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Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Opinion | Biden isn’t doing enough in the fight against Republican extremism - The Washington Post

Opinion Biden is literally phoning in his response to GOP extremism

President Biden delivers remarks about American manufacturing at the groundbreaking of an Intel semiconductor manufacturing facility in New Albany, Ohio, in 2022. (Reuters/Joshua Roberts)

"An increasingly radical Republican Party is using its power, particularly at the state level and on the judiciary, to attack women seeking reproductive care, transgender Americans, Black politicians and activists, unions, colleges and professors, Democratic-led cities, public libraries, and a vast array of other people, groups and institutions with liberal values.

And President Biden is doing little about this right-wing assault.

The result is a one-sided conflict. Republican officials are acting like they’re in a war, while Biden and many powerful Democratic officials not only don’t defend their own side but also largely refuse to acknowledge the fight.

Watch closely, and you can see a pattern: When Republican officials do something outrageous, the Biden White House follows a three-step playbook. First comes a written statement from Biden condemning the Republican action. That’s often followed by public criticism from Vice President Harris or White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. Biden will occasionally have a phone call or virtual meeting on the issue, such as his recent conversation with the Tennessee lawmakers expelled by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature.

Then it’s on to the next speech or event. The president seems to be trying to do just enough to avoid being criticized for doing nothing. Biden is, at times, literally phoning in his response to growing Republican extremism.

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No, Biden can’t get legislation passed or use executive orders to stop Republican state legislators from, say, making it extremely difficult to teach honestly about America’s racial history. But a president’s speeches and travel, the White House events they host and the advisers they elevate to prominent roles are among the ways they signal their priorities. Through those informal powers, a president can push the media, their party, philanthropic organizations and other institutions to focus on what they view as important.

By those measures, Biden is giving short shrift to Republican radicalism.

I know that Biden has been very outspoken on occasion, such as casting a Georgia voting law as “Jim Crow in the 21st century.” But, generally, he acts like it’s 1998. Biden regularly visits factories that are opening or expanding, as if the economy is obviously the biggest issue in American politics, as it was 25 years ago. In February, Biden gave a speech in Florida and didn’t say a single word about the crazy restrictions on books in classrooms and teaching of Black studiesthat the state’s Republican leaders were enacting.

While the administration has a detailed plan (critics say too detailed) for how government funds should be spent to implement last year’s microchip legislation, there is no visible strategy to deal with the 24 states where Republicans are running roughshod over liberal values and Democratic voters.

Biden’s personnel choices also reveal this lack of engagement with Republican extremism. His new chief of staff and most influential advisers are the kinds of people who have served in past Democratic administrations, with few specialists in urgent areas such as political extremism, state politics or fascism.

I am pretty sure Biden knows it’s not 1997. So why is he doing so little?

First of all, the president seems to be conflict-averse. When he ran the Senate Judiciary Committee in the 1990s, Biden didn’t investigate allegations of sexual harassment against then-Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas as hard as he could have. A decade later, as head of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, he expressed some skepticism about the Bush administration’s push for war in Iraq but never forcefully opposed it.

Second, while Biden has moved left in recent years, I am not sure he is fully comfortable with strongly defending, say, abortion rights or the right to gender-affirming care. These are not positions Biden has held for much of his life.

Third, Biden is deeply entrenched in the center-left establishment wing of the Democratic Party, which has spent much of the past seven years trying to duck a full-on confrontation with Trumpism.

From the days after Trump’s victory in 2016 through last year’s midterms, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and numerous other party leaders and strategists argued that the winning strategy for Democrats was to focus primarily on economic issues such as Social Security and downplay, say, abortion and LGBTQ rights.

Even if this strategy were electorally sound, I would be leery of Democrats following it too carefully. It’s hard for the media, other institutions and even Democratic politicians to cast the Republican Party as extreme if Biden and other top Democratic Party leaders don’t. I doubt there are voters who would have backed Biden in November 2024 but won’t because of something he said in favor of transgender rights in April 2023.

But in reality, there is little evidence that focusing on economics and playing down other issues is sound electoral politics, while there is growing evidence the opposite is true. Opposition to Trump, not support of Democratic economic ideas, drove the massive turnout in 2018 and 2020 that boosted Democrats. Biden’s poll numbers plunged in 2021 and early 2022 as he focused on economic issues. The issues that resulted in the better-than-expected performance from Democrats in last year’s midterms were abortion and democracy, not infrastructure and microchips.

So instead of Biden giving speeches at factories that no one remembers 12 hours later, he could show up in states like Kentucky and Tennessee to stand with Democrats struggling against ultra-right-wing legislators. He could also defend Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and other prosecutors against Republican attempts to undermine their investigations, forcefully criticize GOP-appointed judges who are writing Trumpism into law, and speak out for honest teaching about race and sexual identity.

He could also push his party toward a more aggressive posture against Republicans. For starters, the president should call for Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) to resign and for Senate Democrats to get rid of the “blue slip” rules for judicial nominations, two steps that would make it much easier for Biden to appoint more liberal judges and fight the conservative-dominated judiciary.

But by far the most important step would be for Biden and his team to use the power of the presidency to help the American public connect the dots and see that Republicans in Washington, conservative judges, state-level GOP officials, and Fox News and other right-leaning institutions are working in a coordinated way to oppose liberal values and, in some respects, democracy itself.

I’m sure when Biden dreamed of being president decades ago that he saw himself negotiating peace treaties and signing sweeping legislation, not casting the other party as being dominated by antidemocratic radicals. Well, I wish my journalism career hadn’t turned into writing over and over how the Republican Party has gone crazy and everyone else (the media, the Democrats, the normal Republicans) needs to combat that extremism.

Things change. Creating more manufacturing jobs in the Midwest is important, but it’s not the defining political issue of today, even if Biden and I wish it were. The issue is whether the Republican Party will destroy what is good about America. I wish President Biden would acknowledge this reality and fight back hard. Time is running out."

Opinion | Biden isn’t doing enough in the fight against Republican extremism - The Washington Post

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