many people seem blind to them

      1. Brad Warthen Post author

        Mind you, Joe has been famous for saying the wrong thing since long, long before he got old. I’ve often enjoyed it, such as the time when he was giving Obama props for having passed that “big fucking deal.” You know, Obamacare.

        The unsteadiness of his gait? That’s age. Occasionally going off the rails on what he says? That’s Joe. But you’ll notice that, unlike certain people who speak ONLY in foolish babbling, his occasional mistakes tend to come in contexts that have to do with Joe’s love for other people — looking around to share the moment with his friend the congresswoman, or showing his hyperenthusiastic support for his friend Obama. Or at least, the ones that come to mind are like that.

        In other words, these things tend to come within the context of one of the reasons I love Joe…

        1. Doug Ross

          You can delete my comments to prove youre incapable of seeing what is right in front of your face.. but I’ll be proven right sooner rather than later. A president who can’t articulate his thoughts coherently without teleprompters and speechwriters isn’t a president, he’s a puppet.

          You were just as wrong on Lindsey Graham while everyone else could see what a phony he was for years. Your take on John Fetterman’s incapacity post stroke is another perfect example of your misguided worldview.

          Keep deleting dissenting opinions. Says more about you than anyone else. I remember a time when you thought you could rival Will Folks… He’s left you in the dust…

          1. Brad Warthen Post author

            Doug, I’m going to tell you one more time, and never again.

            First, I’m not going to allow the gazillionth comment in a row that misrepresents what I’ve said so that, if I choose to publish it, I will have to spend time answering — so that people don’t think I’ve actually taken the positions with which you are furiously arguing.

            Second, I’ve had it with the spite, the anger, the contempt. This is a place for people to come and enjoy civil conversations. It’s not a place for the kinds of bile you come her to dump on the rest of us.

            Finally, I’m posting this one and answering it so others can learn the kind of stuff that I’m not publishing. You will make the people who regularly post “dissenting opinions,” but in a grownup, civil manner, to smile, I suppose…

            No, they won’t smile. You’re too unpleasant. And it’s a great shame…

      2. Ken

        “the rather remarkable achievements Biden has had getting things done”

        Give Biden where Biden is due. But this ignores the fact that many of these achievements were also the work of fmr Speaker Pelosi and the rest of the Dem. leadership.

        1. Brad Warthen Post author

          Yep, and other people.

          With Nancy gone, it’s harder. But I’m glad she’s not dealing with all the stress now.

          It’s kind of like if Joe were to retire — or go back into retirement. I’d be happy for him, and sincerely feel that he had earned it, and then some. But I’d be very, very sorry for the country…

  3. Bill

    Also see,Mark Hannah:

    ‘Without a fresh vision for America’s role in the world, many people in Washington link today’s geopolitical challenges with those of yesteryear.

    China is cast as the new Soviet Union, and its high-tech military advances threaten a potential Sputnik moment. The ominously named Committee on the Present Danger, which stoked public support for military spending during the Cold War, was revived with its sights set on China. In support of Ukraine, America’s stockpile of missiles and rockets dwindles, spurring calls for the United States to once again “become the arsenal of democracy” and “bolster the defenses of the free and open liberal order.” Vladimir Putin is viewed archetypally as a lethal combination of an old K.G.B. spy and a ruthless Soviet leader.

    Evoking America’s titanic struggles against fascism and communism can be rhetorically useful. It conjures an era remembered for its economic dynamism, its unity of purpose, its spirit of patriotism.

    Yet simplistic renderings of the past tend to romanticize the effects of war on American society. These gauzy memories are as dangerous as they are perverse. War becomes a solution to America’s economic and political problems rather than what it truly is: a key contributor.”

  4. Brad Warthen Post author

    David Ignatius had a nice piece this morning that relates to the picture at the top of this post, headlined, “What a year of war has revealed of three leaders” — the three leaders being Joe, Zelensky and Putin.

    An excerpt:

    Perhaps most surprising of all, who would have bet that an 80-year-old U.S. president, a man who was garrulous, sentimental and sometimes appeared senescent, would turn out to the most undervalued American leader in modern times. President Biden’s brave visit Monday to Kyiv was a defining moment in his presidency. Even conservative commentators who make a living trashing him had to be stirred by the sight of him standing in St. Michael’s Square while air raid sirens wailed…


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