Joe Biden in 1975, a very different political era.
Photo: Henry Griffin/AP/Shutterstock
One of Joe Biden’s favorite campaign riffs underscores his belief in the value of civility and bipartisanship. Inevitably, Biden reminisces about his young Senatorial days when he would pal around (and occasionally cut deals) with segregationists. “I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland,” he said again last night, launching into his nostalgic riff about the good old days when senators could argue with each other but still compromise.
At first blush, Biden’s segregationist riff is disturbing. When you poke below the surface, gets even more disturbing. It suggests that he has not grasped any of the tectonic changes in American politics, and that he is equipped neither for the campaign nor the presidency.
American politics has grown more polarized because the unusual and precarious conditions of the 20th century have disappeared. Politics in the 19th century was deeply polarized around the linked issues of issues of race and big government (we fought a Civil War, remember.) But after Reconstruction was crushed, the Republican Party abandoned its commitment to African-American equality and activist government, while the Democratic Party eventually adopted those identities. In the decades while the Republicans were moving right and the Democrats were moving left, there was a long period in which the parties overlapped. During that time, bipartisanship was the norm. Biden came of political age during the period when polarization had reached its historic nadir:
That’s the era Biden grew up in and recalls fondly. It has disappeared for reasons that may be lamentable, but are grounded in large, immutable forces of ideology and self-interest. Today’s partisan division reflects the same elemental conflicts between Yankee socially progressive advocates of energetic central government and Southern “strict constructionist” defenders of the existing social hierarchy that divided the political system of the 19th century.
What’s more, modern leaders have learned that the old conventional wisdom that voters would punish them for failing to get along is false. As Mitch McConnell has bluntly explained, persuadable voters do not pay close attention to policy details. If they see leaders in both parties getting along, they will assume things are going well, and — this is the crucial detail — they will consequently reward the party in power. If they see a nasty partisan fight, they will assume Washington is failing, and reward the opposition. To ask the opposing party to compromise with the majority party is to ask it to undermine its own political interest.
Biden either fails to grasp this dynamic, or believes he can overpower it with sheer charm. “Folks, I believe one of the things I’m pretty good at is bringing people together,” Biden boasted of his time as vice-president. “Every time we had a trouble in the administration, who got sent to the Hill to settle it? Me. No, not a joke. Because I demonstrate respect for them.”
This account of Biden’s role in the Obama administration is very different than what I observed. Biden did play an important role in wooing three Republican senators to support the stimulus bill in 2009, a crucial accomplishment and a necessity, given that Democrats had 58 Senate seats at the time and adamantly refused to disable the filibuster. However, those three Republicans faced such intense backlash from the right that one of them, Arlen Specter, was driven out of the party altogether, and the other two, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, subsequently refused to support any health-care bill on any terms. The aftermath of the success was such that it could never be repeated.
Afterward, Republicans held their wall of total obstruction throughout Obama’s terms. On some relatively small matters where bipartisanship was needed just to keep the lights on, Biden did often play a role in sealing negotiations with the GOP. My understanding at the time was that Biden’s interventions were a form of kabuki, allowing Republicans to avoid the spectacle of negotiating with the hated Alinsky-ite secret-Muslim atheist socialist president. In any case, while the Obama administration produced a lot of historic reforms, his negotiations (other than the unrepeatable case of the stimulus) did not yield any of them. Biden’s deals concerned small-bore stuff.
Biden’s nostalgia for the good old days of backslapping, and his conviction that it can be revived through interpersonal charm, is a durable Washington myth. But Biden’s habit of invoking his friendship with segregationists to illustrate it is particularly dense. For one thing, the example doesn’t actually support the point he’s trying to make. Biden is attempting to tout his ability to work across the aisle, but he’s citing friendships with members of his own party. And yes, as Biden often points out, he had important ideological and generational differences with the old segregationist Democrats of the Deep South. But the differences weren’t that profound — as Biden often points out, Delaware was a slave state, and its white population long retained the attitudes about race and criminal justice more in line with the South than the North. There were divides, but bridging divides within your own party is not actually a monumental achievement.
For another, by citing segregationists, he is revealing the very reason the bipartisanship he longs for can’t return. The era of bipartisanship was built on suppressing racial conflict. The white South could only be cajoled into a coalition that supported bigger government by preventing African Americans from voting and, at times, outright denying them the benefits of government altogether. He’s invoking the most unappealing aspect of the bipartisanship era. You can argue that forging American consensus was worth the cost of suppressing racial conflict, but actually highlighting the grotesque moral costs of that era is a bizarre way to advertise it.
The most inexplicable thing about the segregationism riff is that it calls attention to a subject Biden should be trying to avoid: his antiquated record on race. That record is not insurmountable. Biden can argue that he’s grown and learned, and as a transactional politician he and his party are now heavily reliant on black voters, who have the leverage to compel Biden to take account of their interests. Right now, Biden commands strong support among African-American voters. He may or may not be in danger of losing that support. But one way he might lose it would be, I don’t know, talking constantly about his friendships with segregationists.
The usual way arguments work is that you bring up the strongest case for your argument, and your opponents bring up the weakest case. If you’re a pacifist, you lean on the bad wars, and leave it up to the other side to talk about fighting Hitler. Biden is making the odd choice of highlighting his own weakest example. The auto-reductio-ad-absurdum is a signature Biden rhetorical move that helps explain why his previous two presidential campaigns crashed and burned.
The most favorable interpretation of Biden’s bipartisanship nostalgia is that he knows he’s peddling baloney, but he’s doing it because people like it. But that seems hard to square with him relying on an example that’s so politically radioactive. If Biden’s just being politically savvy, why is he doing it in such an un-savvy way?
The other, scarier interpretation is that Biden actually believes the nonsense he’s peddling. He’s a 76-year-old man, and maybe he shares the inability of many old people to surrender the lessons of their youth. The American political system of today does not resemble the one that fostered Biden’s rise. Biden is right to question the realism of the expansive demands of his party’s left. But if he truly believes he can lead the Democratic Party by restoring the bygone habits of the system that bred him, he is unqualified to lead either his party or his country in a transformed era.
Biden Segregationist Riff Even More Ignorant Than It Sounds
Fed chair with some mild pushback on reports that Trump wants him gone
Re Trumps’ threat to demote him to just plain Fed governor, Powell says, “I have a four year term and I intend to serve it.”
New Study Says Welfare Reform Hurt Adolescent Boys
Federal and state policy changes to the nation’s primary cash assistance program for low-income mothers and their children in the 1990s, including time limits and loss of the entire family’s assistance if a parent didn’t meet a work requirement, “have come at a cost to the next generation, particularly to boys,” according to a new study. Adolescent boys most at risk of exposure to these policies were likelier to skip school, damage school property, or get in a serious fight; adolescent boys and girls most at risk of exposure were likelier to use marijuana and other substances.
There’s a Reason Men Accused of Abuse Keep Working for Trump
By Sarah Jones
Patrick Shanahan would have fit right in at the White House.
The NBA wants you to bet on imaginary games
The league announced that it will create a virtual sports-betting game, called NBA Last 90, that will splice random highlights from real NBA games and combine them. Gamblers will then wager on the outcome.
Done in collaboration with the NBA players union and U.K.-based Highlight Games Ltd., the product will tap the league’s vast archive of games to create an unlimited number of gambling opportunities. It will be available starting next season, in legal U.S. and European markets.
Biden’s praise for segregationists is not drawing favorable reviews from his fellow Democratic contenders
Bernie goes after Warren hard in response to an article about her newfound popularity among moderates
The cat is out of the bag. The corporate wing of the Democratic Party is publicly “anybody but Bernie.” They know our progressive agenda of Medicare for All, breaking up big banks, taking on drug companies and raising wages is the real threat to the billionaire class. https://t.co/zimci7JRO6
Democrats Think Older White Man Is Best Bet to Beat Trump
By Ed Kilgore
Biden and Sanders’s strong position in early 2020 polls is likely related to perceptions that, based on 2016, candidate diversity may be too risky.
He’s baaack (maybe)
Former attorney general Jeff Sessions has not ruled out running next year for his old Senate seat from Alabama, the state’s senior senator said Wednesday, as Republicans braced for the expected entrance into the race of Roy Moore, their failed 2017 candidate.
“Sessions I don’t think has ruled it out,” Sen. Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.) told reporters. “I’ve talked to him about it. I think if he ran he would be a formidable candidate, formidable. I’ve not encouraged him to run, but he’s a friend, and if he ran I think he’d probably clear the field.”
Sessions, who held his Senate seat for 20 years, declined to comment on questions about his plans, an assistant said.
Trump May Live-Tweet the Democratic Debates, Against His Advisers’ Wishes
By Ed Kilgore
Live-tweeting the other party’s debates would be undignified, unprecedented, and perfectly in character for Trump.
All is not well at NY1
Five anchorwomen at NY1, one of the country’s most prominent local news channels, sued the network on Wednesday over age and gender discrimination, alleging a systematic effort by managers to force them off the air in favor of younger, less experienced hosts.
The suit, filed in Federal District Court in Manhattan, portrays a newsroom at odds with the friendly image that has made NY1 a beloved institution among New Yorkers. And it publicized tensions that have long afflicted the TV news business, where older women’s careers often fade as male counterparts thrive.
The plaintiffs range in age from 40 to 61 and include Roma Torre, one of the channel’s longest-serving anchors. “We feel we are being railroaded out of the place,” Ms. Torre said in an interview. “Men age on TV with a sense of gravitas, and we as women have an expiration date.”
Ms. Torre, 61, and her co-plaintiffs — Amanda Farinacci, Vivian Lee, Jeanine Ramirez and Kristen Shaughnessy — said the leadership team installed by Charter Communications, the cable giant that acquired NY1 in 2016, reduced their airtime and anchoring slots, excluded them from promotional campaigns and consistently ignored their concerns.
Republicans didn’t love today’s Hope Hicks hearing
GOP emerging from Hicks hearing slamming the proceedings as a sham. Rep. Doug Collins called Hicks hearing a PR move and a “press release” by the Dems to bring Hicks in. GOP Rep. Steve Chabot called it a “total waste of time”
the national interest
the national interest
Joe Biden’s Segregationist Nostalgia Is Even More Ignorant Than It Sounds
By Jonathan Chait
Does the Democratic front-runner understand the modern political world?
Expect lawsuits and an eventual Supreme Court decision on the legality of this
The Trump administration finalized its biggest climate policy rollback Wednesday, requiring the U.S. power sector to cut its 2030 carbon emissions 35 percent over 2005 levels — less than half of what experts calculate is needed to avert catastrophic warming of the planet.
The Affordable Clean Energy rule, issued by the Environmental Protection Agency, demands much smaller carbon dioxide reductions than the industry is already on track to achieve, even without any federal regulation. As of last year the U.S. power sector had cut its greenhouse gas emissions 27 percent compared with 2005.
Addressing an audience of supporters, including coal miners from Pennsylvania and West Virginia, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said the new policy will overturn a climate policy that would have imposed higher costs on low and middle-income Americans.
Being a content moderator for Facebook sounds hellish
Contractors told me that Cognizant had lured them away from less demanding jobs by promising regular schedules, bonuses, and career development, only to renege on all three.
They described a filthy workplace in which they regularly find pubic hair and other bodily waste at their workstations. Employees said managers laugh off or ignore sexual harassment and threats of violence. Two discrimination cases have been filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission since April.
They said marijuana use is so prevalent that the site manager jokingly complained at an all-hands meeting that he had gotten a contact high walking in the door.
More than anything else, the contractors described an environment in which they are never allowed to forget how quickly they can be replaced. It is a place where even Keith Utley, who died working alongside them, would receive no workplace memorial — only a passing mention during team huddles in the days after he passed. “There is no indication that this medical condition was work related,” Cognizant told me in a statement. “Our associate’s colleagues, managers and our client were all saddened by this tragic event.” (The client is Facebook.)
The anti-vax movement needed some rich villains
A wealthy Manhattan couple has emerged as significant financiers of the anti-vaccine movement, contributing more than $3 million in recent years to groups that stoke fears about immunizations online and at live events — including two forums this year at the epicenter of measles outbreaks in New York’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.
Hedge fund manager and philanthropist Bernard Selz and his wife, Lisa, have long donated to organizations focused on the arts, culture, education and the environment. But seven years ago, their private foundation embraced a very different cause: groups that question the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.
How the Selzes came to support anti-vaccine ideas is unknown, but their financial impact has been enormous. Their money has gone to a handful of determined individuals who have played an outsize role in spreading doubt and misinformation about vaccines and the diseases they prevent. The groups’ false claims linking vaccines to autism and other ailments, while downplaying the risks of measles, have led growing numbers of parents to shun the shots. As a result, health officials have said, the potentially deadly disease has surged to at least 1,044 cases this year, the highest number in nearly three decades.
Weed enthusiasts will have to wait ‘til next year in New York
BREAK: Marijuana legalization is dead in New York State, per multiple sources close to the talks. No amended bill, which was to lure fence-sitters to the yes column, came in before midnight or since. Now, the rush will be on to do some sort of Plan B approach.
The Arab Spring feels like a very long time ago
Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, was buried at dawn on Tuesday in a furtive and closely guarded ceremony attended by his wife and two sons.
Reporters were barred from the short ceremony and coverage of Mr. Morsi’s death was muted.
Only one major newspaper, Al Masry Al Youm, reported it on its front page, under a headline that failed to mention he was a former president. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has yet to make a public comment.
McConnell Thinks Obama Election Was Reparations Enough
By Ed Kilgore
McConnell reflects the belief of many white Republican voters that they, not African-Americans, are the victims of racial discrimination.
It appears voters are not sympathetic to Steve Bullock’s plight
Presidential candidates and lawmakers alike have been bellyaching about how the Democratic National Committee is handling the party’s glut of White House hopefuls — but so far, rank-and-file Democratic voters are trusting the process.
That’s according to a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll, which shows a majority of voters planning to vote in a Democratic primary or caucus aren’t even familiar with complaints about the DNC’s criteria for the party’s presidential debates. Only 39 percent say they have heard “a lot” or “some” about the complaining over the DNC’s rules for qualifying for the debates, while 61 percent haven’t heard much about it — or anything at all.
More excellent design from the folks at Boeing
Efforts to get Boeing Co.’s MAX jetliners back in the air have been delayed in part by concerns about whether the average pilot has enough physical strength to turn a manual crank in extreme emergencies.
The problem, which hasn’t been previously reported on, has been the focus of weeks of engineering analysis, simulator sessions and flight testing by the plane maker and American air-safety officials, according to people familiar with the details.
Turning the crank moves a horizontal panel on the tail, which can help change the angle of the plane’s nose. Under certain conditions, including at unusually high speeds with the panel already at a steep angle, it can take a lot of force to move the crank in certain emergencies. Among other things, the people familiar with the details said, regulators are concerned about whether female aviators—who typically tend to have less upper-body strength than their male counterparts—may find it difficult to turn the crank in an emergency.
the national interest
the national interest
Kook Art Laffer Wins Medal From Trump for Inventing Fake Curve
By Jonathan Chait
A fitting reward for decades of voodoo-economic wrongness.
While explaining his desire to return to an ostensibly better, more genteel era in Washington last night, Biden invoked two segregationist senators
At the event, Mr. Biden noted that he served with the late Senators James O. Eastland of Mississippi and Herman Talmadge of Georgia, both Democrats who were staunch opponents of desegregation. Mr. Eastland was the powerful chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee when Mr. Biden entered the chamber in 1973.
“I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland,” Mr. Biden said, slipping briefly into a Southern accent, according to a pool report from the fund-raiser. “He never called me ‘boy,’ he always called me ‘son.’”
He called Mr. Talmadge “one of the meanest guys I ever knew, you go down the list of all these guys.”
“Well guess what?” Mr. Biden continued. “At least there was some civility. We got things done. We didn’t agree on much of anything. We got things done. We got it finished. But today you look at the other side and you’re the enemy. Not the opposition, the enemy. We don’t talk to each other anymore.”
Inside Trump’s 2020 Campaign Launch in Orlando, It’s Still 2016
By Olivia Nuzzi
Trump called this rally “45 Fest,” and it was billed as the official start to his reelection. It’s not clear yet what — if anything — this means.
New York to Enact One of the Most Aggressive Climate Bills in the U.S.
By Matt Stieb
The bill requires the state to get 70 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2030, and includes stipulations similar to the Green New Deal.
That’s a hard campaign promise to keep after November 2020
My favorite Trump quote of the night: “We will come up with the cures for many, many, problems, many diseases, including cancer and others.”