When I last checked in on the Main Stream Media and Joe Biden, the MSM was happily running interference for him, denying, for example, that the 46th president was anything like the 39th president, that disastrous Democratic one-termer Jimmy Carter.
Yet now there’s another parallel looming: between Biden and the 44th president, Barack Obama. But first, let’s catch up with Biden=Carter.
The 46th and the 39th
Here’s a story in the June 5 Politico, informing us, “Morale inside 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. is plummeting amid growing fears that the parallels to Jimmy Carter, another first-term Democrat plagued by soaring prices and a foreign policy morass, will stick.” [emphasis added]
And here’s another one from the June 2 Boston Globe, headlined, “From stagflation to the ‘misery index,’ some economists fear a 1970s redux.” Stagflation, of course, is the combination of inflation and stagnant economic growth. And the “misery index” is the total of the inflation rate and unemployment rate—and yes, it’s gone up under Biden.
Back in 1976, presidential candidate Carter wielded the misery index against the Republican incumbent, Gerald Ford. But then in 1980, the Globe continued, “Republican Ronald Reagan turned the same metric against Carter and stagflation felled another president. Now, the misery index is rising again amid warnings of another bout with stagflation, raising the prospect that the economy could be turning into That ‘70s Show.”
Ouch again! Another Carter comparison and and a sitcom-y reminder of the stagflationary 1970s. And the hits keep coming. CNN compared Biden’s bleak assessment of the economy, expressed just on June 16, to Carter’s “malaise” speech of 1979. And here’s USA Today, giving our dear president not too much slack: “That’s not to say Joe Biden is the new Jimmy Carter. At least not yet.” The paper adds, “The misery is real. Americans are hurting. And Biden has bungled one of the most important jobs he was elected to do.”
More ouch! And all this is from the MSM–imagine what they’re saying elsewhere. Why, they’re probably saying that Biden is likely to be a one-termer and so should not run again. Oh wait! That’s the flagship of the MSM, The New York Times, reporting on June 11, in a trendsetting article, that Democratic chiefs are “increasingly viewing him as an anchor that should be cut loose in 2024.”
Defensively, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said on June 13 that Biden does, in fact, plan to run again–and that night CNN’s Don Lemon asked her, “Does the president have the stamina physically and mentally, do you think, to continue on even after 2024?” So we can see: the MSM is still trying to nudge Biden away from a re-election bid, and the public is agreeing–a new YouGov poll found that 64 percent don’t want him to run again. And so cautious Democratic politicians, such as Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, are being, well, cautious when they speak of Biden’s future. Indeed, when a June 29 poll shows that an astonishing 85 percent of Americans think the country is on the “wrong track,” it’s not just Biden’s future we should be worried about.
DON LEMON: “Does the president has the stamina, physically and mentally, do you think to continue on even after 2024?”
KARINE JEAN-PIERRE: “That is not a question that we should be even asking” pic.twitter.com/dUfQil9qKp
— RNC Research (@RNCResearch) June 14, 2022
Yet in the here and now, the economy is the most urgent problem for Biden, starting with inflation, much driven by soaring gas prices. As Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) observes, the Biden administration is still refusing, even now, to increase American hydrocarbon production. And on June 15, a total of 14 Republican state attorneys general filed a court brief seeking to restrain the Bidenites from further action to crush American energy independence. Said one of the GOP AGs, Montana’s Austin Knudsen, “The Biden administration has been working hand in glove with these radical environmentalist groups to shut down American energy development.”
So that leads us to an interesting question. Why is the Biden administration having so much trouble doing what’s in its own interest? After all, Biden wants to get re-elected and that means lowering inflation and fuel prices. After months of dithering, on June 22, Biden asked Congress to approve a three-month holiday from the federal gas tax. The reaction from powerful Democrats on Capitol Hill was cool; hence the headline in Punchbowl News: “Dems pan White House call for gas tax ‘holiday.’” Politico said Biden’s request “fell flat.” Meanwhile, back at the White House, Biden aides were publicly grinding away on still more schemes on climate change.
In fact, absent the sort of coordinated blitz that this White House doesn’t seem able to unleash, the gas-tax holiday might not even happen. In fact, as The Hill reported on July 1, the Biden proposal has “highlighted internal party divisions heading into the final months of the midterm campaign.” Oops. Very Carterian.
So what gives? Why all this mixed messaging? A term from political science sums up this syndrome: disjunction. It means the inability to get your, uh, ducks together. (In 2021, this author wrote about Biden’s disjunction junction, here and here.) All this helps explain why, for instance, even now, the Biden administration is still pushing for its middle-class-busting climate agenda, seeking, of late, to censor climate skeptics. Nobody from on high seems to have ever told the Green Deep State to ease up. And so when Biden says we must increase gasoline supply and his administration is still working avidly to constrict supply–that’s disjunction.
To be sure, the biggest source of administration disjunction is Biden’s habit of saying things that are not U.S. policy. Whereupon his staff has to clean it up—by one count, 13 times. This ping-ponging makes the administration look scattered, even as it reportedly rankles the scatterer-in-chief. NBC News reports, under the headline, “Inside a Biden White House adrift”:
Biden is unhappy about a pattern that has developed inside the West Wing. He makes a clear and succinct statement—only to have aides rush to explain that he actually meant something else. The so-called clean-up campaign, he has told advisers, undermines him and smothers the authenticity that fueled his rise. Worse, it feeds a Republican talking point that he’s not fully in command.
And here’s a similar story from CNN: “Biden looks powerless as crises crest around him.” The piece notes that as Biden’s ship is taking on water, aides aren’t bailing it out. Instead, they are “pointing fingers at each other for whose fault it is.”
Of course, there’s another concern haunting Biden: age. These days, the MSM is fully engaged on that topic, determined to use the age argument to convince Biden not to run again. The Atlantic made that pitch in its own snarky way, closing with a condescending scenario of Biden not running: “He should be thanked up and down the Rehoboth boardwalk, ice-cream cone in hand, sooner rather than later.” Meanwhile, Democrats up for re-election in 2022 are trying to survive by not mentioning Biden and by positioning themselves as opponents of a generalized Washington “dysfunction.” And just on June 28, Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-VA), who holds a swing seat, announced that she didn’t want Biden coming in to her district to campaign for her. Indeed, as Biden’s approval rating sinks into the 30s (as low as 31 in one new poll) we can expect many more vulnerable Democrats to be saying, in effect, “Joe Who?”
Back during his presidency, 1977 to 1981, Carter had the same problems: He couldn’t develop a clear and consistent message, and so amidst hard times, his popularity sank to the point where his staff flaked on him, Democratic office-holders hid from him, and the major media ridiculed him, often zeroing in his born-again Christianity.
So now that it’s Biden’s turn to sink, the media tone echoes the old criticism of Carter. Here’s Jack Shafer, a veteran media writer for Politico, taking down Biden’s June 2 gun-control speech to the nation:
Unless you are already one of Pastor Biden’s congregants, his words, his expression of sorrow and his emotional pleading came across as the usual Democratic Party white noise. Filled with good intentions that he drove into a semantic dead end, Biden sounded like a bad Aaron Sorkin speech. Why did he even bother with his address?
Note the derisive reference to “Pastor Biden.” That’s the sort of mockery that was hurled at Carter.
Interestingly, Carter himself, personally, was and is something of a moderate conservative. Why, he’s even pro-life; as he said in 2018, “I have never believed that Jesus would be in favor of abortion,” except in the rarest of cases.
Yet as president, Carter couldn’t communicate that moderation to the American people. Instead, in the White House, he came across as just another liberal. A big issue, in those days, was energy costs. And on that issue, from the get-go, Carter sounded more like today’s Elizabeth Warren than any sort of moderate: In the first year of his presidency, on October 13, 1977, Carter accused U.S. oil companies of seeking “the biggest rip-off in history,” of trying to “rob” American consumers, and of “war profiteering.” For the sake of history, we can recall that we were not at war anywhere in 1977; moreover, similar to Carter, Biden has a long history of demagoguing energy companies, and is still at it. Indeed, Biden’s latest outburst led CNBC’s Jim Cramer, no enemy of Democrats, to lament, “that harks back to an era of Jimmy Carter.”
So that was part of Carter’s problem: As with Biden today, he couldn’t push out a steady message. And the poly sci word that sums that up is disjunction.
Yet another part of Carter’s problem was his vice president, Walter Mondale. Mondale was a Minnesota Democrat, mentored by that uber-liberal, Hubert Humphrey. Which is to say, he was a taxer and a spender, with a proto-woke side. Here’s a whopper of lefty anti-Americanism: “The sickening truth is that this country is rapidly coming to resemble South Africa,” Mondale said in 1971, adding, “our apartheid is all the more disgusting for being insidious and unproclaimed.” Now that’s the sort of thing that, say, AOC would say today.
In fact, on just about every issue, Mondale was indistinguishable from an even more notorious liberal, George McGovern.
So when Carter picked Mondale as his running mate in 1976, it was a clear signal that he, Carter, was joining the liberal D.C. swamp. Moreover, Mondale, who had already been a senator in Washington for a dozen years, knew the swamp rules.
So during the 1976-77 transition from the campaign to the White House, Mondale made his move, grabbing enormous authority from Carter, who heretofore had never spent much time outside of Georgia. Shrewd bureaucratic player that he was, the incoming vice president ratified his new relationship with the incoming president in a memo that Carter agreed to. At the same time, the Carter administration filled up with Mondale Beltway types—and so the notion that Carter was bringing with him some new thinking from the Heartland was lost.
This elevation of vice presidential status has been called the “Mondale model.” As Al Hunt, who covered the Carter-Mondale administration for The Wall Street Journal, later wrote:
He and Carter became partners; they had weekly lunches, and the vice president was designated not just for assignments but involved in every policy discussion and decision. “He had unprecedented access to the president,” noted Richard Moe, who was Mondale’s chief of staff.
So that’s how moderate Jimmy Carter became liberal President Carter. And in 1980, after four years of stagflation, the country was in no mood for liberals. So it was back to Plains, GA for Carter, having never really figured out what he had gotten himself into.
The 46th and the 44th
Okay, back to today. Mondale is long gone, and yet there’s another woke liberal haunting Biden. Here’s an interesting take on the Biden status quo from David Samuels, a writer and editor for Tablet, a publication describing itself as “a new read on Jewish life”:
So far as I can tell, the person who is in charge of the main parameters of U.S. government policy commutes between his mansion in Kalorama and his mansion in Hawaii, on his way to becoming a billionaire. But it is forbidden to speak of him. Good luck finding a single news story about how the ex-president of the United States communicates with his proteges in the White House, while he zips back and forth on the private jets of his billionaire friends talking shit about poor Joe Biden.
Gee, that sounds a bit like Barack Obama, doesn’t it? So who is the person saying this, this David Samuels? He’s no obvious right-winger: a graduate of Harvard University, he has published two well-received non-fiction books, and was a longtime contributing editor at Harper’s Magazine, and has contributed to The Atlantic and The New Yorker prior to coming to Tablet.
Still, is Samuels correct in his characterization of Obama’s intervening, even domineering, role in Biden’s White House? Obama certainly does have a strange relationship with Biden. Yes, he picked him as his vice president in 2008, but it’s been widely reported that Obama did not want his vice president to run for president in 2016; Obama reportedly said that he didn’t want Biden to “embarrass himself.” And during Biden’s 2020 campaign, Obama reportedly said, “Don’t underestimate Joe’s ability to f__ things up.”
This year, Tablet’s Samuels characterized the current role of Obama during the course of an interview with Edward Luttwak, the well-known defense pundit. In that interview, Luttwak answered by recalling, “In the Obama White House, everybody made fun of Joe Biden.” Luttwak added, “The people who made fun of him then are now staffing the Biden administration.” That sort of hidden-hand influence recalls the way that Mondale operated in the Carter administration.
Luttwak singled out one Obama staffer in particular, “Susan Rice was the one that was making fun of Biden every day. Every time Biden wanted to say something, Susan Rice would cut him off and treat him with contempt.”
Hmm. Susan Rice. There’s a name we remember. She served prominently in the Obama administration for eight years, first as ambassador to the United Nations, and then, from 2013-2017, as national security adviser.
Yet she’s still in the news a lot, because she now works as Joe Biden’s domestic policy chief. Might it be a little strange that a Biden detractor ended up with a big job in the Biden West Wing? Luttwak continued: “Obama insisted that he has to have Susan Rice in the White House.”
One might surmise that Luttwak doesn’t like Rice. And yet Luttwak’s feelings aside, it does seem strange that Rice is doing domestic policy for Biden. After all she has a Ph.D. in international relations, and then spent three decades working in foreign policy. So why now is she working as Biden’s domestic policy adviser? Doesn’t Biden have any loyalists of his own to do the job? Circumstantial evidence certainly suggests that Rice got hired for some reason other than her relationship with Biden or her qualifications to be a domestic policy czarina.
A few days after the Samuels-Luttwak conversation was published, the White House responded in its fashion, encouraging Politico to write a puff piece extolling… Rice. Focusing on Rice’s many achievements, it mentions Biden a time or two, including this attagirl for Rice: “Senior aides say Biden’s trust in her is so profound that she can see him whenever she needs to.” No quote from Biden himself, though.
So with Rice, and others, in mind, is it possible that Samuels and Luttwak are correct when they assert that Obama has set up a Mondale-esque network of allies within the Biden White House? If they are correct—that this is still an Obama-Biden, or at least Biden-Obama, White House—then that might explain why self-proclaimed “Middle Class Joe” ended up being woke like Obama. As we all remember, Obama in the White House was big on playing up avant-garde grievance social issues.
Since then, Obama has kept it up. Just last month he honored George Floyd, hailing the “new generation of activists” inspired by that murdered felon. We can add that this “new generation of activists” includes Antifa and Black Lives Matter. Very woke, indeed. In the meantime, we see that Middle Class Joe comes across as Woke Joe. And maybe now we know why—he has been disjunctioned by Obama. Why, just on June 20, Middle Class Joe said of the gasoline price debacle: “We have a chance to make a fundamental turn toward renewable energy, electric vehicles, and across the board.”
Yet channeling Obama’s wokeness is doing Biden little good with the public (even if Susan Rice and Barack Obama are nodding their heads in approval). So now it’s open season on Biden’s future, with a long procession of influential Democrats dissing his presidency and dismissing his future, and a thumping 71 percent of Americans are saying that they don’t want him to run again.
And we know what happened to him.