With the start of a new administration and change in power in the Senate, we here at the Washington Walrus thought we’d take the time to recalibrate our takes on the key players of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Basically, a who’s who of the big cheeses; the ones pulling the strings, be it with their positions or influence in the media and political landscape. So without further ado.
Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House, pictured (D)
The 80-year old Speaker looks like she owns a formidable hard candy collection and is known for keeping her party in check. She proved she still had it by taking on Donald Trump, upon retaking the majority in the House in 2019. Now, she is pursuing impeachment against the former President, despite initially holding out on the first one until they had a solid case with evidence. How old school of you, Nancy.
At present, she is navigating a tough transition for the Democratic Party. Despite keeping the majority last election, they lost a number of seats to Republicans. Is it because they’re perceived as moving in too liberal a direction or holding onto old cronies like her? It’s hard to say but most seem glad to have her steady-hand and salon-tempered hair at the wheel in these uncertain times.
Mitch McConnell, Senate Minority Lead (R)
What if a bullfrog wished he could be transformed into human form? Now, what if that bullfrog was also kind of a dick? Well, then you’ve got Mitch McConnell. Also ancient in age, he’s proved himself to be one of the least likeable Republicans in American history, by hawkishly prioritising politics over the good of the country at almost every turn; one of the key figures responsible for the gridlock of Washington during the Obama administration. If he had a chance to redeem himself, he sure squandered it during the Trump era, again mindful of what anything but appeasement would cost him (even if he truly abhorred him).
The Senate is roughly 50-50 at present (with Kamala Harris coming in as the deciding vote) but McConnell’s influence unfortunately doesn’t look like it’s going to wane any time soon. To an extent, I suspect he’s glad to be the minority leader because he gets to still effectively oppose new legislation without feeling the burden to present any of his own (or indeed any solutions, as evidenced when both parties’ leaders were brought together in late 2008 to discuss the financial crash).
Ted Cruz, Senator (R)
The Senator’s electability apparently hasn’t suffered despite the fact he is one of the least liked members of the Senate, even in his own party. Like McConnell, he’s all about politics but he’s just that bit more weasel-like to the point he resembles some sort of rat or otter.
Cruz’ immediate test is moving beyond his association with Donald Trump, who once called him a “sleaze” who nobody liked. Cruz helped goad the Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol last month without taking any responsibility for his part. If I might liken him to a Harry Potter character, I’d have to choose Wormtail.
Chuck Schumer, Senate Majority Lead (D)
He’s a key player in that he’s the Senate majority lead but there’s not much to say about him. Decent, I guess. Where Nancy’s a bit more collected and elegant, he’s a bit more rough and ready with the odd controversial remark on Gaza or immigration. The bulldog of the Senate, why not?
“The Squad”, House Members (D)
Netflix’s casting dream consists of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortex, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, Jamaal Bowman, and Cori Bush. The former four were elected to the House in 2018 and the latter two in 2020. They’re generally painted as the progressive wing or “future” of the party to some and can’t be criticised, lest you face the wrath of Twitter. So let’s just leave it at they’re excellent and brave and speak your truth and stay true to yourself, cause they are “fire” and move on. Quite quickly.
Elizabeth Warren, Senator (D)
But you don’t have to be young and hip to be progressive, just ask 71-year old Elizabeth Warren who ran the 2nd-most progressive presidential campaign after Bernie Sanders. While undoubtedly impressive, she probably lacked the charisma necessary to ever mount a notable bid. Still, we need someone who’s economically minded like her and just doesn’t speak in platitudes or empty gestures.
Bernie Sanders, Senator (Independent)
Bernie Sanders is both no nonsense and a master of memes; something that should be paradoxical but just works. In a sense, it’s a shame he didn’t get the nomination in either of his bids but with the might of the Democratic Party at hand, it’s hard to move that last boulder. Still, the energy of America’s youth was behind him and there’s no one else who’s been so consistent in his or her values. Thankfully, he’s stayed on long enough that his ideas have become more mainstream and even though he’s not a part of Biden’s administration, it looks at least as if he’ll have some influence.
Amy Klobuchar, Senator (D)
Honestly, I kind of find her annoying. Anyone else? Well, apparently not Joe Biden or Kamala Harris, since she introduced the inaugural proceedings last month.
Lindsey Graham, Senator (R)
Joe Biden admitted his old friend’s allegiances had been something of a “personal disappointment” in an interview with Stephen Colbert. Once described as pretty amiable, even by former Democratic Senator Al Franken, Lindsey Graham’s lowered his standing by association and defence of Trump.
Mitt Romney, Senator (R)
There’s something quite likeable about Mitt Romney, although it may just be a desire to see a Republican act anything other than reprehensible. The 2012 nominee is something of a new McCain, in a sense. He’s conservative in his principles but entirely anti-Trump and willing to to go outside what one would consider regular party behaviour, marching in solidarity with BLM last summer. If there’s a way to restore some dignity to the morally compromised GOP and toe a more centrist line, perhaps Mitt Romney could be looked on as a potential future candidate (again).
In just over a week, Americans will cast their ballots and decide once and for all who has the grit and guts to lead their nation into the mid 2020s- Fat Don or Sleepy Joe. As well as that, they will also be voting on 1/3 of the Senate, all of Congress, district attorneys, and more. Basically, a lot is up for grabs. Now, I don’t want to simply state that this is the most important election of all time because people say that every election. But I do want to highlight what lies in the balance when Joe Biden says “the soul of the nation” is in question this year because he’s absolutely right on that count.
First of all, with regards the Senate and House of Representatives, plus other lower-scale governmental jobs, there is an ongoing tug of war between cultural liberalism and conservatism. This applies to policy, how forces such as the police are dispensed (i.e. Black Lives Matter), and even the attitudes propelled into the zeitgeist. Will they ratify the President’s assertion that law and order has never been more important or challenge the systemic models by which racism thrives? Will a calm tone be struck that attempts to offer compromise on these counts or will the flames of vitriol be stoked? Remember Trump is as much a symptom of the divisiveness of politics and increasingly entrenched cultural welfare as he is a perpetuator of it. Defeating him alone won’t restore faith in government. Many souls folded in his backing last election across the GOP.
Second of all, there’s the question of the Supreme Court. With Trump’s nominee Amy Coney Barrett at the forefront now, it may already be too late for the Democrats to do anything. Even in the case of a Blue sweep in November, a change in power wouldn’t occur until late January. On the other hand, perhaps there will be a chance to delay this and vindicate the process proposed by Republicans when Obama had a chance to nominate six months out from election (as opposed to a mere six weeks). You know, play fair?
Thirdly, there’s the honour of the electoral process at hand. With Trump already lambasting mail-in voting, a sinister suggestion hangs in the air that he may not accept the results of the election or perhaps will declare victory before some votes are accounted for. Indeed, the suspense could last a lot longer than a single night. We could be seeing the next Gore v. Bush and if it comes to the Supreme Court as it did in December 2000, God help us all.
To those who say, well he will have to leave if he loses, I would extend a message of warning. What exactly has this man done by the books so far? How many times should he have been foiled but managed to slip by? Do you even remember this year started with an impeachment? With Republicans gerrymandering districts for congressional advantage, I simply wouldn’t be surprised if the whole electoral process becomes mired in deceit and controversy. Even the Carter Centre is monitoring the US election now and usually, they keep an eye on the most corrupt governments in Africa. So, where exactly are the standards? Let’s stop being surprised all the time.
Lastly and most obviously- yes, the person in charge really does make a difference. In the past, I used to think speeches and rhetoric were not actually all that important to a president’s legacy; that that was fluff for the media and history books. I don’t feel that way anymore. Trump has changed America in many ways but the damage begun before he was even elected, when he descended that escalator in the summer of 2015 and made a speech referring to Mexicans as “rapists” pillaging the good nature of the US.
This is a president who’s refused to criticise white supremacy; whose campaign staff has colluded with Russia; who’s basically followed the 2nd act of The Interview, failing to finish the movie and realise he’s being groomed by the North Korean dictator; and who’s enflamed anti-Asian sentiment with his use of terms like “Kung Flu”. And of course, “grab them by the pussy”. All that, without even touching on his Twitter.
For all his faults and stammers, Joe Biden is a compassionate human being. He’s made mistakes with regards his support of Iraq and his handling of the Anita Hill trial in the early 90s, but I honestly believe he’s learned from them. And even if he doesn’t pass a single credible bill during his tenure as president, his election would mark a notable shift from an aggressive leadership to an empathic one. He’s lost close family members, including his first wife, in tragic circumstances and has learned lessons in life Trump can’t possibly relate to.
For those who would defend the President on the basis that nice men don’t necessarily get the job done, consider exactly what job this man has done and what job it is he should be doing. Leadership used to involve, whether you liked the leader or not, at least some measure of respect or dignity. It wasn’t all about postulating and being stubborn for the sake of strength of appearance. Compromise, whether you like it or not (and this applies to liberals as much as it does conservatives), has always been key to politics. It’s very rare that a great leader has been born out of iron-clad or extremist ideology. Tact and strategy is a far more valuable asset in a president than a hilarious Twitter account.
I can’t argue Joe Biden will be a great president but if elected, he will strike a conciliatory tone where it matters, take foreign policy seriously, put public health above “freedom” with the Coronavirus, and yes (cheesy as it may sound) “restore the soul of America”. For now, that’s more than enough.
In 1992, Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History… suggested that with the end of the Cold War, humanity had reached an end/block point to the ideological evolution of the 20th century resulting in a broad acceptance of Western liberal democratic values. It was a stupendously general claim to make and one that would be criticised as new problems rose to take the place of the old. But if you take a step back, you’ll see how it is sometimes crucial for our understanding of history to get a broad overview before splitting stones because back then the US had very much started a new chapter of its story.
Hindsight is key for any proper historical evaluation. This article will simply not be able to capture the essence, key themes and ideas of the last decade; at least, not in a lasting way- primarily because, we don’t know what’s going to be important six months from now, let alone in 20 years. New information always becomes available and our core values change with each generation. Obama may be considered left of centre today but for future generations, he could be positively right-wing. Heck, Richard Nixon (the most flabbergasted of Republican presidents) established the Environmental Protection Agency.
Enough dawdling though; this context is important for the purpose of humility but it does not advance the story of the 2010s. What was this decade all about? How did America get from point A to point B? From Hope to Trump.
A New Generation
The millennials came of age this decade. Cast in the shadow of global austerity measures and economic hardship following the Financial Collapse of 2008, theirs (I say theirs, ours really) was a generation fraught with a unique level of anxiety. Many degrees were becoming increasingly less advantageous as job opportunities dried up and the unpaid internship net widened. It’s no wonder why, in this context, a sea of resentment festered; particularly against Boomers who wreaked prosperous opportunities in less tech-automated times whilst ignoring the most pressing issues facing the youth of today. As such, we’ve seen more people living at home for longer, trying for MAs, and adapting to a range of career positions; fluidity and creativity all the more pertinent.
Did the Obama administration fail this generation then by following in Bush’s lead in bailing out the banks? Intentions are certainly important; Obama did save America from the brink of a depression but the seeds of discord were planted in 2009 and the early 2010s. If millennials were to be denied the opportunities of their fathers or grandfathers, they’d at least strive to make their voices heard- which they very much have; for better and worse.
With regards the better, they (and Generation Z) have called for increasingly liberal stances on issues such as student fees, climate change, and health care. Whilst not altogether effective yet, the knocking on the government’s door has been getting louder and louder in recent years. How else would one explain the sensation that is Bernie Sanders; a candidate who probably wouldn’t have prospered this way in the 2000s. In another area, they have been more effective; calling for increased diversity in workplaces, media, and arts. Today’s music, TV, and film scene is a lot less white than it was 20 years ago.
With regards the worse, millennials are often seen (seen, don’t cancel me) as petty and entitled by the older generations (who in turn, have seemingly forgotten their responsibility to rear and guide their children). Is there truth to this? It’s a wild stereotype that’s limited but keeping in mind, the general overview from the intro, I’m inclined to believe that for all the good done with social media justice, there is an equal and lamentable drive for over-reaction. It is far too easy to get a rise out of people on social media or to have their television or film contract reassessed due to some stupid but ultimately unimportant remarks made in the past. On college campuses, speakers are protested for merely holding non-liberal views and as a result, many fear the very idea of free speech is under threat (especially when the term “hate speech” gets added to the mix). Outrage is an industry in and of itself.
Millennials can be said to be tolerant of anything but intolerance. Again, generally. At first glance, this may seem amicable and perfectly reasonable. Look at the strides made by the LGBTQ community this decade; today, people assess sexuality and gender in a far broader context than ten years ago. On the other hand, judgment has become popular and forgiveness is in short supply. This is not meant to advocate some false equivalency of opinion between liberals and conservatives but rather to point out that to effect change among certain groups, it is sometimes wise to speak rather than shout, listen so as to at least be cordial. This is as much a question of generational divide as it is political ideology; a great gulf has split people on subjects ranging from health care to gender neutral bathrooms. I believe we should let decency prevail where political correctness fails because there are numbers to be gained from the other side, especially in 2020.
With all that in mind, I don’t think millennials can be faulted for their intentions. Climate change does need to be addressed and for this reason alone, there is more hope to be found with 20- to 30-somethings than with our elders. The question looming over the 2020s on this issue, among others (like gun control) will be did they manage to tackle the problem effectively as well as righteously.
The Culture Wars (On Steroids)
To explore this generational/ideological gulf further, we must assess why and how everything became so political. What do I mean? What talk show today doesn’t feature a joke about Trump? What books or movies or genres of music do well with one camp or with another? This isn’t exactly a new idea- the culture wars have long been prevalent in American society but nowadays, even a movie like Star Wars: The Last Jedi is read by some as a feminist assault on traditional cinema. The reactions to divisive projects like this are often downright ridiculous but they do have origins tales of their own; for just as diversity promised to enrich America’ cultural experience, there were those who felt the pendulum was moving a little too fast and in places with a little too much force (e.g. female reboots, politically correct re-workings). With the recent reaction to John Legend’s version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, it’s fair to say that “woke culture” (to broaden this horizon) was given a bit of a slap in the face. The condemning of past opinions too (like John Wayne’s on race relations), while right, also seem trivial and petty. Will it be a case that liberals have to learn to pick their battles or will a dignified if self-righteous sense of morality prevail?
Of course, the culture wars don’t matter to most people and outrage (built on Twitter feeds) has never truly reflected the actuality of common opinion. Clickbait journalism and not-even-trying-to-be-objective-anymore news stations have amplified once barely prevalent tensions. Controversy sells and as long as people relinquish their sacred duty for critical thinking (on the left and right), the battleground will continue to get muddier.
It’s also become harder to blend opposing facets of oneself. You vote Blue so you must adhere to every liberal constitution, right? Your favourite movie is Moonlight andyou drive a hybrid? Where the divide between Democrats and Republicans has intensified on the actual issues, so too have the values associated with social liberals and conservatives. It may not come across on your social media field but there have been gay republicans and fervently religious but vegan democrats. Contradictions may arise if you take everything literally but people aren’t just what they wear, what they vote, or what they listen to. The idea of groupthink and identity politics may be useful for our understanding of certain privileges and economic disadvantages but it is fundamentally important to remember the individuals (sometimes) trapped within.
From Hope to Trump
So far, we have largely explored the emerging tide of liberal values among millennials as well as their shortcomings. While their voices may be heard across social media and campuses however, the real power now lies with a bizarre authoritarian right wing. Is this a reaction to political correctness? A reaction to an America older white people don’t recognise? To the failure and stalling of democracy? Obama? It’s hard to pin it down to one reason but most people would agree it is indeed a reaction.
Let’s go back to 2010. The economy is poor and health care legislation has been passed. The Republicans have amped up their objection to an 11. Will they undo Obama’s key piece of legislation? No. But they will use it as bait to take back both the House and Senate later that year and for the next six, make Obama’s presidency as much of a struggle as possible. Every time, a shooting occurs, they will keep focused and ensure protection of the NRA… I mean, the 2nd Amendment. Every time, a liberal piece of legislation comes forward from Obama, they will block it because they understand it to be good politics; the attack strategies of the last twenty years have worked, so why not? Thus, Obama is confined to foreign policy measures and acting where he can. To many, he appears weak.
Obama’s team is not willing to give up that easily however. There are cards to play and victories do emerge, even if they take time. One such victory was the assassination of Bin Laden in 2011, which undoubtedly helped push the re-election campaign along nicely. Beating Romney the following year also cemented his popularity, meaning he could argue his case to the public more frequently. The Iran Nuclear Deal and Gay Marriage followed in 2015 and all things considered, Obama had done a pretty good job with what he was given. So why was there such a fundamental shift in 2016?
For one, people underestimated just how important the appeal of Obama, himself, was. Hillarys politics may not have been miles off his but she simply couldn’t inspire the loyalty he did; he was one of the greatest orators of all time. As well as that however, Obama was unable to translate his messages across as those of the Democratic establishment. After all, they lost handily in 2014, even before Trump entered the picture. Perhaps because, for all their gesticulation, they couldn’t advertise themselves half as well as the GOP. Confidence it seems can be as toxic as it is appealing. That’s where Trump comes in.
Trump won, not because of the substance of his arguments but because of the way he projected them and himself. The Republican field toppled in the debates of late 2015 and all the while, throughout the primaries, we fooled ourselves into thinking this was some kind of joke. Brexit should’ve rang alarm bells. Trump getting the nomination should have too. But like an age-old tragedy, we followed the path blindly and suffered as a result.
If Trump wasn’t a traditional conservative, it didn’t matter at all. As stated earlier, Nixon established the EPA; so clearly this party’s open to whatever. And just like that, they all relinquished honesty and their duty for the sake of power (… Paul Ryan). The Democrats, on the other hand, may not have exactly appeased their camp but they did little to persuade voters, who could be turned, why theirs was a better one to join. Many liberals simply took to labelling Trump supporters stupid, racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and so on. This continues to be a mistake, in my view, and a crucial one differentiating many working class people struggling with every day economic opportunities from the elitist self-righteous liberals who know nothing of them.
Trump’s impeachment may get rid of the man but it won’t get rid of the problem because he’s as much a symptom of the ills dominating the bi-polarity of politics this decade as obtuse NRA support or further tax breaks for the 1% are. In a strange way, it’s odd that it’s taken so long for a clown to ascend to the throne considering the acrobatics and pantomime politicians perform but if anything should be clear to the Democrats now, it is that their battle will not end in 2020. Complacency has always been their problem.
A New Left
There is a spark of hope to be found in the Democratic Party however as we end the 2010s. For just as the right has moved beyond any nuance of centrism, the left has recognised its need to stake its own ground too. The campaign of Bernie in 2016 mobilised a movement the corporate Democrats simply didn’t understand; one that has already flourished with the election of candidates like Alexandria Occasion Cortes last year and the adoption of more liberal stances in the election field this year. The party is undergoing a period of transformation, having essentially spent the last 30 years meeting their adversaries in a compromised middle. Whether this will prove wise remains to be seen. Two schools of thought are currently battling it out to see who can take back those Trump voters; the more centrist likes of Joe Biden and the others like Bernie/Warren. Again, we see the political and the cultural dominoes of America falling in tandem.
As I’ve often stated in pieces on this site, I believe the issues should remain central to Bernie’s and other’s campaigns, not the bait Republicans masquerade as issues (e.g. patriotism) nor the scandals that get blown out of proportion (e.g. Hillary’s emails). So far, they seem to be on track but as the other elections of the 2010s have shown, the Republicans aren’t bad at winning.
How strange the Clinton-Blair years now seem to us in a world turned upside down. Forests are burning, debts are rising, automation threatens millions of jobs, racism appears more openly acceptable, and James Corden has a chat show. The 2010s have been a scary time and they’ve only gotten more so; the fresh fruit of the Obama years now rotten to its core. Were we misguided by hope as we may be now? Possibly. I think, more likely however, voter apathy and perennial compromise by liberals beset on preaching without acting led to desperation.
In times of economic upheaval and vulnerability, radical ideologies become all the more appealing. That is not to say we will face a direct parallel with the 1930s and devolve into a fight between fascism, democracy, and communism but this sharp split is somewhat reminiscent. It will play out dramatically in next year’s election, which will be about much more than electing a new president; it’ll be about ratifying the course American culture will head in under the auspices of ideological, generational, and human values (or as Joe Biden put it, the “soul of America”).
The 2010s are yet foggy and there was a great deal more I could have explored (e.g. foreign policy, keyboard warriors, police brutality, #metoo, etc.) but a feint trajectory permeates this hew nonetheless; one linking our apathy and disinterest to upheaval and renewed activism. The people of today speak of politics far more than they did ten years ago. This is both a good and bad thing.
The concern surrounding the climate change crisis seems to finally be reaching its target audience, the world. This is in large part thanks to Swedish activist Greta Thunberg and her powerful campaigns as well as a growing consensus on the part of liberals that bold action is needed ASAP. So which Democratic candidate has the most to offer future generations in this debate and which plan should we be standing by? It may be a matter of simply adding the numbers against scientific projections but unfortunately in the world of Washington, political capital is just as important.
Bernie Sanders, the wild haired independent from Vermont, has naturally put up the largest number in his addresses to tackling this issue. His plan would involve spending $16 trillion over the course of 15 years, aiming for zero emissions from transport and power generation by 2030, while supporting the Green New Deal proposed earlier this year. Elizabeth Warren is rated highly by GreenPeace too; she too desires 100% clean energy and has tied her approach into a more general economic restructuring. Some candidates like Andrew Yang and Beto O’ Rourke have also discerned where funds should be appropriated for coastal inhabitants being relocated and measures being implemented like sea walls, acknowledging that the crisis is already at hand. Indeed, most of them agree that clean energy, disaster relief funds, and taxation will be necessary to some degree or another; where they differ is in funds (Bernie’s plan costing the most, Joe Biden’s $1.7 trillion among the least) and attainable goals by time (Bernie’s being the most ambitious with the likes of Julian Castro’s or O’ Rourke’s 2045/2050 in contrast.
They’re all more or less admirable approaches and where specifics arise, like Biden’s plan for half a million renewable power stations, there is some room for hope. But not too much. Yes, there has been a 17% growth since 2013 in Americans seeing climate change as a major threat and yes, there is a rise in renewable energy in parts (e.g. in wind turbines in Texas). Unfortunately, there’s also been an increase in energy consumption, with 2018 seeing a significant spike as a result of post-recession spending (with the last peak year being 2007). As of last year, petroleum and natural gas still dominate this consumption, with renewable sources adding up to a mere 11% (Energy Information Administration). Plus, although 3/4 Americans now believe in climate change (a still embarrassing figure), only 56% Republicans surveyed in August (by AP VoteCast) agreed, with even less (41%) believing human activity was a factor in this.
The odds are not great, especially with the way the Senate is tilted currently and time is running out for the nation that produces 15% of the world’s emissions. To effectively tackle the crisis, a World War 2 level of mobilization will be needed. Perhaps in an economic model of some kind then, we can place our best faith. After all, wind and solar and hydro-electric energy make sense, whether you believe the science or not. Coal is not making a comeback, despite what Trump may have suggested and fracking is coming under an increasing amount of scrutiny. Over half the candidates are for a ban in that area (Castro and Klobuchar support limiting these resources).
The next president, God willing, will face America’s and the world’s greatest challenge. For all the fear-mongering rhetoric the right and idiots would associate with such a statement and what Greta Thunberg has said, the reality is alarming. So should the candidates propose these measures with an air of restraint, lest they alienate voters, or put it out on the line, with the severity it deserves? I hope it will be the latter. After all, the Democrats finally started to impeach Trump, they won the House handily in 2018, and they’ve brought ideas like Sanders and Warren’s into the mainstream (a far cry from five years ago). Hillary tried to walk the line, the same way so many Democrats have in recent decades, positing a centrist alternative to issues the Republicans had the mic on. This time, the Democrats need to be strong and unapologetic because for all the urgency of their other priorities, e.g. health care, climate change is the only one with a non-negotiable time frame.
There are nearly 20 declared Democratic candidates for next year’s election and yet one key figure remains aloof and undecided. Yes, hanging out there, somewhere in the horizon with a winning smile but a shadow cast in a question mark is none other than Joe Biden. You know him best as Obama’s other half but he’s also served in the past as a Senator for 36 years with a host of positions including Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He’s got the best experience of any of these Democratic hopefuls, charisma, and something most politicians lack; a genuine personality. So why not declare? Well, let’s get straight to the first and most pertinent stumbling block and fair warning, it’s a touchy subject…. okay, sorry.
Joe Biden’s been caught in a whirlwind of controversy this last week over a number of women claiming his “personal touch” to be a little invasive and inappropriate. This is by no means an explosive or recent discovery. In the past, many commentators and comedians like Jon Stewart have squirmed at Biden’s holding of shoulders, heads, and hugs for prolonged periods. It’s never been described as sexual harassment as such but rather just uncomfortable and strange. In the context of the #metoo era, perceptions have of course shifted however and Biden is now being asked to account for these instances.
In a statement last Wednesday, he explained that any handshakes or hugs were always given as marks of “affection, support, and comfort”. He said he was not sorry for his “intentions” but acknowledged that “social norms are changing” while promising to be “more mindful” in the future. On Friday however, at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Construction Conference, after hugging the IBEW president, he joked that “he had permission” and then later made the same joke when others joined him on stage. (A bit sloppy, yes.) Well naturally, some people took this in jest and others with more affront, such as Tarana Burke (founder of #metoo movement) who said the jokes were “disrespectful and inexcusable” and that it was not enough for him to be “mindful,” he needed to make an effort to apologize properly.
Is this an overreaction? Part of me wants to say yes and defend Biden outright. After all, sensationalism in today’s media is driven by headlines rather than analysis. Most people who catch a whiff of these headlines, I hope, would delve deeper and read a bit into it. But words like “allegations,” “accusations”, and so forth have such a weight to them now that I fear Biden will be dragged into the company of far worse offenders. He certainly did himself no favors with his jokes but he did, at least, respond and yes, I do think “intentions” matter. I don’t think most people honestly consider this man to be a true creep like say, the President of the United States.
Biden’s of a different generation and age; a fact some commentators don’t think matters given the gravitas of this cultural change we’re experiencing but context is always crucial. Our backgrounds shape us, for better or worse. Biden, has suffered the loss of a wife, a daughter, and son in his tragic past and often made a connection with people in hard times through words or hugs. Most politicians do this, albeit to lesser extents. He’s 76 as well so his customs and mannerisms may be off tilt with younger generations.
That’s all just pause for thought, more than anything though. Before we #cancel Biden, we need to examine what value is to be attained in judging people’s morals and conduct retrospectively. If it’s for the cause of attaining a better 2020 candidate for the Democrats, then maybe there is something there. After all, the party has become more liberal and with so many alternatives on board, why should we accept the obvious choice like so many did with Hillary in 2016? There’s a few reasons:
Some of these candidates suck, are disingenuous, and do nothing but pander to the liberal waves like Kirsten Gillibrand
The aforementioned level of experience
He has the highest polling
He can appeal to moderates who might otherwise side with Trump
He’s charismatic and likable; marketable too
Association with Obama
There’s definitely reasonable debate on whether or not he should run. I would agree with Ross Douhat (New York Times) that, if he does, he should run on his record rather than against it. Any sharp left-wing moves will be preyed upon by the media, his fellow candidates, and online trolls and then mocked by Trump. There is a section of Trump’s base to be swayed too who actually do care about labor unions, health care, and other important issues, which Biden can speak to with precision as others might vaguely address. Plus, if nothing else, it’ll at least give Democratic voters some alternative to the growing liberalism represented by candidates like Booker, Sanders, Warren, and O’Rourke. Then, they can’t whine come November 2020.
Biden has always been “awkward”, prone to gaffes, and toneless remarks (e.g. wishing he “could” have done something about the Anita Hill sexual harassment trial in the early 90s, despite then being chair of the Judiciary Committee.) His record is not squeaky clean. He’s even run twice before and failed. In the Democratic Party’s quest for greater wokeness however, it can’t be worthwhile to decry and discard every ally who’s ever done wrong. When the bar is set this high, the likelihood for success becomes increasingly narrow and the bigger picture gets lost. The Republicans understand this much, if anything. I also don’t want to see Trump re-elected because his opponents couldn’t find their Messiah.
On Tuesday, American voters have the chance to re-frame much of their governmental structure and the issues at play over the next two years. Not only are all House seats and 1/3 Senate seats up for grabs, so are a number of Governorships and Attorney General positions. Historically, voter turnout for midterms have been lower than years when the presidency is up. This year however, early voting seems to indicate a promising shift for the otherwise complacent Democratic party, who’ve seen devastating losses since 2010. Is this purely reactionary to the Trump agenda or have liberals finally learned what it takes to set the tone for a nation so entrenched in right-wing dogma? It’s seemingly both (as you’d imagine) but the issues aren’t all that’s at play.
Let’s take a trip back down memory lane to two years ago when Trump defied the odds and became the 45th US President. Liberals were so beside themselves in trying to explain just what had happened. Was their progressive vision now irrelevant? Had bigotry eclipsed their hopes for further equality and subsumed any focus of their issues? Was all lost? Well, it’s not that simple but they had lost bad. After all, Republicans had taken both houses of Congress as well as the Oval Office. So, as Crooked Hillary’s book asked, what happened? Here’s a few thoughts, not expressed in that book:
The Democrats lost focus on the important issues: Really, most Americans need proper health care, are for sensible gun control, and could do with a decent minimum wage hike. As Bernie Sanders would say though (arms flopping about), these are the issues that are never covered by the mainstream media. But also by some liberals. They take the bait too often and lose themselves in the maelstrom of Trump’s tweets and the latest non-controversies, defined by-
Political Correctness. Sigh. We’ve covered this topic, maybe exhaustively, but let’s be clear about this; it’s not that political correctness is in itself bad but it alienates liberals from many potential voters by painting a picture of piety and self-righteousness wildly at odds with most Americans’ mindsets. Most people don’t want to associate themselves with the buzz-killingtons of the world and the liberals SJWs are just that.
Identity politics too, for all its value in assessing demographics, should not be religiously standardized to the point that blacks, women’s, gays, and white males get defined by atypical subsets of values. When statements like Hillary’s about Trump’s inaugural address being a “cry from the white nationalist gut” are made, it does very little for reaching out to Trump voters. And liberals should be reaching out. There’s no real reason you have to separate these groups of voters when so many of their concerns are shared in actual issues; job protection, health care, social security, etc.
The Democrats have lost vision for their party too. To be fair, it’s gotten more progressive recently but in 2016, there seemed to be two threads being pulled between that side (on behalf of the likes of Sanders and Elizabeth Warren) and the more centrist wave that’s dominated since the 90s. The party needs to consolidate its core principles and its base because for all the terrible ideas the GOP espouse, they do so together. Unlike the Democrats, they’re confident, strong, and on-point.
In many ways, this is a call for the Democratic Party to react to previous losses by moving further to the left, so long as they do so on the issues. It’s no use criticizing and labeling all of Trump’s supporters when in reality, their concerns aren’t so different from liberals’. Trump is a unique phenomenon and his presence is undoubtedly felt in these midterm elections but he’s also best understood as a symptom of a sickness that’s taken hold in American politics; extreme bipartisanship.
As above, I’ve argued that identity politics is limiting to our understanding of how Democrats will vote on Tuesday but that doesn’t mean key issues, primarily affecting womens or blacks won’t play a role. For instance, I think it’s fair to say there’ll be some backlash to the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. In the era of #metoo as well, there’ll likely be a thirst for progressives and indeed, it is a record year for women running for office (but again, complacency is a great weakness- just ask the last year of women, 1992.) In this respect, individual issues are taking a backseat to greater visions for a new liberal base. If the Democrats lose badly, the party may very well resume its default centrist position but it feels like it’s beginning to get the fire in its gut again.