Discover more from The Bulwark
Joe Biden Has a Problem with the Left
*We have COVID in the Sykes household so this week’s planned travel is off. But the rest of the team will still have a great time in the Big Easy. Fingers crossed for the rest of us.*
Rolling into a helluva new week:
Chaos in the House? Hold our beer, says the GOP. With McCarthy, Scalise, and Jordan down, there are now nine new candidates — seven of them election deniers. The one normie frontrunner (Tom Emmer) is a no-go for Trump and his MAGA minions, because he voted to certify Joe Biden’s victory. So, this should go well.
Never again? Thousands of NYC protesters demand eradication of Israel — NY Post. “‘We are calling for full liberation of all of Palestine . . . to every single inch, from river to the sea,’ shouted one protester, repeating a refrain used by Hamas terrorists and their anti-Israel backers.”
Lordy, there are more tapes. A President, a Billionaire and Questions About Access and National Security - The New York Times. “Mr. Pratt described Mr. Trump’s business practices as being “like the mafia,” according to covert recordings obtained by ‘60 Minutes Australia’ and shared with The Times.”
The Bulwark is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Let’s just say it: Joe Biden has a problem with the left.
The good news: Democratic support for Israel is rising. The bad news: the rift on the left is widening.
Via Axios: Progressives’ pressure on Biden mounts
After Hamas launched its surprise terrorist attack on Israel, Squad member Rep. Cori Bush (D-Mo.) called for an end to U.S. aid to Israel, while Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) called to end "unconditional" military aid. Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) said "this heartbreaking cycle of violence will continue" unless the funds are cut off.
For President Joe Biden, that long-simmering discord is at risk of mushrooming into a divisive intraparty clash over the US government’s next moves — especially as Israel launches what it has promised will be a ferocious crackdown on Gaza — that could ultimately threaten the liberal coalition so crucial to his reelection strategy. . . .
Though hardly new or novel, angry rumblings from inside the Democratic tent began almost immediately in aftermath of the first round of attacks by Hamas over the weekend.
“Joe Biden has single-handedly alienated almost every Arab-American and Muslim American voter in Michigan,” said state Rep. Alabas Farhat, a Democrat whose district includes Dearborn, which is home to one of the largest Muslim and Arab American communities in the country.
Farhat said he has constituents and neighbors who have family members trapped in Gaza — including some who are American citizens — and they feel completely abandoned by the U.S. government for not doing more to help get them out, get aid in and pressure Israel for a cease-fire….
“President Biden, not all of America is with you on this one and you need to wake up and understand that,” Michigan Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib said at a rally calling for a cease-fire Wednesday. “We will remember this.”
They are, alas, not alone. Here’s the headline in the left-wing Intercept: “Going All-In for Israel May Make Biden Complicit in Genocide.”
And here’s a sample of the sort of thing that the Squad-friendly Justice Democrats has been posting:
Of course, left-wing presidential candidate Cornel West, is also weighing in:
In NY, activists targeted Democratic Congressman Ritchie Torres, an outspoken supporter of Biden’s Israel policy:
But are these just bits of anecdata from the fringe?
It’s true that most Democrats back Biden; and his congressional support seems overwhelming. But there are definitely warning signs that really ought not be ignored. This CBS poll — showing that only 47 percent of Democrats supported sending weapons to Israel — sounded alarms.
As noted earlier, other polls have shown more robust support for Israel among rank-and-file Dems. But there remains a stark generational divide, and it could be a problem. Columnist Will Bunch notes the gap:
A poll conducted for CNN shortly after the attacks found that 81% of Americans over the age of 65 — that would be Biden’s “Silent Generation” as well as most boomers, raised in a time of Israel fighting off attacks like 1973′s Yom Kippur War or global terrorism —feel Israel is fully justified in a military response to Hamas.
But in the 18-34 age bracket, that number plummets to just 27% — not surprising for a generation instead raised during Israel’s far-right government of Benjamin Netanyahu and his iron-fisted policies toward Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
These young D.C. power players are, of course, small in number. But they could exercise an outsize influence if they went public with criticisms of Biden’s policies right as he is struggling with other college-educated young voters like them.
A lot could happen in 13 months, but even small movement toward a third-party candidate like the progressive academic Cornel West — a sharp critic of Israeli policy — or a rise in stay-home apathy could be brutal for Biden.
Biden’s problems are likely to get worse as the Gaza invasion intensifies. Nick Cataggio — formerly known as Allahpundit — warns that as the bloodshed increases, “Left-wing outrage will grow day by day. The perception that Israel’s operation achieved nothing meaningful at great human cost will become leftist orthodoxy.”
“And those leftists will blame Joe Biden, a president for whom they feel no special affection, for having taken moral ownership of the conflict preemptively and enthusiastically.”
The less confidence the electorate has in Biden, the less inclined it’ll (logically) be to entangle itself in dangerous conflicts abroad. Ironically, the president has been keen to warn Israelis lately not to let their righteous rage at Hamas’ atrocities lead them to make strategic miscalculations like the U.S. did after 9/11. American voters may feel the same way about Old Man Biden himself: His burst of moral solidarity with Israel is welcome, but they doubt his judgment in a crisis.
If that’s so, then his pivot from “Bidenomics” to war president as a campaign theme won’t work out as well for him as he might hope. He’s most likely going to be running against a strongman, and a strongman is never more appealing than in moments of chaos. Whatever Trump’s faults, his supporters will insist, he’ll at least restore order.
But what about that speech, the one Brit Hume described as the best of his presidency? It was good — and necessary — but was it Churchillian? Was it really the best thing since Demosthenes and Reagan?
Foreign Policy’s Michael Hirsch has a more sober take: “Biden’s ‘Inflection Points’ Don’t Add Up.”
To succeed, the president’s speech this week needed to achieve two things: to make the case that the wars in Israel and Ukraine were part of the same grand, global struggle; and to persuade Americans that engagement in that struggle was in their national interest. Biden didn’t do a very good job on either point.
You can read the whole thing here, but suffice it to say that Hirsch was not blown away by the presidential rhetoric:
Biden concluded: “American leadership is what holds the world together. American alliances are what keep us, America, safe. American values are what make us a partner that other nations want to work with. To put all that at risk if we walk away from Ukraine, if we turn our backs on Israel, it’s just not worth it.”
“It’s just not worth it”? Hardly Churchillian. Or worthy of some of the great rallying speeches of the past by American presidents such as Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Ronald Reagan. One can be pretty sure no one is going to remember that line as one still remembers, for example, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
So where does this leave us? Biden is right to push for continued support for both Israel and Ukraine. Given the political dynamics — and the obvious risks — his position requires both political and moral courage.
But it won’t be easy.
The president faces withering attacks from a MAGA-fied right at the same time he is taking fire from his own progressive ranks. Events are fluid and it’s not clear that he will be able use the bully pulpit to rally support against the coming reactionary blowback.
What Biden now needs now — more than ever — is a centrist coalition to support the cause of freedom at home and abroad.
The fringes — on the right and left — aren’t going to help.
1. The Worst Scandal in American Higher Education Isn’t in the Ivy League
In rightly ascribing importance to the Harvards of the world, we can forget that other schools in other contexts also exercise immense influence, and their virtues and flaws can sometimes be more consequential than anything that happens in the Ivy League.
In fact, I’d argue that the moral collapse at Liberty University in Virginia may well be the most consequential education scandal in the United States, not simply because the details themselves are shocking and appalling, but because Liberty’s misconduct both symbolizes and contributes to the crisis engulfing Christian America. It embodies a cultural and political approach that turns Christian theology on its head.
2. A Month When Decades Happen
The British commentator Matthew Syed recently quoted Winston Churchill, writing in the first volume of his World War II memoirs, The Gathering Storm: “It is where the balance quivers, and the proportions are veiled in mist, that the opportunity for world-saving decisions presents itself.”
In October 2023 it feels as if the balance quivers, and the proportions are veiled in mist, and both the opportunity for world-saving decisions and very real risk of failure present themselves.
3. Missiles and Momentum in Ukraine
NO ONE IS EXPECTING a swift Ukrainian victory or a rapid collapse of Russian occupation forces in the near future. But the recent news for Ukraine has been encouraging—especially since the war in Israel may ultimately strengthen rather than weaken Western commitments to Kyiv. President Biden’s primetime Oval Office address on Thursday, which linked the war in Ukraine and the war in Israel as battles in defense of democracies, and which sets the stage for a request for $100 billion in new spending that pairs aid to Ukraine with aid to Israel and Taiwan, was seen as a landmark event by Ukraine’s defenders.