Normalcy Is Dead

Excuse me for dumping on Joe Biden some more, but … this morning I woke up to headlines that Joe Biden would deliver a speech that would ““eviscerate” Trump. If only. I assume the speech is delivered and Trump is still intact.

It’s striking to me that Biden’s entire campaign message so far is “Donald Trump is bad.” Yeah, genius, we noticed. What else ya got?

Kate Riga writes for TPM,

Former Vice President Joe Biden is hellbent on insisting that he can and will extract cooperation and bipartisanship from his Republican peers — and less rosy-eyed observers are getting angry.

At a fundraiser Monday night, he shared his faith in his GOP counterparts.

“With Trump gone you’re going to begin to see things change,” he said per HuffPost.“Because these folks know better. They know this isn’t what they’re supposed to be doing.”

His statement has echoes of what he said last month, when he predicted “an epiphany” among his “Republican friends” when President Donald Trump leaves office.

Yeah, right.

Greg Sargent:

It has become a major fault line in Democratic politics: Is President Trump himself the chief cause of all that ails us?

Or does Trump’s ascendancy reflect much broader pathologies afflicting the Republican Party — its increasing comfort with ethnonationalism, authoritarianism, and procedural and policy extremism, all of which predate, helped create and will outlast Trump?

And if it’s the latter, shouldn’t all the Democratic candidates be explaining how they’d deal with all those things as president?

This debate will again be thrust to the forefront when Joe Biden campaigns in Iowa on Tuesday. He is set to hammer Trump as an “existential threat” to the country, which he will try to illustrate by training his firepower largely on the president.

Biden took a beating Monday night for offering a stark version of this rhetorical move, while explaining how he’d work with Republicans as president.

“With Trump gone you’re going to begin to see things change,” Biden said at a fundraiser. “Because these folks know better. They know this isn’t what they’re supposed to be doing.”

As many pointed out, this prediction is profoundly absurd. Biden should know this, having lived through scorched-earth GOP opposition as Barack Obama’s vice president.

For that matter, they weren’t exactly reasonable through the George W. Bush and Bill Cliinton years, either. There were still some reasonable Republicans around in the 1980s, I dimly remember, but the species became critically endangered in the 1970s.

Democrats have been running as The Party That’s Not As Bad As The Other Party for a long time, of course. That was Hillary Clinton’s principal appeal to voters in 2016 — I am not Donald Trump. Although she had a lot of policy proposals she didn’t run on them and instead tried to position herself as the experienced hand with a mile-long resume running against a big blob of vulgarity and stupid.

But the blob was entertaining and promised change. So there goes the upper midwest.

Too many Democrats for too long have been insulated from anything going on among real people and have failed to deliver what voters need from them, and IMO the strongest candidate in the primaries and the general is the one who can persuade voters that the D brand is new and improved. Running as The Candidate That’s Not As Bad As The Other Candidate might win the 2020 general, because the Other Candidate really is Awful Bad, but that’s not going to solve the problem of how shit doesn’t get done because Republicans are crazy and Democrats are spineless. And that’s a problem that really, really needs to be solved. Or else, even if Dems win the White House in 2020, down the road we’ll be dealing with a permanent Republican majority and a far worse version of Donald Trump.

See also Charles Pierce

… conventional metrics—hell, conventional anything related to politics—may well be unsuited to the current political moment, that with the election of this particular president* and with the animatronic zombie thrill-ride on which he’s taken the government, the country may have passed some kind of point of no return. This would mean bad news for Biden, who seems to be campaigning mainly on the theme of bringing back the golden age of 2009. Political historians would note that the “return to normalcy” was the theme on which Warren Harding was elected in 1920, and was explained by him as:

America’s present need is not heroics, but healing; not nostrums, but normalcy; not revolution, but restoration; not agitation, but adjustment; not surgery, but serenity; not the dramatic, but the dispassionate; not experiment, but equipoise; not submergence in internationality, but sustainment in triumphant nationality.

This sentiment was understandable in the period after World War I, but nodding off to sleep and pretending everything is just fine when it isn’t really is no way to run a country. Charles quotes Pete Buttigieg:

We’re not going to win by playing it safe, or promising a return to normal. We are where we are because normal…broke. We Democrats can no more promise a return to the ’90s — [Ed. Note: Hi, Joe!] — than the Republicans can deliver on a promise to return us to the 1950s.

Normal broke. It broke before Barack Obama took office and, unfortunately, he didn’t adjust. I wouldn’t call the George W. Bush years normal, either. I’m not sure when normal was, actually. There’s no political time period I can think of that I care to be rebooted to. News flash:

Nothing normal about the ’20s, either, although many people pretended as hard as they could, until it all came crashing down and they couldn’t pretend any more.

But there is something in us that wants to believe everything is fine even when it isn’t. Brian Beutler argues that Joe’s “return to normalcy” pitch could work with a lot of voters. But even if it works, is it smart?

Whether Biden believes what he says or not, and whether it’s the best way to win votes or not, are secondary to the question of whether it would be wise for a Democratic president to enter office in 2021 having campaigned on the premise that Republicans are one election away from redemption. If a critical mass of voters believes (or wants to believe) that politics will automatically depolarize once Trump is gone, should Democratic politicians pander to or level with them?

If telling fairytales were the only way for a Democrat to win the presidency, the answer to the question would be obvious. But in an environment where every prominent Democratic presidential candidate leads Trump in head-to-head matchups, the pandering approach is a worse choice.

There is indeed a new Quinnipiac poll out today showing that six Democratic contenders are ahead of Trump in head-to-head polls at the moment.

For too long Democrats in Washington have operated in the assumption that the way to appease the Right is through compromise — give them some of what they want. That worked for Bill Clinton in the 1990s, for a while, although a lot of the policy that came out of that appeasement exacted a price — crime bill, anyone? — that both constituents and Democrats are still paying.

It’s obviously just as naive to assume that hard-nosed realism about the nature of the modern GOP will unlock a progressive revolution all on its own. But candidates who understand what they’re signing up for can take steps to prepare for governing aroundRepublicans now, knowing it’s delusional to imagine they’ll govern in coalition with them. …

…That approach will be bruising, but the good news is candidates can help voters understand what lies ahead for the next Democratic government now, so that the GOP’s nihilism is on the ballot, and everyone knows what to expect and fight for in 2021. The alternative is a campaign of false hope far more unrealistic than Medicare for All or a Green New Deal, with demoralizing frustration at the end of it. The country deserves better than that but nobody running for the Democratic nomination should want that kind of presidency either.

This is the time for Dems to get real and be honest with themselves, and with voters. I don’t dislike Joe Biden, and he may end up with the nomination and the presidency. But I don’t think he’s capable of being the candidate and president the party and the nation needs.