Civil Rights and the Biden Tough Model

National Center for Civil and Human Rights Opens in Atlanta - The New York  Times
National Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, photo from NY Times

The stereotype of Democrats among GOP operatives and the media is that they don’t have the provocative, norm-breaking, don’t give a shit “toughness” of Republicans like Trump, McConnell, and Newt Gingrich. According to the stereotype, Dems are constantly being rolled by the latest new GOP procedural trick, deceit, or bit of race-baiting demagoguery and can only respond with impotent “outrage” and more futile calls for bipartisanship. Where Republicans and the media identify the GOP as tough, they see the Democrats as “weak” because Dems want government to function, care about things like education, public health, and social security, and are oriented toward making rules and playing by them.

As always, there are racist themes and variations woven into the fabric of these stereotypes. Black Democratic politicians and media figures are branded as “angry” and “extreme” anytime they show or are even rumored to show aggression. For example, Michelle Obama was famously branded as an “angry black woman” for things she was rumored to have said before her husband was nominated by the Democratic Party. When John Lewis hugged it out with Republicans, it was a magnificent gesture but it was also the only kind of behavior the mainstream media finds admirable in Black Democrats. Stereotypes of Black Dems work as a form of racial control because Black Democrats have to assume the damage the stereotypes can cause as they work out their courses of action. The stereotypes also function to control the behavior of white Democrats and keep them in a kind of rhetorical subordination to their GOP peers. The expectation is that GOP bullies will always pull the football away from the weak, gullible Democratic Charlie Browns and there’s a disturbance in the force any time a white Democrat like Chuck Schumer comes out with full throated partisanship.

The flip side of this exercise in GOP/media racism is that white Democrats are viewed as “tough” or “strong” when they put down their own minority constituencies. This notion of Democratic strength was racialized into the idea of a “Sister Souljah” moment after Bill Clinton putting down rapper Sister Souljah for sounding like a black activist version of David Duke at an event sponsored by Jesse Jackson, thus humiliating both Jackson and the rapper. Over the 2020 campaign and beyond, Joe Biden has been urged by Dave Weigel and Never Trumpers like Matt Lewis, George Will, and Bret Stephens to “show strength” by renouncing George Floyd demonstrators, Critical Race Theory, or White Fragility author Robin DiAngelo. Whether the target for the Sister Souljah Moment campaign is black, white, Ilhan Omar, or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the idea is for Biden to use the renunciation to solidify a “personal domination” over the Democratic Party by conducting himself on the model of racial domination.

However, President Biden has broken away from “Sister Souljah Moments.” Much has been made of President Biden’s empathy, but he’s also a feisty guy who isn’t interested in taking a lot of crap. Here’s Biden at an auto plant in March 2020.

Joe Biden at Michigan Auto Plant, The Guardian,

As the transcript below demonstrates, Biden has no tolerance for the disinformation on what this man is saying and calls him out immediately and personally. Fox News, GOP commentators, and right-wing conspiracy channels devote most of their time to lying, stereotyping, gaslighting, and purveying other forms of disinformation in relation to public issues, the Democratic Party, and Democratic constituencies. All too often, Democrats and liberals respond by being “offended” and “outraged.” But Biden breaks out of that rhetorical box. Instead of being “insulted” or “outraged,” Biden tells his antagonist “You’re full of shit” and reinforces that message at the end of that part of the discussion by also telling him to “stop being a horse’s ass.” An interesting thing about this incident is that white conservatives work hard at provoking “emotional” reactions from Democrats as a way to demonstrate control over political encounters. But in this case, it is Biden who dominates through his angry insults over the right-wing auto worker’s lying and stupidity.

Man: “You are actively trying to end our Second Amendment right and take away our guns.”

Biden: “You’re full of shit. I did not—no, no, shush. Shush. I support the Second Amendment. The Second Amendment — just like right now if you yelled fire, that’s not free speech. And from the very beginning, I have a shotgun, I have a 20-gauge, a 12-gauge. My sons hunt, guess what? You’re not allowed to own any weapon, I’m not taking your gun away at all. You need 100 rounds?”

Man: “You and Beto say you’re going to take our guns –“

Biden: “I did not say that. That’s not true. I did not say that.”Man: “

“It’s a viral video.”

Biden: “It’s a viral video like the other ones you’re putting out that are simply a lie. Wait, wait wait, wait, take your AR, your AR-14, Don’t tell me anything about (inaudible)”

Man: “You’re working for me, man.”

Biden: “I’m not working for — gimme a break man. Don’t be such a horse’s ass.”

That wasn’t all. In his Jan. 11 speech on the “John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021,” President Biden employed black history to pose the need for voting rights reform in a starkly dichotomizing manner. Beginning with the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, Biden opposed the Insurrection to the entire weight of the 1950’s-1960’s Civil rights movement. Biden started with a reference to Atlanta as the “cradle of the Civil Rights Movement and builds further by citing Atlanta’s historical black colleges (Clark Atlanta, Morehouse, and Spelman), the Ebenezer Baptist Church headed Martin Luther King and his father before him and then Birmingham, Selma, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights of 1965. The Civil Rights Movement was both a monumental exercise in anti-racist public morality and a massive struggle for social and political power that overturned the legal structure of white supremacy against the determined efforts of Southern political institutions and opposition from the white public. For this occasion, Biden emphasized the bipartisan, multiracial character of the Civil Rights Movement with references to the willingness of white liberals to participate in the cause and Republican support for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. However, he also portrays the movement as anchored in black institutions like Morehouse College, black leadership in Martin Luther King, jr. and black courage and determination of Black activists. In Biden’s portrayal, it was primarily black activism that made the Civil Rights Movement such an exemplary moral moment, had results in such monumental historical change, and came to represent everything that was good about America as a nation.

During his Jan. 11 speech, President Biden was speaking as President of the United States as a nation, head of the Democratic Party, and long-time politician. That’s one of the reason why the sense of the accomplishments of the Civil Rights movement, the anchoring of those accomplishments in the Black population, and the function of Civil Rights as representative of the United States as a nation flowed together so well in Biden’s rhetoric.

Adding to the moral and political aggression of Biden’s speech was his identification of the Jan. 6 Insurrection and Trump with the worst aspects of American history and culture—the 250 years of slavery, the Southern segregation system, Ku Klux Klan, 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, and Strom Thurmond. For Biden, the Jan. 6 Insurrection as had historical depth because of the links between Trumpian politics and the kind of evils that marked the conservative traditions and personalities that opposed the Civil Rights Movement. One of the weak points of U.S. conservatism is that there is NO honorable tradition with which white conservatives can identify. This is implicitly recognized by President Biden when he nails the Jan. 6 Insurrection and Trump to the cross of violent white opposition to Civil Rights. response to the Civil Rights Movement. Much of what made Biden’s opposition between Civil Rights and the whole of white supremacist tradition such a power move was that conservatives have so little in the way of American history with which they can defend themselves.

Having constructed such a strong historical sketch, President Biden moved to the main event which was advocating the John Lewis Voting Advancement Act against Republican opposition. GOP state legislatures had passed a wide variety of voter suppression acts all of which were aimed at reducing voting rates among Black voters in particular and Democratic constituencies in general. The John Lewis Voting Advancement Act was designed to counter-act this wave of vote suppression by making states once again get pre-clearance from the Justice Department for changes to their voting laws. Relying on his previous account of the dichotomy between Civil Rights and white supremacy, President Biden then poses a stark choice for Senate Republicans.

At consequential moments in history, they present a choice: Do you want to be the si- — on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace?  Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor?  Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?

Given that there was no chance for the voting rights bill to pass over a GOP filibuster, the underlying purpose of President Biden posing the vote in these terms was to bully the Republicans morally by associating them with many of the great evils of American history. And it worked. The Democrats should use President Biden’s Jan. 11 speech as a template for attacking the Republicans on all kinds of civil rights, cultural, and social issues. The Republican Party has been rooted in white supremacy and race-baiting ever Barry Goldwater voted against the Civil Rights Act of 1964 can be stronger in the political trenches if they keep reminding the Republicans what side they’re on.

Democratic Party Mainstream: Manchin Moves Out, Bernie Moves In

Over the last few days, an interesting little debate has developed between Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Bernie Sanders of Vermont. As Manchin became more determined in his opposition to President Biden’s “Build Back Better” proposals and eliminating the filibuster, Bernie Sanders has amped his criticisms of Manchin and Joe Manchin has defended himself and his place in the Democratic Party.

Despite launching two presidential primary campaigns against the Democratic “Establishment” from the left, Sanders is exasperated by the refusal of Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) to go along with the Biden Administration and Senate Democratic leadership:

“It’s not just this vote. These are people who I think have undermined the president of the United States . . . They have forced us to have five months of discussions that have gone absolutely nowhere. I think it’s up to the people in their own states,” he added, when asked by reporters on Capitol Hill whether he supported efforts to primary his colleagues.

Finally doing right': Democrats' big bill offers Sanders chance to deliver  | Bernie Sanders | The Guardian

Given Sanders’ history with the Bill Clinton and Obama administrations, there’s irony in him arguing from presidential authority like this. The same with criticizing Manchin and Sinema for wasting people’s time. Bernie also did plenty of that as a presidential candidate.

Just as eager to talk with the media as Sanders, Joe Manchin welcomed the idea of a primary challenge from the left and had every reason to do so given that he beat Paul Jean Swearingen by 40 back in 2018.

Manchin told Newsy he’d welcome a primary challenge. A successor to a dominant West Virginia family who previously served as governor, Manchin has easily dispatched previous primary challengers . . . “I’ve always had primary challenges,” Manchin said. “I’ve been running since 1982.”

Manchin also knows he’s the only Democrat who could win a state-wide election in West Virginia now that it’s a deep red Trump+40 state.

Joe Manchin's Houseboat: 5 Things | Washingtonian (DC)
Ralph Alswang

But Manchin goes further and raises some points about the status of Bernie Sanders as a Democrat in turn.

“Well, Senator Sanders is not a Democrat,” Manchin told Newsy’s Nathaniel Reed while back in West Virginia, pointing out that Sanders was a self-described democratic socialist. Manchin said Sanders’ ideology was “not what I think the majority of Americans represent.”

But this is where it gets more interesting. Manchin definitely is a Democrat and has been a Democrat his whole career, but Joe Manchin has become increasingly marginal as the Democrats have focused more on a civil rights (BLM, gay marriage, abortion rights, ending police abuse), Green New Deal, and reducing economic inequity agenda. Manchin himself is aware of this. Instead of just seeing himself as a Democrat, Manchin has identified himself as a “centrist moderate conservative Democrat” and he’s definitely the kind of Democrat who would get a tough primary challenge if he were in Arizona, Illinois, Connecticut, or New York. Since Manchin first ran for office in 1982, the more conservative Dems have declined as a force in American politics. Squeezed by increasingly right-wing Republicans in the South and minority/progressive challengers in the North and West, moderate Dems find themselves politically isolated and probably have more affinity with the Establishment Republicans who have established a bastion in the Senate than the mainstream of the Democratic Party. Given the 50-50 Senate, Manchin’s affinities with the Establishment GOP and oil and coal interests make him the most important figure in the Establishment conservative effort to stem the environmentalist and clean energy tide and thwart the Biden administration and mainstream Democratic Party. Perhaps ironically, the more marginal Joe Manchin became as a Democrat, the more victories he’s delivered for some of the declining forces in American life.

Manchin, McConnell meet on Senate floor amid Biden spending bill
Manchin, McConnell meet on Senate floor amid Biden spending bill, New York Post

To the contrary Bernie Sanders has gone the other way. Despite maintaining his status as an independent and remaining a democratic socialist, Sanders has converged with the Democratic Party mainstream. Sanders initially touted $6 trillion for the Build Back Better legislation, winnowed it down to $3.5 trill in the main Senate bill, and grudgingly accepted roads and bridges carveout like other mainstream Democrats. The 3.5 trillion bill included progressive priorities on paid family leave, universal pre-school, clean energy, and taxing the rich, but notoriously did not include Sanders campaign staples like Medicare for All and Cancelling Student Debt. Even in the 3.5 trillion bill, “Build Back Better” was about “incremental change” rather than the “radical change” Sanders had traditionally demanded. For his most recent presidential campaign, Sanders hired a number of senior staffers like Briahna Joy Gray, David Sirota, and Nina Turner who viewed the Democratic Party as their most important enemy rather than the Republicans. But by Fall 2021, Bernie was proposing a bill that could just as well have been written by Hillary Clinton.

That wasn’t all. After Manchin and Sinema came out in opposition to the $3.5 trillion plan, Sanders kept his grumbling to a minimum through the rest of the process until Manchin delivered his final rejection in December. Bernie was not only a mainstream Democrat, he was also a team player.

Last week, Peter Doocy of the Fox News propaganda and insurrection network asked a question about President Biden moving “left” which is generally interpreted as moving towards Bernie Sanders. But that wasn’t the case. President Biden promoted an expansive agenda throughout the campaign and it only went unnoticed because Donald Trump took up ALL the oxygen in American politics. Since Obama’s presidency, the Democrats have become a multicultural, socially liberal, and economic reform political party that’s best represented by the city of Philadelphia. As President Biden responded, he is a “mainstream Democrat” rather than a socialist. As a result of the politics of Build Back Better, Bernie Sanders fits in as a mainstream Democrat as well.

Much better than Joe Manchin.

Biden, Psaki, and Democratic Leadership: Aggressive, Determined, Disciplined

If the Build Back Better Act (BBB) actually did go down with Manchin’s Fox News interview on Sunday, what does that say about the Democrats and the Biden administration?

According to Manchin’s own testimony, President Biden and his staff are aggressive, determined, and disciplined. Here’s Manchin on the negotiating style of President Biden, the White House, and his Democratic colleagues in the Senate:

“They figured, surely to God we can move one person. We can badger and beat up one person…Surely we get enough protesters to make that person uncomfortable enough,” Manchin told reporters after the vote. “Well, guess what? I’m from West Virginia…I’m not from where they’re from. And they just beat the living crap out of people and think they’ll be submissive, period,” he added.

Of course, Manchin’s bragging here about his petty, fragile, snowflake self (Manchin bolted from the negotiations because his name was used in a press release). But Manchin’s statement is what Trump would call “very strong” testimony to the toughness of Democratic negotiators up and down the line. They “badgered and beat [him] up,” made him “uncomfortable,” and just “beat the living crap out of people” with “people” referring exclusively to Manchin. Democratic negotiators were also highly disciplined. They were positive and courteous with Manchin despite his endlessly shifting positions, lapsing into simple-minded lobbyist speak, and refusal to say what kind of bill he would vote for. If Manchin sticks with his rejection of Build Back Better, his affinities were much stronger to his buddies in the West Virginia elite, his other buddies working for the coal and oil industries, and Republican buddies like Mitch McConnell and John Thune. Manchin doesn’t like Bernie Sanders, AOC, and Democratic progressives (protesters) but doesn’t seem to like the full tilt ahead people on Biden’s staff either. All the buddies who make Joe Manchin comfortable are attached to an old political world that’s neither Trumpist or reformist where sleeping dogs like Joe Manchin can collect big campaign donations without being bothered by all the morality stuff that exercises so many people in the Democratic Party.

The combination of aggression and self-discipline came out even more strongly in press secretary Jen Psaki’s response to Manchin’s Sunday interview on Fox News. The White House were very nice and positive with Manchin during negotiations, but Psaki had no problems with absolutely torching Manchin after he betrayed them.

Just as Senator Manchin reversed his position on Build Back Better this morning, we will continue to press him to see if he will reverse his position yet again, to honor his prior commitments and be true to his word. In the meantime, Senator Manchin will have to explain to those families paying $1,000 a month for insulin why they need to keep paying that, instead of $35 for that vital medicine. He will have to explain to the nearly two million women who would get the affordable day care they need to return to work why he opposes a plan to get them the help they need. Maybe Senator Manchin can explain to the millions of children who have been lifted out of poverty, in part due to the Child Tax Credit, why he wants to end a program that is helping achieve this milestone—we cannot.

Stereotypes of Democrats as “weak-minded,” “wimpy,” and in constant “disarray” are still popular with the mainstream media. But the Biden administration and Senate Democrats have been taking big swings and been aggressive, determined, and disciplined in pursuing their objectives. “Build Back Better” may go up in smoke but I very much like what I’m seeing.

Bring On The Squad

Cori Bush shares picture of expanded 'Squad'
From left: Rashida Tlaib (Detroit), Ilhan Omar (Minneapolis) Jamaal Bowman (NYC) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NYC) Ayanna Pressley (Boston) Picture from @Cori Bush

I copied this @AOC statement from a twitter thread by Magdi Semrau (@magi_jay) where she argues that the Democrats need to make better use of AOC and other members of The Squad during political campaigns. Ocasio-Cortez complains about her and members of The Squad being completely shut out by Democratic campaigns “as just a uniform liability” rather than being a resource of any kind. Ocasio-Cortez herself was so marginalized that she wasn’t even asked to send an email to her own list.


Magdi Semrau suggests there are circumstances under which Ocasio-Cortez and other members of the Squad could be usefully deployed to promote the Democratic Party among college students and young constituencies.

I do think [AOC] has a skill set & an ideology that appeals to a very specific set of people: namely, non-voting/sporadic-voting progressive college students. If she’s up for it, I think there are ways to utilize that skill set.

Agreed! And I especially agree with the idea of the Democrats having Ocasio-Cortez and other members of the Squad visit college campuses on a regular basis and “encourage voting.”

But I think there’s more justification than Semrau indicates on twitter. Several points.

  1. AOC is Very Good. Ocasio-Cortez is grounded in her positions, sharp, funny, and willing to engage across the political spectrum. She has first hand experience of GOP bigotry and violence and is an ideal person for communicating Democratic perspectives.
  2. Other Squad members. Rashida Tlaib, Cori Bush, Jamaal Bowman, Ilhan Omar, and Ayanna Pressley are all very good as well. They’re all tv regulars and have had to handle criticism. Given her drive and spirited personality, I think Tlaib has the most potential but they’re all good and would stand up well to debate and disagreement in campus settings.
  3. All Dems Now. Despite voting against the Bipartisan Infrastructure Plan, the Squad is operating within a Democratic Party framework and were much better Party citizens during the House infrastructure debates than the moderates. The Squad deferred to Pramila Jayapal as the head of the Progressive Caucus and Nancy Pelosi as Speaker and refused to undercut the legislation despite voting “no.”
  4. It’s Needed: AOC and others emphasize the problems posed by low youth turnout, but there’s also a big opportunity. 65% of 18-24’s and 54% of 25-29’s voted for Joe Biden in 2020 with a 50% overall youth turnout. Raising turnout numbers among among the 18-29 group to the 66% level of the population as a whole is one of the easier paths the Democrats have to improving their electoral position. Having AOC, the Squad and other Democratic figures circulating among young voters on a regular basis can be a a big electoral help and the Democrats need to put real resources into the effort.
  5. The GOP. Conservatives are already doing this. Well-funded groups like Turning Point USA, Young Americans for Freedom, Campus Crusade for Christ are active on college campuses. Conservative megachurches have full-time youth outreach operations that target kids at early ages. The right believes in full-time, multipronged outreach and much of it is billionaire funded. Democrats need to step up with something like equivalent funding for their own outreach.

In my recent “Do More With Rural Dems” post, I discussed some of the things the Democratic Party could do to scratch for votes in rural areas like my region of Eastern Kentucky. It would also help the Democrats to send people out to colleges like Morehead State University on a regular basis.

Appealing to the Political Homeless

Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema: the centrists blocking Biden's agenda |  Democrats | The Guardian

We’ll get to Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin in a second.

The City has an interesting article on New York City Council becoming majority women for the first time and the replacement of three more conservative Council members from the Bronx with progressive Latina women.  Men rooted in the Bronx “borough’s evangelical Christian or business communities . . . , Fernando Cabrera, Ruben Díaz Sr. and Mark Gjonaj” either retired or were term-limited out of office and replaced by Democrats Pierina Sánchez, Amanda Farías and Marjorie Velázquez.

That’s “replacement theory” in action.

At the same time, Eli Valentín of Union Theological Seminary had an interesting and important observation about the change. “More than an ideological shift, it’s a generational shift,” Valentín said, noting that the “55 and over” crowd no longer has a political home.”

Back to Sinema and Manchin.

Between March and August, Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, both Democrats, embarked on a campaign to subvert, obstruct, and altogether scuttle President Biden’s “Build Back Better” legislation “that funds universal pre-K, Medicare expansion, renewable energy credits, affordable housing, a year of expanded Child Tax Credits and major Obamacare subsidies.” A version of President Biden’s bill passed the House of Representatives this morning and moves to the Senate. Whether Sinema and Manchin decide some version of Build Back Better or not, they’re uncomfortable being in a multicultural, socially liberal Democratic Party with an expansive domestic agenda but can’t imagine switching to a white nationalist and insurrectionist Republican Party.

In other words, Both Sinema and Manchin are politically homeless while holding office as Democratic senators.

It’s helpful to think about a part of the white working class population as politically homeless as well. In a recent (but undated as far as I can tell), Andrew Levison of The Democratic Strategist follows up on some research by unions to divide WWC voters into categories of Democrats, Extremists, and Cultural Traditionalists with the “Cultural Traditionalist” category being the group to whom Democrat direct their political messaging. What makes men and women in the cultural traditionalist camp “gettable” for Democrats is that they agree with ideas of diversity, pluralism, and tolerance even as they have a herrenvolk orientation toward the flag, patriotism, and religion that I would think also makes them open to appeals from the extreme right. Levinson also argues that “traditionalists” have a strong commitment to the local community which Levinson views as something in common with the extremists but which I believe could cut both ways given the decline of rural communities here in KY and across the country.

Given that Levinson only hopes to get the Democratic share of the WWC vote back up to the 2008 level of 40%, he appears to (realistically) assume that Democrats could not appeal to a majority of Cultural Traditionalists. But he sees Democrats as potentially appealing to some Cultural Traditionalists among the WWC because that constituency doesn’t identify with Republican Party extremists and only reluctantly or unenthusiastically voted for Trump. In other words, there is a segment of the WWC “Cultural Traditionalist” vote that is uncomfortable with both parties, politically homeless, and therefore could potentially vote Democratic in local, state, and national elections.

I grew up in small town Upstate NY (Waverly in the Southern Tier) and have been living in rural Kentucky for the last 30+ years. From my perspective, Levinson’s own recommendations for themes seem awkward and ineffective:

1. The America that the extremists are fighting for is not the America I grew up in.”
“2. I love the American flag as much as any American but I would never use a flagpole
flying our flag as a club to assault other Americans that I call my “enemies.” That is not the
American way.”
“3. The values I grew up with are good values and I want them to endure. But the values
of the people who want to turn Americans against each other and divide our country are
not my values.”
“4. Decent people can stand up for traditional American values without turning America into
something that is deeply un-American.”

That’s all defensive and unappealing. I can’t imagine anyone in KY changing their vote on the basis of those arguments. Let me suggest some alternative themes that have a better chance of working.

  1. Effective and active government. Effective government was stressed by Bronx Latina progressives, but I heard the same at a Democratic rally here in Rowan County, KY. The local county Judge-Executive and Morehead City mayor both talked of effective government getting things done in their remarks. It’s a strong theme that can work. Given the American rescue plan and the Infrastructure, the Biden administration has already shown that it can do the same.
  2. Rebuilding Communities: Rural communities and small cities have been declining for decades and need to be rebuilt. On the positive side that includes jobs, education, medical services, and access to transportation and broadband. But rebuilding also involves the long-term work of drug rehab, adult education, and family courts. The Democrats need to be able to make this a plus as the Infrastructure and Build Back Better bills are implemented.
  3. Choices for Young People: It’s been known for a long time that the best, brightest, and most ambitious young people leave their towns. One thing the Democrats could do is pose their community building efforts in terms of giving young people a real option of staying in their home towns if they want. That’s something that speaks to the community attachment element of “Cultural Traditionalism.”

Political homelessness is a structural element in a political system in which the two major political parties are rapidly becoming more polarized. One thing the Democrats need to do is to pose themselves as the better option for people who are open to their message.

Biden, Normalcy, Competence

Ford F-150: Why is Joe Biden driving a battery-powered Ford F-150? - ​Avid  car enthusiast Joe Biden | The Economic Times

President Joe Biden is going through tough times and its showing up in public opinion polls. The surge in the Delta variant, withdrawal from Afghanistan, Haitian refugee situation, and problems in passing an infrastructure bill have all had a negative impact on public opinion with Biden approval sinking from 52.4% two months ago to 45.4 in the latest poll index.

According to Amy Walter, who has taken over as the head of the Cooke Political Report, Biden’s problems come down to questions of “normality” and “competence.” According to Walter:

When Biden was running for president, his message was pretty straightforward: I’m the guy who will bring normal back to Washington. Where President Trump was unorthodox and chaotic, Biden would be conventional and organized. Trump ran the White House like a reality show, Biden stocked his cabinet and high-level staff with Washington insiders with establishment credentials. He was going to usher in an era of boring, but predictable

Biden was able to create an appearance of normality by rolling out COVID vaccines quickly and effectively. But that was all a mirage. “Normality” went out the window with the Jan. 6 Insurrection, the continued promotion of the Big Lie by the right-wing media, and then vaccine refusal among white conservatives. A majority of Republicans believe Trump is the “true U.S. president while the same survey found that 2/3rds of Republicans believe Biden won the election through fraud. Likewise, a “majority (56 percent) of Republicans support the use of force as a way to arrest the decline of the traditional American way of life.” Vaccine rejection has gone down from 32% to 16%, but that 16% is still almost 35 million people and they’ve maintained their hard core stance in the face of the current Covid surge associated with the Delta variant.

In the United States, “normality” is no longer a settled thing and hasn’t really been settled since Obama’s election as the first black president in 2008. What will sooner or later become the “normal” for a Democratic administration is pursuing a radical reformist combination of a civil rights agenda, infrastructure spending, climate legislation, and lowering the wealth gap while also managing the on-going Republican refusal to engage with policy issues, the proliferation of conspiracy theories, and the right-wing refusal to cooperate and violent resistance to the operations of federal and state government. That’s not to mention militia and paramilitary violence.

Being able to deal with both sides of the “new normal” will also be the measure for Biden administration competence. Needless to say, the short and medium term future in the United States is civil and political unrest at best and fascist takeover at worse. If Biden and the Democrats want to be seen as competent, they’ll have to deal with this situation in at least a somewhat satisfactory way.

Evangelicals and White Conservative Identity

Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church in Houston, shown during service on Feb. 27, 2011, seats 17,000. Its church service is broadcast to more than 7 million weekly.
Robert Seale/USA Today Network

Sobering facts. For the United States, Vox finds that a large majority of the population is still white (Non-Hispanic). According to Pew, the percentage of Protestant evangelical white voters has bumped up from 25 to 29 and Trump’s vote among white evangelicals bumped up significantly from 77% to 84%. Among more mainstream Americans, there was some expectation that the evangelical population would either decrease or become less committed to Trump once they realized how “vile” or “disgusting” he was. But the opposite occurred. Although 2% of evangelical voters did defect from that type of Christianity but more than enough 2016 Trump voters became evangelicals to more than make up for the defections.

Basic implications. Trumpism coalesced around white evangelicals and evangelicals further coalesced around Trump. Given that the proportion of the white evangelical population is declining slowly and white evangelicals are about 20% of the whole (according to these Pew numbers), there’s going to be no dramatic demographic shift allowing the Democrats to count on a stable majority. If the Democrats want to win elections, expand their House and Senate majorities, and turn the five big purple states of Arizona, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas blue, they have to fight and scrap at every turn.

More Positive Indications. But Biden did win the election and increased his vote shares in the suburbs, among white non-college voters, and white college voters. Black primary voters defined the basic Democratic strategy of securing the urban multicultural center-left base while appealing to white suburban voters by avoiding positions that could be smeared by Republicans. That’s a strategy that has a great deal of power in a large nation that’s still urbanizing and the Democrats should build from there.

Manchin as Lone Conduit

Like so many political discussions since Biden’s inauguration in January, this one starts with Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Whether it’s Manchin’s testimonials to bipartisanship, protection of the filibuster, insistence on addressing Republican ideas in the Covid Relief Bill, or conference calls with corporate Democratic groups like Third Way and No Labels, Joe Manchin’s name is on the tip of every writer’s typing fingers and the top of every call list from Joe Biden’s and Chuck Schumer’s to the humble but well-heeled lobbyists for coal and chemical companies in West Virginia.

Despite Afghanistan withdrawal, the Covid surge among the unvaccinated, and Hurricane Ida scoring a daily double of flooding both New Orleans and New York, Manchin still drew attention with a Susan Collins-like op-ed expressing what The Hill calls “concerns” about the impact of the Democratic leadership’s $3.5 trillion reconciliation package on inflation and the federal debt. Key passages read like lobbyist boilerplate and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez quickly called attention to Manchin’s meeting with energy lobbyists once a week and history of being “one of many senators who gives lobbyists their pen to write so-called ‘bipartisan’ fossil fuel bills.” It’s not just energy lobbyists either. Manchin has been taped doing a call with No Labels, one the main representative of corporate interests in the Democratic Party and was involved with the amateur hour, abortive moderate rebellion against Nancy Pelosi.

Since January, Manchin has become the main conduit for Republican, corporate, and Lieberman-style, GOP leaning, moderation in the Democratic caucus. Manchin’s opposition to removing the filibuster and suspicion of all the Democratic proposals he ends up supporting makes him the best available perfect foil for many of the most important interests opposed to the Biden administration. But Manchin’s importance is a real curiosity. Why does Joe Manchin represent GOP interests as he did with the Covid Relief Bill? Why couldn’t Mitch McConnell or GOP Senate whip John Thune? Why not Ted Cruz? Why is Manchin such a focus of lobbying efforts? Are there any Scoop Jacksons to be the Senator from Boeing? Why isn’t Connecticut’s Richard Blumenthal up to his eyeballs in corruption like former Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd or his father and yet another Connecticut Senator Thomas Dodd? Why doesn’t Chuck Schumer find someone to rid him of the meddlesome Bernie Sanders as Budget Chair? Joe Manchin is an important man but outside Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (to whom Manchin doesn’t seem much allied), Manchin is also isolated within the Democratic caucus with his colleagues talking to him more because they have to than anything else.

Ironically, Joe Manchin is at the center of the budget debate because the Senate GOP, corporate lobbying interests, and Democrat moderate groups have so little impact on either Biden administration proposals or Democratic legislation as it moves through Congress. Conservative and corporate interests have surprisingly leverage in relation to the Democratic Party and Joe Manchin is pretty much the only vehicle they have for influence. Manchin and Sinema themselves only have leverage because the Democrats have such a small margin in the Senate. Otherwise, the Democrats are a highly unified political party with skilled leadership and a radical reform agenda.