I caught part of Nicolle Wallace’s show on MSNBC yesterday, and among others, she talked to Franklin Foer, who has a new book out on the Biden administration called “The Last Politician.” I haven’t read it, but judging from review snippets I saw online, perceptions seem heavily influenced by the reviewer’s priors.
New York Post: Biden comes off as irritable, ‘babied’ elderly man who regularly flip-flops when not bashing Obama, new book reveals
New York Times: In “The Last Politician,” Franklin Foer presents the first half of Biden’s presidency as a series of made-for-television moments meant to inspire doubters and assuage critics.
Blah blah blah. I mean seriously, it’s revealing to look at the curated media hot takes. Like the King James Bible, Foer’s book apparently offers something for everyone looking to reinforce a preexisting bias or advance a preferred narrative, even if selective quote-pickers have diametrically opposed agendas.
But after hearing Foer discuss the book with Wallace, I’m tempted to read it. Forgive the X-Lax embed; I’m unable to find the clip elsewhere, but here’s a portion of that conversation:
“I think culturally [Biden] tries to practice politics and democracy in a way in which he knows isn’t going to change things tomorrow but preserves those things so that we can maybe practice them in the future” – @FranklinFoer w/ @NicolleDWallace pic.twitter.com/AHIMyZJDvx
— Deadline White House (@DeadlineWH) September 6, 2023
Sometimes Dems — inside and outside of the administration — perceive Biden’s emphasis on bipartisanship and collegial treatment of horrific characters like Mitch McConnell as a sign that the president is living in a bygone era and therefore ill-suited to this perilous time.
I’ll cop to having my doubts on this score early in Biden’s term, and though I see it differently now, I don’t think I was unreasonably cynical then. Can a man compromise with an Orc swarm? Can a party win if it scrupulously upholds norms when the opponent ruthlessly flouts them?
But I think what Foer is saying — correctly — is that Biden’s approach is premised on faith in democracy over the long haul rather than naivety about Repubs today. He knows exactly who they are but believes it’s more important to model how things are supposed to work than publicly smack down miscreants.
Reinforcing the culture of democracy is a bet, but Biden hedges it by separating Repubs into two groups — “normal” and “ultra MAGA” — and speaking plainly about the threat the latter pose to democracy. You don’t have to be a cynic to ask if the separation between the two groups has meaning anymore, but I think I understand now why Biden insists on it. He has to believe there’s a way back.
The outcome is still up in the air. Maybe the “Last” in Foer’s title is a warning about what will happen if Biden loses his bet.