Monday, May 29, 2023

Hearing What We Want to Hear

Perhaps you can discern the irony in the following tweet.

Of course, it would be foolish for President Biden to say what a good deal he hammered out with House Speaker Kevin McCarthy if the impediment to approval is the far right of the Republican caucus. That probably is the case, as the complaints from the House's Freedom Caucus roll in. 

If the challenge were from the left side of the Democratic caucus, it still wouldn't move Biden. The center-left wing of the Party has been taking the progressive wing for granted for years now, and it has been largely effective strategy. 

One consistently overlooked instance was during the 2020 presidential nominating process, when Biden was being routed and looking forward to the upcoming South Carolina primary, in which a majority of voters would be black. Biden promised at a debate that his first nomination to the US Supreme Court would be a black woman, Representative James Clyburn endorsed him a few days later, and Biden won the primary going away. Though having written much of the 1994 anti-crime bill, which would be partially blamed for the mass incarceration which millions of Democrats protested a few months later, Biden went on to sweep the field and become the party's nominee.  Play the right card, and liberal Democrats can be bought off cheaply.

Yet, the President was less than brilliant when he remarked "one of the things that I heard some of you saying is why doesn't Biden say what a good deal it is? You think that's going to help get it passes. No. That's why you guys don't bargain very well."

By lecturing the press, Biden was in fact explicitly doing what he denied he was doing: he was maintaining that it was in fact a good deal. He made it clear that the only reason he didn't say that it is a good deal is not because it isn't- but because it's not going to help get it passed.

Biden was so intent on spanking the press that he (slightly) undermined his own position.  The tweeter quoted at the beginning of this post evidently believes that the Administration negotiated effectively. Well, maybe: if it holds- a big if- it's a better deal than we could have expected a week or so ago.

Nonetheless, that's far more likely the impact of the Democratic negotiators than of Biden himself. The President's strategy was awful, asserting that he would not bargain with hostage-takers. That approach may have worked, but only if the President were resolute. (He stated that he wouldn't negotiate over raising the debt limit itself, and arguably did not, but obviously did talk to McCarthy and a deal was hammered out.) If the agreement announced does hold, it's a triumph not of strategy, directed by Biden, but of the tactics of his negotiating team.

Ultimately, the outcome is what matters. However, it would be helpful if we Democrats view honestly and accurately what our President says and does, rather than getting caught up in unrealistic adulation.

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