Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Joseph is frustrated: the Biden edition

This is Joseph (Mark may edit this for being too partisan).

I am very tired of the main lines of criticism of Joe Biden. He is sure not a perfect president. I think he's above average, which in that sort of role is pretty high praise. I think he's governing better than his opponent would have, either this time or last time (oddly the same person). If you want to criticize him on the merits, I get it. But look at this exchange

With this follow-up from Elie:

And this one:

So let me add my two cents to the discussion. The degrees of freedom for the United States to act on Israel are limited. Israel is a nuclear power that has, rightly or wrongly, existential concerns about it's existence. I am not at all clear that Gaza would be doing better or worse if the United States simply cut Israel off instead of acting to advise restraint. It's not clear that a United Palestine under Hamas would be a net positive to the region over the (admittedly terrible) status quo. 

Could Joe Biden be doing better? Yes. It is a terrible situation and obviously the attacks on Israel were guaranteed to start a conflict. Giving your enemy their strategic goals is not always a great idea unless they have completely misjudged the situation. On the other hand, the children in Gaza are not really the bad actors here. 

But a slow and cautious approach often works well, despite the stress of the moment. For example:

This is an appropriate reaction of the Biden presidency to pointing out that the status quo isn't an especially viable solution. The problem is really that there are no easy solutions. A two (or 3) state solution means that there will be people who never get to go home. That's awful. On the other hand, the number of these people can't be especially high 75 years later. On the other hand, the status quo is hurting the human rights of a lot of people. 

It is also the case that the Israeli government is not ideal Here is Josh Marshall discussing Netanyahu in 2009 (that would be 15 years ago): 

President Obama wants a peace settlement based on a two state solution and he’s signaled through top advisors that he wants a settlement during his first term of office. And Obama, unlike President Bush, actually appears to mean it. Netanyahu wants continued settlement expansion and no Palestinian state. Publicly this is muddled over by claims that he wants to focus on building up the Palestinian economy on the West Bank, as preparation for some possible, maybe autonomy or independence to happen in the never specified and never-to-happen future.

Then there’s the question of Iran. The Netanyahu government has spent its brief time in office aggressively pushing the line that any work on the Palestinian front can’t happen until the threat of the Iranian nuclear program is definitively ended. That has the dual benefit — if the premise is accepted — of forcing the US to shelve its entire approach to Iran, follow the Netanyahu government’s lead and close the door on any work toward a final settlement with the Palestinians.

What it all comes down to is that Obama wants a peace deal and Netanyahu doesn’t. And Netanyahu is making a big push to tie Obama’s hands or get him to back off his policy.

So it is definitely not the case that Israel, the state, has been a purely good actor. There are somehow enough people who want to vote for this sort of bad policy that the same guy is still here causing bad outcomes fifteen years later. Do we really think things would be better for the Palestinians if he was being engaged by President Trump? 

This is really, I think, the central paradox of democracy in large and diverse nations. You need to be build coalitions to govern. These coalitions are full of a lot of opinions. Progress in changing of political norms is often made by having your coalition win a lot and cause the other side to shift in your direction to stop losing. Look at how moderate Eisenhower was when he broke so many years of Democratic presidents? Look at how much Bill Clinton responded to the long Reagan/Bush era. This was political change. Having the other coalition win, because you think your side is not extreme enough, is not a path to political progress. 

Consider reproductive rights. In 2016 there were Bernie Sanders supporters who did not back Hillary Clinton because she was from the wrong part of the coalition. Did that matter? I don't know. But the Trump presidency reshaped the supreme court with three nominations in one term. This isn't unprecedented, George Washington managed a faster clip, but it probably made the overturning of Roe versus Wade more likely. Was this a net win? 

Now, for one last point. There is a big concern about Biden's age

Two problems. One, at this point, the proposed solutions are terrible. An open convention with a large slate of candidates would remove the important advantage of the primary system in vetting candidates and would make the people voting in primaries feel disenfranchised. If nothing else, electors are not currently being chosen as a high performance vetting team. Could this work out? Sure, but it seems like a risky move. 

Two, both candidates are old as presidents go. Trump will also finish his next term as the oldest president ever, should he win. I've pointed out this is a good argument for Nikki Haley, who is actually still running in the primary -- losing badly but not effectively eliminated. I think she'd be better than Trump but objectively bad, regardless. Not all bad candidates are equally bad. 

So I think the "I won't vote for the left wing nominee because they are too far right" has little chances of working out well. I suppose it could heighten the contradictions. But I don't think a revolution would serve us well and, absent one, many of the changes that have been made will take decades to undo. See the Supreme Court, which can meddle with a 6-3 majority for many years, the oldest member being only 75. 

Now, before I sound too nihilistic, there is every reason to advocate for improved foreign policy and to try and improve human rights globally. Israel-Palestine is a morass because every conversation ends up inflammatory. But the overall record that Joe Biden is running on is pretty good. He's withdrawn from wars at a heavy political cost from the people who started them without a plan. The economy is doing well and we've recovered from the pandemic. There are many problems but he's been pretty decent about solving some and not creating others. 

Meanwhile, the opposition candidate is in the middle of a legal morass. He has been convicted of civil fraud. That seems bad for a politician. There are four different criminal cases ongoing. No convictions have happened but it seems like maybe this should be a point of discussion in the ongoing debate between the two leading candidates? As opposed to the age question (both old) or the Gaza question (both not great, Trump clearly worse). 

Or am I missing something? 

1 comment:

  1. im simply not going to vote for anyone who's actively funding a genocide and simultaneously throwing vulnerable populations under the bus as a means for doing so...maybe next time tho!