Monday, July 8, 2024

Speaking of Which

Posting this a day late, only partly because I tried slipping in the Afterthoughts post. Late Monday night, and I'm dead tired, pretty sure I didn't complete my rounds, but at this point if I fail to post I'll just waste another day. Expect Music Week on Tuesday, plus some late additions here (and maybe on the Sunday-dated but Monday-posted Afterthoughts as well). On the other hand, my mid-year jazz critics poll needs some work too, and should probably be considered a more urgent priority.

Nice to see elections leaning left in UK, France, and Iran. That should probably be a bigger story.

A few more extras below, but the big one is the comment on Matthew Yglesias, reiterating the case that Democrats need to replace Biden. That's also the subject of a long addition to last week's Afterthoughts.

In Tuesday's Music Week, written after this post but before I'm adding this section, I mentioned a couple Biden-related pieces that appeared after closing this:

None of this even mentions the seemingly important (if true) Ben Jacobs: [07-09] How the Democratic movement to dump Biden went bust. Or Nia Prater: [07-09] Why is the Squad backing Biden so forcefully? As Yglesias explained in his piece, the calculation for Democratic politicians is different than the one for journalists and pundits. New York Magazine, which published a number of pieces extremely critical of Biden (probably all op. cit. through my links above) has gotten so into circling the wagons, they've gone into live blog mode: Biden resistance appears to be waning in Congress. On the other hand, Eric Levitz: [07-09] is back with another piece: The arguments for Biden 2024 keep getting worse.

I'll probably return to those next week, but they relate to recent chatter below.

Late adds from ex-twitter:

  • Zachary D Carter: [07-09] Ths issue is Biden's age, and he gets older every day. It's not a scandal you can wait out until another media cycle. It will be a dominant campaign issue every day of the week until November. [This was in response to:]

    • Clara Jeffery: [07-09] What happens when the next press conference or interview goes awry. Or the barrage of battering polls keeps growing? Or swing district Dems openly panic?

      There is no "put it behind us" moment that the Biden camp hopes for/hopes to persuade Dems there is.

  • Eric Levitz: [07-09] Running Biden at this point means taking on his liabilities AND Harris's without enjoying any of the benefits of putting her at the top of the ticket (e.g. having a nominee who is much younger and more eloquent than the GOP's). [This was in response to:]

    • Marc Caputo: Trump stepping up criticisms of Harris, saying Biden chose her as an "insurance policy" because she's such a bad replacement that Biden would never be forced to step down.

  • Aaron Rupar: [07-08] [Reply to a 4:19 clip of "Jon Stewart reacts to Joe Biden's defiance over calls to step aside" -- worth watching, less for the plan, which isn't how it's going to work, than but the jokes, which hit their targets, thus demonstrating that they are real.] Stewart ignores that:

    1. There was a whole ass Democratic primary election
    2. Kamala Harris is the VP and the only Biden alternative that makes sense
    3. A thunderdome convention would do anything but "unify" the party

    I'm glad he had a chance to vent though

    [The primary was a sham, where nobody but Biden had a chance, because no one else had the money to run. Replacement could be anyone the money people agree on, but Harris is the easy pick. And the Party will unify behind virtually anyone, as Biden has already proved. Stewart ends with a clip where Biden is asked if any other Democrats could beat Trump, and his reply is "about fifty of them."]

  • Ian Millhiser: [09-10] If you're concerned that the press is paying too much attention to Joe Biden's age, and not enough to Donald Trump's unfitness for the job of president, I know one very simple thing that Biden could do that would take his age off the table in the November election.

  • Zachary D Carter: [07-12] Every Biden appearance from now until November will be an evaluation of his acuity. Even if he does ok, he's trapped in a losing issue for the campaign, the same way talking about abortion hurts Trump regardless of where he positions himself. Hard to see how he flips the polls.

  • Rick Perlstein: [07-12] So many of his statements end with him trailing off, exasperated, with something like "never mind"--these placeholders he sticks in when his brain can't summon up further thought. I'm not even suggesting something clinical. I can only say it comes off SOUNDING incapacitated.

Nathan J Robinson tweeted: "Wild to me that people like Matt Yglesias and the Pod Save America guys are now more publicly critical of Biden than the Squad." Jacob Shell pointed out, as Yglesias did in his post: "It's professionally cheap for a pundit and professional expensive for a politician." But it's not just that: Biden's replacement is going to be hand-picked by a cabal of moneyed insiders, then forced on a convention of delegates pre-selected for their loyalty. That person, who may well be Harris, will re-energize the party, but also will consolidate centrist control, and by winning (especially if winning decisively) will make it harder for the left to compete in 2028. The Squad represent very safe Democratic seats. If Biden wins, he will owe them, and if he loses, they will survive and be better positioned to rescue the Party moving forward. I'm not saying they're putting cynical self-interest ahead of the Party any more than any other politician -- if you're in a swing district, dumping Biden may simply be a matter of survival. But not everyone's in the same boat, with the same options. And they do have one point that is absolutely correct: we need to fight Trump, not among ourselves. If I thought the Biden thing would blow over, I'd happily join them. But I really don't see it blowing over, so the only realistic option is for Biden to drop out, and let someone who's up to the task take over.

By the way, a lot of really dumb comments attached to Robinson's tweet, especially by people trying to factor Israel in (e.g., "The Squad can't risk Kamala becoming president because of her husband's ties to Israel"). Lots could be said about this, but I'll leave it at this shows a remarkable ability to compartmentalize issues and political choices, especially given how centrist Dems collaborated with AIPAC to exterminate the Squad.

Initial count: 139 links, 7096 words. Updated count [07-11]: 163 links, 9377 words. -->

Local tags (these can be linked to directly): on music.

Top story threads:


America's Israel (and Israel's America):

  • Nicholas Kristof: [07-03] How Biden has gotten in the way of fighting starvation in Gaza.

  • Blaise Malley: [07-03] By the numbers: US Gaza pier prject appears sunk.

  • Robert A Pape: [06-21] Hamas is winning: He's some kind of counterterrorism guru, with books like Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism (2005), and Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop It (2010), following earlier tomes like Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War, which was all the rage when it came out (1996). My wife wants me to listen to 11 minutes of his interview by Doug Henwood, but so far all I've found is this, with a link to an hour-long podcast that's supposed to be "wherever podcasts are" (like here?. I haven't read the article either, because it's paywalled behind a publication site that publishes crap like this:

    Pape's article title (and for that matter his book titles) suggest he has a very naive, very addled concept of winning. Granted, I'm starting from the default position that nobody can ever win at war, and that anyone who thinks otherwise is deluding themselves, most likely by failing to recognize most of the costs one will eventually have to pay. Pape may well agree with much of this -- he certainly understands that Israel's collective punishment of Gaza is raising more opposition, and more desperate opposition, than they're able to kill off. It's not just that the violence could -- and sooner or later probably will -- rebound against Israel. It's just peculiar to think of either Israel's immediate offensive gains or its likely eventual denouement as winning for everyone.

    And especially for Hamas, which I'm inclined to believe -- admittedly with little evidence to back me up -- is no longer a real force, just a spectre conjured up by Israel as an excuse to continue genocide. I'm not saying that when Israel sends troops into some enclave in Gaza, they're not going to get fire returned. Just not much, and not from a coherent military or political force. Admittedly, I don't have much data to go on, so Pape might be helpful in that regard. On the other hand, how can he know much more than what Israel tells him? And why should he or we believe any of that?

  • Brett Wilkins: [07-04] Senior Israeli lawmaker suggests nuclear attack on Iran: Avigdor Liberman, the guy who's not in Netanyahu's coalition because it isn't far-right enough for him. (Actually, it's probably just because he hates Netanyahu. While he has no other redeeming qualities, who can't sympathize with him on that?) Still, he's basically saying that the problem with Israel is that the government isn't stark-raving bonkers enough.

  • Sharon Zhang: [06-28] Biden releasing part of bombs shipment to Israel that was paused over Rafah raid: "The administration appears to have totally thrown away its 'red line' on Rafah, two months after the invasion."

Israel vs. world opinion:

  • Mohammad Jehad Ahmad: [07-07] Silenced at school: NYC public schools chancellor suppresses Palestinian voices: "New York City Public Schools has been suppressing Palestinian narratives and activism. NYC Educators for Palestine has attempted to meet with Chancellor David Banks for months, but he keeps dodging our meeting."

  • Akbar Shahid Ahmed: [07-02] 12 Biden administration reseignees blast 'intransigent' Gaza policy: "Joe Biden 'has prioritized politics over just and fair policymaking' on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, former government officials argued in their first joint statement since quitting."

  • Michael Arria: [07-04] The Shift: School's out, but attacks on student protesters continue.

  • Muhannad Ayyash: [07-06] A hollow Palestinian state: "Spain, Ireland, and Norway recently made headlines for recognizing the State of Palestine. But the only effective policy for any state recognizing Palestine is also the diplomatic and economic isolation of the Israeli state. There is no other way." I would phrase this somewhat differently. There is no legitimate and/or sovereign Palestinian state to recognize, so it's an empty gesture -- admittedly, one that disrespects Israel, and may be worth doing just for that, but is insufficient to effect any change in Israel, which after all is the only place change can meaningfully occur.

  • Helena Cobban:

  • Ayça Çubukçu: [05-01] Many speak for Palestine: "The solidarity movement doesn't hav e a single leader -- and doesn't need one."

  • Joseph Levine: [07-06] If you support Israel in the middle of a genocide, you're an awful person. I don't agree with this, but that's because I recognize that many basically good people subscribe to bad political opinions, mostly because they are misinformed and/or habitually focus on the wrong things (which makes them easily misled). I might even go so far as to say that there are no bad people: only people who believe bad things, often for bad reasons (like to dominate and demean other people). But it's almost always a mistake to reify bad politics into bad people -- only making sense when the politics totally consumes the person. This article led me to an older one worth noting:

    • Randa Abdel-Fattah: [2023-12-27] On Zionist feelings: "The feelings and fragility of Zionists are used as a rhetorical shield to deflect from the reality of Palestinian genocide. I refuse to provide reassurances to placate and soothe Zionist political anxieties." I'm more indulgent of Zionist feelings than most critics of Israel, and I have my reasons, but I also understand this viewpoint. Starts with a quote from Edward Said: "Since when does a militarily occupied people have the responsibility for a peace movement?" Since the more instinctive war movement has repeatedly failed against a massively more powerful oppressor? Fighting back, understandable and even inevitable, reduces you to their level, not that they don't respond by sinking even lower. A peace movement, on the other hand, gains moral high ground, and challenges them to do better. Admittedly, Israel has never taken that challenge. All they do is designed to provoke violence, because that's the level they want to fight on. And, to circle back around, those who want that don't just have bad politics but are fairly seen as bad people.

  • Mitchell Plitnick: [07-05] Liberal Zionists answer the Gaza genocide by appealing for 'nuance': "Liberal Zionists are trying to rehabilitate Israel's image among young U.S. Jews after the Gaza genocide by appealing for 'nuance' and sending them to indoctrination camps. But these attempts ring more hollow than ever." Hard to scan for something as elusive as "nuance" in an article like this. As near as I can tell, the subjects here (Liberal Zionists in America) insist on being taken as fundamentally decent liberals, while excusing their distinctly illiberal views of anyone critical of Israel, mostly by treating "Arab nationalism" and "Islamic fundamentalism" every bit as rigidly as their opponents generalize about Zionism and Colonialism. Of course, they're right that their thought can be more nuanced than others appreciate, but the same is true for the others, who they reject with blanket generalizations -- like the syllogism that: Hamas is evil and can only be stopped with death; Hamas is an intrinsic tendency for Palestinians; therefore we will only be safe when all Palestinians are killed. That, in a nutshell, is current Israeli policy. Adding "nuance" may help obscure the issue, but won't change it.

    Plitnick, along with Marc Lamont Hill, is co-author of the book Except for Palestine: The Limits of Progressive Politics (2022), which goes deep into why many good people on the left in America have a blind spot for Israel. I don't know whether this addresses the second group of people, those who started with left/liberal sympathies but snapped hard to the right, often triggered by some crisis over Israel. The neocons, who rose to power under Clinton and GW Bush, provide some prime examples, but there are many more.

  • Richard Rubenstein: [07-02] Israel in Gaza: The Jewish break with Zionism: or, "Zionism as ethnic chauvinism."

  • Barnett R Rubin: [01-04] False Messiahs: "How Zionism's dreams of liberation became entangled with colonialism."

  • Philip Weiss: [07-07] Weekly Briefing: Normalizing genocide. The article itself briefly cites lots of other articles I've already cited. "Genocide" is such a hard, definitive term, so the idea is to break it up into smaller, softer, more ambiguous acts, spread out over time to lessen the shock, an aid to denial for those so inclined. But making it all seem normal is going to be a tall order. This article elicited a comment worth noting:

    The psychology of denial is important to understand: Jews tend to identify with Israel the way people identify with their families, says Joseph Levine. Well, many, many people eventually come to the realization that their father was an abusive drunk, their mother was manic-depressive and their siblings bullied them but they stuck around because admitting to themselves the real situation is just too painful -- I think that's the situation we're dealing with re Israel.

  • Omar Zahzah: [07-07] Why Big Tech's control of social media cannot stop anti-colonial resistance.

Election notes:

Joe Biden (post-debate):

  • Sasha Abramsky: [07-03] Running Biden against Trump is just plain irresponsible: "If American democracy is on the line, as Democrats have rightly insisted, why nominate someone who has trouble keeping up with his opponent." Or how about this: why nominate someone who is living proof that democracy is already lost?

  • Zachary D Carter: [06-10] Inflation is not destroying Joe Biden; "But something is!" Pre-debate piece I've been meaning to mention, but re-read it given what you know now.

  • Jonathan Chait:

    • [07-06] Biden's norm-shattering response to the post-debate crisis: "The problems are ethical, not just political." Chait cites two examples that while "not illegal" he finds ethically troubling: bringing convicted felon son Hunter in as one of his close family advisers (a circling of the family wagons that reminds Chait of Trump), and Biden's unwillingness to submit to cognitive screening. The thing is, you not only have to consider the literal merits, but how they will be spun, in a political media environment that quite frankly is not inclined to favor Biden.

    • [07-08] The Democrats who care more about their careers than beating Trump: "Biden bets his party doesn't have the guts to confront him." As long as you're talking politicians, that's probably a good bet, at least at first. But the people who decide who runs and who cannot are the big donors, and they'll still have careers either way. Politicians may be waiting for their signal. When they do, expect all the tails to wag.

  • George Clooney: [07-10] I love Joe Biden. But we need a new nominee. This matters, both as personal observation from someone who has access very few of us can match, and as the author is not a "low cost" pundit but a high value donor -- one of the people I often claim are actually pulling the strings. Also see the letters, at least the first one (another close witness). The third (terrified Harris will lose) and the fourth (he's just an actor, so who cares?) not so much.

  • Nate Cohn: [07-03] The debate hurt Biden, but the real shift has been happening for years. There's also this interview with Cohn:

    • Isaac Chotiner: [07-04] Nate Cohn explains how bad the latest polling is for Joe Biden. This is in in a nutshell:

      Joe Biden is a badly wounded candidate whom voters dislike, and who voters think isn't capable of handling the Presidency. And while Donald Trump isn't a political juggernaut by any stretch, and is maybe every bit as weak as he was four years ago, at least at the moment, Joe Biden does not have the broad appeal necessary to take advantage of it.

  • Matthew Cooper: [07-05] If Biden quits the race, he should resign the presidency: "Being a lame duck for seven months would be far worse for him -- and us -- than leaving office and propelling Vice President Harris to the Oval Office." Sorry, but this is really stupid. Running for president and being president are two very different things, and really demand different skill sets (not that there's any way we can fix that). Running for president demands that be able to engage with public and press, being articulate and decisive in difficult circumstances, every day between now and November. You'll need to convince voters that you will serve them, and will be able to continue to serve, clearly and coherently, for another four years. Nobody believes that Biden can or even should do that. That's a tall order, maybe even an impossible one, for anyone. Even in his prime, Biden never had those skills. He only got elected thanks to a series of fluke circumstances: first as the least objectionable compromise to stop Sanders from winning the Democratic nomination, and then as the only alternative to Trump. And while it may have seemed plausible that he could repeat given similar circumstances -- above all, a rematch with Trump -- some critical elements have changed beyond repair (like Biden having to own his own record, battered as he's been by four years of relentless Republican villification, with his own skills clearly diminished in his 80s).

    On the other hand, what's so hard about finishing his term? As president, he needs to attend a few meetings, ask questions, sign orders he has staff to prepare, do the occasional meet and greet. He doesn't have to give speeches or press conferences. He doesn't have to fly overseas. If, as reported, his sweet spot is 10-to-4, why can't that be his work day? And if he ever does have to answer that 3AM call to start WWIII -- you may recall that as Hillary Clinton's "commander-in-chief test" -- just wake him up and brief him. That's a situation smarter people would never allow to happen, but if he did, how much worse could he be than Clinton or any of his predecessors?

    As for being called a "lame duck," that's something that stupid people (or opportunists trying to dupe stupid people) are going to do anyway. Ignore them. (Actually, the 22nd Amendment should have banned consecutive terms. They didn't think of that because there was a long tradition of major presidents serving two -- and until FDR only two -- terms, and because in 1947-51 presidential election campaigns only took up a couple months, as opposed to the billionaire-funded multi-year marathons of late. They also had no idea all the crap journalists would spread about "lame ducks.")

    Let's assume that Biden has to withdraw from the nomination. As far as the country is concerned, there should be no problem with him finishing out the term he was elected to. But if he did so, Kamala Harris would become president. As she is most likely his replacement as nominee, would becoming president help or hurt her candidacy? I don't see how it would help. It would give her a bigger plane to campaign from, and offer a few nice photo-ops (world leaders and such, look presidential). But it would put a lot of demands on time she needs to campaign. And it would saddle her more closely with Biden's legacy, which despite some real accomplishments remains pretty unpopular. I also suspect that a Biden resignation wouldn't spin well: it will be taken as a disgrace, affirming all the charges against Biden, and tainting his legacy -- a legacy that Harris will need to burnish in order to win.

  • Chas Danner:

  • Arthur Delaney: [07-05] Reps. Seth Moulton, Mike Quigley latest Democrats to call on Joe Biden to quit race: "The dam hasn't broken, but there's a steady drip of statements from Democrats skeptical of Biden being the Democratic nominee."

  • Ed Kilgore: [07-08] Was Biden's debate worse than Access Hollywood? I suppose what he's trying to say is that candidates can win despite embarrassing incidents along the way. I don't know or care which was worse, but I can think of several reasons why this will cause Biden more trouble: Access Hollywood may have impugned Trump's character, but he didn't have much to lose in the first place; also it's an old story, not present, so something Trump might have matured out of (as opposed to something that only gets worse with age); and while most of us might prefer to have a president who's not an asshole, some people actually regard that as a plus. On the other hand, debating is supposed to be a core competency for presidential aspirants, and is suggestive of how a person might handle an unexpected crisis, as is almost certain to happen. Also, the debate was an explicit opportunity for Biden to show that years of suppositions and innuendos about Biden's mental agility, tied to his age, were wrong. Biden's performance would seem to have confirmed them -- with his ever-increasing age by far the most obvious cause. Perhaps worse still, this implied that Biden's past denials were also false, casting considerable doubt on his reliability and truthfulness.

    Trump recovered because the the DNC mail dumps changed the fickle media's story line, then came Comey's announcement that he was re-opening the Clinton email investigation, which itself might have faded had the Stormy Daniels story not been bought off. But henceforth, every time Biden debates, he will be haunted by this performance, and every time he doesn't debate, that too works against him. Either way, Biden is trapped. If he doesn't drop out, this is going to be very painful to watch.

  • Ezra Klein: [06-30] This isn't all Joe Biden's fault.

  • Paul Krugman: [07-08] Please, Mr. President, do the right thing.

  • Chris Lehman:

  • Eric Levitz:

    • [07-05] In an ABC interview, Biden charts a course for Dems' worst-case scenario: "The president appeared too frail to defeat Trump and too delusional to drop out."

      No interview or stump speech can erase these revelations. The news media will not stop scrutinizing the copious evidence of Biden's senescence. The Trump campaign will not forget that it now possesses a treasure trove of humiliating clips of Biden's brain freezes and devastating quotes from the president's allies. Given this climate and the candidate's limitations, it is not plausible that Biden can surge in the polls between now and November. . . .

      The Biden who spoke with ABC News Friday night was enfeebled, ineloquent, egotistical, and intransigent. He was a man who appeared both ready and willing to lead his party into the wilderness. Asked how he would feel if he stayed in the race and Trump were elected, Biden replied, "I'll feel as long as I gave it my all and I did the goodest job as I know I can do, that's what this is about."

      Wasn't that how Hillary Clinton felt after losing? I've never forgiven her for losing to Trump, and probably never will. Biden will be even worse, because doubts about him are so widely and deeply expressed, so far in advance of the actual vote.

    • [07-07] Biden is leading Democrats toward their worst-case scenario: Appears to be a slight edit of the previous article.

  • Daniel Marans: [07-06] Voters had issues with Biden's age long before the debate. That's why Democrats are worried.

  • Nicole Narea: [07-03] Forget four more years. Is Biden fit to serve now? Was he ever fit? What does that mean? Let's take care of the nomination first: that's the position that needs to be filled, with someone who can handle the immediate requirements and very probably continue to do so four years out. After that, if he can finish his term with dignity, shouldn't we show him that much respect? He'd certainly be under a lot less pressure and stress if he wasn't also running for a second term.

  • Olivia Nuzzi: [07-04] The conspiracy of silence to protect Joe Biden: "The president's mental decline was like a dark family secret for many elite supporters."

  • Evan Osnos: [07-06] Did Joe Biden's ABC interview stanch the bleeding or prolong it?

  • Tyler Pager: [06-30] Biden aides plotted debate strategy for months. Then it all collapsed. "The Biden team gambled on an early debate and prepared intensively at Camp David, but advisers could not prevent the candidate's stumbles onstage." Pager also reported on:

  • Nia Prater: [07-08] Read Biden's I'm-not-going-anywhere letter to House Democrats. Following up:

  • Andrew Prokop: [07-03] Leaks about Joe Biden are coming fast and furious: "The recent reports about the president's age and health, explained."

  • David Schultz: [07-03] Biden's abysmal debate.

  • Nate Silver:

  • Norman Solomon: [07-02] Who you gonna believe, Biden loyalists or your own eyes and ears?

  • Brian Stelter: [07-03] Did the media botch the Biden age story? "Asleep at the wheel? Complicit in a cover-up? The real story is far more complicated -- and more interesting." Or "Sorry, Ted Cruz, there are more than two options."

  • Michael Tomasky:

  • Benjamin Wallace-Wells: [07-08] Joe Biden is fighting back -- but not against Trump, really: Then what the hell is he good for?

  • Joan Walsh: Biden did not save his presidency on ABC: "An uneven interview with George Stephanapoulos was too little, too late -- and maybe a bit too churlish."

  • Matthew Yglesias: [07-08] I was wrong about Biden: I followed Yglesias closely for many years, but after he won that "neoliberal shill of the year" contest (I think it was 2019), quit Vox, started buckraking at Substack, and wrote that opportunisticaly Friedmanesque book (One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger), about the only time I read him these days is when he gets one of his Bloomberg columns syndicated (and they're rarely much good). He's a smart guy who knows a lot, but he's also a calculating bastard who's especially adept at spotting trends and triangulating them with an eye toward profit. So it's no surprise that he (unlike his Vox-cofounder Ezra Klein, another smart triangulator) bought the Biden second term plan hook, line and sinker, or that Biden's debate performance, for once in his life he's eating crow. Or maybe twice: he started out as a big Iraq war booster.

    But enough with shooting the messanger. Let's try reading the message. It's long, methodologically sound, meticulously thought out, and damning. For instance, consider some facts:

    Biden isn't doing press conferences. He's using teleprompters at fundraisers. The joint appearances with Bill Clinton or Barack Obama look like efforts to keep attention off the candidate. It's not just that he's avoiding hostile interviews or refusing to sit with the New York Times, he isn't even doing friendly-but-substantive shows with journalists like Ezra Klein or Chris Hayes. It was a while ago now that I talked to him, and though it went well, I haven't heard recent rumors of many other off-the-record columnist chats. The seemingly inexplicable decision to skip the Super Bowl interview is perfectly explicable once you see the duck. In a re-election year, a president needs to do two different full-time jobs simultaneously, and Biden was really struggling with that. Apparently foreign governments were sitting on some anecdotes that have now leaked, which I wouldn't have thought possible.

    But the biggest data point that I blew off was a recent and totally unambiguous one.

    Five days before the debate, someone who'd seen Biden recently at a fundraiser told me that he looked and sounded dramatically worse than the previous times they'd seen him -- as recently as six months ago -- and that they were now convinced Biden wouldn't be able to make it through a second term. I blew that warning off and assumed things would be fine at the debate.

    That goes a bit beyond the facts I wanted to show, but you can see where he's going. The next paragraph begins: "Now that Biden apologists like me are discredited in the eyes of the public," then segues into a good point we needn't dwell on here. The next section is more important: "The media climate is going to get worse." He offers some details, but if you at all understand how the media works, you can imagine the rest, and then best double it for what you're too decent to even imagine the media doing. [Insert shark metaphor here.]

    Yglesias moves on to a "What comes next?" section, where he reminds us what a calculating bastard he is:

    Columnists calling on Biden to step down provide, in my view, are a small boost to Trump's election odds and a minuscule increase in the odds that Biden actually steps aside. I think we have to say it anyway, because this is journalism and we owe a duty of truth to our audience. But in narrow cost-benefit terms, the public criticism of Biden has negative expected value.

    Elected officials have a different set of responsibilities. I've seen some people express frustration that Barack Obama came out with such a strong statement of support for Biden. But Obama slagging Biden in public would have been a boon to Trump and accomplished nothing. Same for Chuck Schumer and Hakeem Jeffries and Nancy Pelosi and everyone else who matters. These are politicians, and they do not share journalists' obligations of candor.

    But what they do in private does matter, and I hope they do the right thing.

    The main thing I would add to this is that the election isn't until November (or, with early voting, mid-October?), so even if it takes until the Convention to replace Biden, there will still be plenty of time to unite behind the nominee and the ticket before anything real happens. Until then, it's just hot air (or maybe just tepid). The media cares, because they want you to think that every moment, every minute shift and sway, portends great importance, but that's just their business model. There are good reasons to replace Biden sooner rather than later -- it's painful to watch Biden and his cadres squirm, and we would be much happer spending the time exposing and deprecating Trump and the Republicans -- but it's a process, and that takes time. (I'm not even bothered by it not being a very democratic one, although it does mean that the elites who control this process will be held responsible should they fail.)

    Let me close here by quoting a reader comment:

    So long as Biden remains the nominee, we're going to keep getting hammered on age and mental decline.

    As soon as Harris is the nominee, we can hammer Trump on age and mental decline.

    I'd rather play the second game.

    Indeed, as long as Biden is the nominee, this is going to be one long, miserable election, where we're stuck playing defense, on grounds that aren't really defensible. Sure, we still might eek out a win, but best case is it's going to be close, which means that the administration will be hobbled for four more years, its leadership decrepit, while getting blamed for disasters that have been brewing for decades. On the other hand, replace Biden, and you reverse the tide, and go on the offense: throw the whole anti-Biden handbook (not just age and imbecility, but cronyism and corruption, egotism, vanity, the whole ball of wax) back at Trump, and go after all the Republican toadies fawning all over him. Wouldn't you rather kick some ass? We have time, but we won't have it forever.


  • Margaret Hartmann: [07-08] What the Jeffrey Epstein documents reveal about Donald Trump.

  • Jeet Heer: [07-05] Why aren't we talking about Trump's fascism? "Joe Biden has created a distraction from the existential question that should define this election." I don't see this as a problem. Some people understand what fascism means, especially historically. Most of them are fascinated enough to debate the fine points, but all of them already have weighed Trump out on the F-scale, so there's no real need to engage them on the issue. (Most are opposed, even ones who dismiss the charge on technical grounds, and none are likely to view Trump more negatively if you make them better understand the case that Trump is a fascist.) A second group of people only understand that aside from a couple of known and long gone historical examples, "fascist" is a slur, mostly used by people on the left to attack people not on the left. To convince people that Trump is a fascist and therefore bad, you first have to teach them what fascism is and why it is bad, which is a lot of excess work, and will probably wind up making them think that you are a Marxist (which if you actually know this stuff, you probably are). There are lots of more straightforward ways to argue that Trump is bad than that he specifically is a fascist, so for those people the effort ranges from inefficient to counterproductive. Then there are the people who will accept your analysis and embrace it, deciding that fascist Trump is even cooler than regular Trump.

    Heer's article is a good example of why we shouldn't bother talking about Trump and fascism. Heer is part of that first group, so he not only likes to talk about fascism, he sees fascism as the prism that illuminates Trump's myriad evils. However, once he introduces the terminology, we forget what the article was meant to about -- that Biden's incompetence has become a distraction from the real issue, which is the very real disaster if Trump is elected -- and fixate on the single word (which as I just said, is either understood but redundant, or misunderstood and therefore irrelevant, so in either case ineffective). So Heer's article doesn't expose Biden's distraction but merely adds to it.

  • Nicholas Liu: [07-08] Trump runs from Project 2025, claims not to know what it's about: "The former president is trying to distance himself from a plan drafted by his own former aides."

  • Shawn Musgrave: Trump camp says it has nothing to do with Project 2025 manifesto -- aside from writing it.

  • Marc A Thiessen: How Trump can make NATO great again. No time to read this, but the fusion of author (aka "Torture Boy"), concept, and title blew my mind.

And other Republicans:

And other Democrats:

  • Sarah Jones: [07-03] A socialist's case for Kamala Harris: I'd tread carefully here. The decision on the Democratic ticket is going to be made by people who fear and hate socialists even more than Trump, and you don't want them to turn on Harris just because she's one of the less bad compromises available. She as much as admits this with her last line: "But if I can't get what I want this year, I'd rather settle for Harris."

  • Osita Nwanevu: [07-08] Democrats don't just need a new candidate. They need a reckoning. "Democrats will be impotent messengers on democracy as long as they remain beholden to the feudal culture this crisis has exposed." Right, but it isn't going to happen, certainly not this year. The Democratic left didn't challenge Biden this year, basically for three reasons: it's nearly impossible to reject an incumbent president running for a second term; their relationships with Biden were engaging enough that they saw him as a path for limited but meaningful reform, which they valued more than just taking losing stands on principle; and they are more afraid of Trump and the Republicans than ever. Conversely, Biden is running not because he's uniquely qualified to beat Trump, but because he was uniquely positioned to prevent an open Democratic primary that could have nominated a Democrat who might be more committed to the voters than to the donors. But now that cast is set. Even if the convention is thrown open, the people voting there are almost all beholden to Biden. So while Biden will not survive as the nominee, he and his big donors will pick his successor, and when they do, every Democrat who doesn't want to risk Trump will line up, bow, and cheer. The reckoning will have to wait, probably until crisis forces it.

  • Prem Thakker: Every Democrat other than Joe Biden is unburdened by what has been: "As voters look for another option, alternative Democratic leaders poll similarly or even better than Biden -- even without name recognition."

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

Economic matters:

Ukraine War and Russia:

America's empire and the world:

Other stories:

Margot Roosevelt: [07-07] Jane F. McAlevey, who empowered workers across the globe, dies at 59: "An organizer and author, she believed that a union was only as strong as its members and trained thousands "to take over their unions and change them."


Jedediah Britton-Purdy: [07-02] The Creed: "How did Americans come to worship the Constitution?" Review of Aziz Rana, The Constitutional Bind: How Americans Came to Idolize a Document That Fails Them.

  • Aziz Rana: [05-30] Democracy was a decolonial project: "For generations of American radicals, the path to liberation required a new constitution, not forced removal." I ran across this essay slightly after finding the book review. While there is a common point, this goes in a different direction.

Leah Hunt-Hendrix/Astra Taylor: [07-02] For a solidarity state: "The state structures society. It can make us more prone to care for one another."

Sean Illing: [07-07] How the 1990s broke politics: "Inside the GOP's transition from the party of Reagan to the party of Trump." Interview with John Ganz, author of When the Clock Broke: Con Men, Conspiracists, and How America Cracked Up in the Early 1990s.

Osita Nwanevu: [03-11] The divided president: "Who's in charge in the Biden White House?" This is a bit dated, a review of Franklin Foer, The Last Politician: Inside Joe Biden's White House and the Struggle for America's Future. I bought the book at the time, figuring it might shed some light on some things (mostly involving foreign policy) that I didn't adequately understand), but never got around to it, and I'm in no hurry these days.

Marshall Steinbaum: X thread: "There's a little book I recommend to anyone who's trying to get a handle on what's going on in American politics this week." The book is Nancy McLean, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America. The book is mostly about economist James Buchanan, and how his and similar careers have been sponsored by right-wing networks, especially that of the Kochs. I read the book when it came out, and thought it was pretty good. Buchanan's early ties to the anti-desegregation movement were especially striking -- how easily we forget how reflexively racist many people were in the 1950s -- and the Koch funding was something I was rather familiar with. (I even received some myself, back when I typeset reprints of a couple Koch-sponsored reprints of Murray Rothbard books.) I'm less clear on Buchanan's economic theories, which seemed rather trivial. Maybe "stealth plan" was a bit of an oversell: much of it was public, and some of it barely qualified as a plan -- throwing money at something could just as well be seen as another of those "irritable mental gestures" Lionel Trilling saw in most "conservative thought." Still, this kicked up a flurry of protest over McLean's book, including some from people I generally respect (e.g., Rick Perlstein), so I took some notes:

Music, etc.

Nick Paumgarten: [07-01] Alan Braufman's loft-jazz séance.

Michael Tatum: [07-09] A downloader's diary (53): Much more than capsule reviews, major takes on Beyoncé, Nia Archives, Zawose Queens, Carly Pearce, Fox Green, and much more. Pearce and Fox Green also appear here:

Midyear Lists:

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