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Joe Biden was the perfect presidential candidate.
It’s likely that no other plausible Democratic nominee would have defeated Donald Trump in 2020. Biden’s friendly and decent demeanor was the perfect contrast to Trump’s malignant, vulgar image—and that made it nearly impossible for Trump to demonize him like he did Hillary Clinton. If shamelessness was Trump’s superpower, Biden’s was being utterly likable. Likewise, Obama’s faithful number two—who was too old and out of touch to be aware of, much less fall for, “woke” Twitter—was uniquely able to thread the needle by appeasing the left of his party while assembling a “Biden coalition” of white men. Lastly, and as macabre as it sounds to say this, name any candidate who would have benefited more from a pandemic that forced him to campaign from his basement. In short, Biden was perfectly cast to defeat Trump in the weird year that was 2020—and even then, the election was still too close for comfort.
But being the right candidate to beat Trump did not make Biden the right candidate to actually become president. If this wasn’t already clear, it is now. The hopes and dreams of a Biden presidency that would remake America are beginning to crumble. Talks of being the next FDR now seem naive and hubristic. Indeed, my warnings about aspiring to be LBJ suddenly look eerily prophetic (be careful what you wish for). Trump’s evil insanity made many people cling to the hope that Biden would be some “Jesus meets JFK” savior, as opposed to a predictable rebound relationship.
I took a lot of grief for saying I couldn’t vote for either man in 2020, but what is happening in Afghanistan right now demonstrates why the judgment of both men disqualified them. Biden has been laughably wrong on every major foreign policy decision for decades, so why would we expect him to get this right? When you consider his many previous gaffes (“you cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent”) and mistakes (“Stand up, Chuck!”), Biden was a more innocuous Trump before Trump one-upped him. What is happening now is what we should’ve expected. Just as the Taliban are doing Taliban things, this is Biden being Biden. It’s what we might have expected had Trump not burned out all of our outrage receptors and shifted the window of acceptable behavior.
On Monday, Biden took a break from his Camp David vacation to give an address at the White House that hardly acknowledged the disaster unfolding on his watch and live on our screens. Instead, he blamed his predecessor, saying: “The choice I had to make as your president was either to follow through on the [Trump] agreement to draw down our forces, or escalating the conflict and sending thousands more American troops back into combat and lurching into the third decade of conflict.” He also blamed “Afghanistan political leaders (who) gave up and fled the country”—and an Afghanistan military that wouldn’t fight for its own. It was a transparent attempt to change the subject from Biden’s bumbling and humiliating retreat to whether we should be in Afghanistan in the first place.
Biden isn't Trump, but like Trump he made a reckless decision that ignored the advice of military leaders and then gave a speech that demonstrated belligerence and stubbornness while insisting Americans should believe him, instead of their lying eyes. Biden vowed he wouldn't allow another Saigon on his watch, and now it's happening though you'd never know it listening to his speech on Monday before he walked off to return to Camp David without taking questions.
It’s amazing how quickly Biden’s aspirations appear to be falling apart. With the infrastructure bill passing the Senate less than a week ago, there was some optimism. But “hot Joe summer” is already a mess, and winter is coming. Even if, after 20 years, the American public is indifferent to the plight of Afghanistan (or will be by the time 2024 comes around), I have been documenting looming problems like inflation, violent crime, and an out-of-control border—problems Biden initially dismissed as “transitory” or “cyclical.” There was also his “Independence from COVID-19” remarks that, with the rise of the Delta variant, feel like a wildly premature “Mission Accomplished” declaration.
Until now, the public and the media have largely given Biden a pass on all of this. As I noted a couple of weeks ago, Biden ducked a reporter’s question about Afghanistan, saying: “I want to talk about happy things, man.” But the fall of Kabul may be the point where Americans look at this kindly old man who, in essence, keeps saying, “Trust me. Everything’s going to work out,” and quit believing him. After that, there’s no going back.
For now, Biden is in danger of getting bogged down by COVID-19 and Afghanistan. The amazing thing is that Trump is largely to blame for both of them. It’s possible that problems Trump helped create will blossom under Biden, creating an ironic rationale to boot Biden and elect Trump. That would be a truly bizarre feedback loop, but the public blames the guy on duty at the time.
If going from Trump to Biden was out of the frying pan into the fire, imagine the insanity of a country going from Trump to Biden and then back to Trump. It could happen, largely because of the inherent vagaries of our nominating process and the two-party system. This is really no way to run a railroad, much less a country.
Are these two highly flawed septuagenarians really as good as it gets? Wait. Don’t answer that.