Tuesday, November 21, 2023

"Doom-saying without some operational plan to do something better is a luxury and a cheap one"

Thoughts on inciting panic.

We've spent quite a bit of time on how certain journalists have been trying to reconcile the knowledge that a second Trump presidency would be disastrous for the country with a definition of bias that basically boils down to anything that makes Republicans mad. One desperate workaround which has been tried so far has been to throw all journalistic standards out of the window in an effort to promote any non-Trump Republican candidates and conservative voices, up to and including the racist rants of Ann Coulter.  

This was always wishful thinking and we are finally reaching the point where even the most self delusional are starting to own up to the fact that barring a health crisis, incarceration, or fleeing the country to avoid extradition, Donald Trump will be the Republican candidate for the presidency in 2024. Some are facing up

Another attempt to evade the obvious, and one which we are likely to see even more of as the maybe-it-won't-be-Trump rationalizations fade is the panic mongering in the guise of concern. This avoids being seen as taking sides in favor of Biden while at the same time evading responsibility for the disaster of another Trump administration.

Josh Marshall has the definitive take.

Which raises a related issue. Are we calling alarms to calm our own anxiety? Or are we doing it to put responsibility on to someone else if everything goes wrong. Over the weekend Maureen Dowd published a Times column entitled ‘The Axe is Sharp,” essentially an encomium to Obama campaign strategist David Axelrod and an anti-encomium to the incumbent President who Axelrod has been dumping on for months.

Circle Jerks are generally assumed to be a male only affair. But here Dowd seems to have broken a new, albeit perverse, glass ceiling. The column is a richly gilded example of DC party circuit tut-tutting shorn of any operational plan. Axelrod has quite famously never been a fan of Biden’s. I don’t doubt he has real concerns about whether Biden, who turns 81 today, will be able to beat Donald Trump a second time. But his press comments over recent weeks have generally demanded the White House ‘grapple with the age’ issue or ‘take it seriously.’ He’s noted that it might be better if Democrats had a younger more dynamic candidate without explaining how the timeline or anything else makes this possible or likely — indeed, without explaining how this will happen without any credible candidate willing to challenge Biden.

Our first poll of the Democratic primary race shows Congressman Dean Phillips pulling 4% to Biden’s 77%. When Emerson polled California and added the state’s popular governor, Gavin Newsom, Biden polled 51% to Newsom’s 21%. The point of sharing these numbers is not to suggest that Democrats universally support Biden. Indeed, they show he has some work to do to unify and energize Democratic voters for the general election. What they illustrate is why no serious candidate has challenged Biden. Because that candidate would almost certainly lose. If Newsom is getting crushed in his own state where he is popular and has almost universal name recognition that tells you the story.

The Axelrod story shows us something important about political commentary and how it intertwines with advocacy and politics. It goes back to those questions I asked above. Are we proposing a more effective approach? Are we simply trying to tamp down our own anxieties? Or are we trying to call dibs on the possible bad outcomes to put the responsibility on someone else if everything goes wrong?


At the present moment it’s the easiest thing in the world — and in many ways the most inviting — to say Biden may lose! It would be great to have a younger, hypothetical candidate! It’s a free call since it’s not going to happen. So there’s no chance you’re going to be accountable for whether or not this was a good idea. If Biden wins next year everyone will be so stoked they either won’t remember what you said or won’t care. But if he loses, for you it’s bit of a win, isn’t it? There’s bragging rights. It amounts to a kind of emotional and professional hedge against the sting of electoral defeat.

Doom-saying without some operational plan to do something better is a luxury and a cheap one, generally a way to opt out of the work and potential consequences of harrowing moments when the future is not clear and stakes are high. That’s the David Axelrods of the political world. What interests me more is something a bit different, what I think AB and many others of us are grappling with: the very human desire to pull some alarm or break some glass when the reality is that we will likely have to sit with the discomfort of a very nerve-wracking year and put every effort into winning with this team. There’s nothing cheap or buck-passing about that. It is a totally human and real feature of this political moment.


No comments:

Post a Comment