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2 July 2024

The Democrats’ appalling judgement

By sticking with Joe Biden, the party has shown how arrogant and out of touch it is.

By Ed Smith

The task of a leader or decision-maker is to be ahead of consensus, not behind it. The Democratic Party, in sticking with the forlorn Joe Biden this long, has revealed itself as patronising, arrogant, out of touch, cynical and, above all, in denial. A failing man inside a failing machine: Biden’s incoherent debate performance against Donald Trump on 27 June truly spoke for everyone who put him in this position.

The image extends painfully: the man, the party, the system. That’s why Biden’s humiliation is not a personal matter. “Elites”, again, are in the dock. Can’t trust them, can you? Which is exactly the kind of thing Trump says – and the Democratic Party has offered some legitimacy to this argument.

Professional sport coaches are fond of the saying, “I’d rather give a player one too many games than drop them one game too early.” I’ve always disagreed. Give them one too many games – so their decline becomes self-evident – and the punter in the pub can see it. An informed, professional decision-maker is paid to do better. “Democratic Party leadership” – a phrase that should be retired along with Biden – is now revealed as being several steps behind the uninformed casual viewer who has clicked on the television to discover a bewildered face poking out of a frozen suit. As sensible people have long known, Biden is in severe decline and is simply not up to the job.

Worse still, when pushed into making decisions that have become both obvious and unavoidable, “leadership” isn’t making decisions at all – they’re engaged in the lowly rubber-stamping of decisions that originated elsewhere. That’s where the Democrats now find themselves. If, as they must, they do get rid of Biden, they will have been bounced into it by public opinion.

Not exercising judgement but running scared; not looking at the evidence but clinging to (misunderstood) self-interest; not leading but following. It is institutional failure and it could not have come at a worse moment. How have we evolved complex, expensive systems that produce such terrible decisions? (This is also the theme of a new book, The Unaccountability Machine, reviewed on page 38.)

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Consider the current shambles and ask yourself this question: how well is “the system” performing here? The president is not in charge, “leadership” is not in charge, the experts are dimmer than the people, and the party machine is in crisis. So who, or what, is running the show? Charitable critics will say no one and nothing. But Trump and his ilk will not be so charitable. Faced with explaining institutional denial on this scale and at this level of significance, it’s not a long jump into the open arms of conspiracy theories. By failing America and the world at such a delicate moment, the Democratic Party has given populism and anti-politics a truck load of ammunition.

In his best days, Biden was a pedestrian party-machine operator. These are far from his best days. The Democrats appear to have calculated that they could sneak Biden across the line without voters noticing – akin to a shoplifter at an automated checkout shovelling a final item straight into the bagging area.

Let’s call it straight. In proposing Biden to be president until he is 86 – which he would be by the end of a second term – the Democrats are demonstrating appalling judgement and carrying out borderline deception.

Who will end this tragic chapter in public life? The candidates who could perform this duty fall into three categories: the doctor, the spouse and the party elders. Assuming she is not deliberately inflicting on her husband a humiliation beyond even the cruel imagination of Evelyn Waugh, we can only conclude that Jill Biden’s judgement has been impaired by attachment to the trappings of high office. If an honourable doctor can’t be found, then it could be left to Barack Obama to intervene. (Not that it looks likely based on his post-debate tweet supporting Biden.) Democrats putting loyalty to Biden ahead of the country and the world are being selfish – and unkind. Every day that Biden’s career continues is an act of cruelty towards the president.

Eight years ago, the Democrats put up the wrong candidate for the task. Trump is a con man but one with a sense of mischief and timing; the Clintons are dodgy and Hillary is wooden. So where Trump was weakest, the Clintons were also vulnerable; and Trump profits (I cannot type “excels”) when his opponent is weak.

This election cycle is even worse. A boring book consigns to irrelevance any other qualities it might possess – because readers give up before reaching them. So it is with a noticeably declining presidential candidate. “Yes, but…” doesn’t come into the equation. It’s all over before then.

I will leave political experts to explore the mechanisms by which Biden must be excised from running (before voters remove him from office on the Democrats’ behalf). The issues here far transcend political “tactics”. Because tactics come after, not before, getting the big things right – and it is a big thing that now needs to be done.

Which is why Democratic candidates tempted to snuggle into the post-Biden race while hiding behind effusive praise for the president’s current performance should think again. Enough of taking people for fools. If the system is demanding that alternative candidates lie, then the system is the problem. If they are doing it for themselves, they are the problem. Either way, we all have a problem.

[See more: Evangelical Christians’ Trumpian pact]

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This article appears in the 02 Jul 2024 issue of the New Statesman, Labour’s Britain