Andrew Sullivan: Biden is out of touch with political reality

Andrew Sullivan has a new piece up today at his Substack arguing that Joe Biden’s not so good first year is the result of him losing touch with political reality. He opens it by highlighting a Frank Luntz focus group of independent voters which appeared in the NY Times yesterday:

Frank Luntz: Raise your hands if you agree with that statement, that this is the lowest point in your lifetime.

[Six of 14 raise their hands.]

Alice (60, Latina, New York, supervisor for homeless services): I think they’ve taken us back to cave man time, where you would walk around with a club. “I want what you have.” You’re not even safe to walk around and go to the train station, because somebody might throw you off the train, OK? It’s a regression…

Dickie (38, white, Texas, financial analyst): When Alice was talking about the cave man thing, I can agree with that. I’ve had my bike stolen here in Austin, in a very gentrified neighborhood, four different times in the last seven, eight months. Things are kind of chaotic. I feel like there’s no rules, really…

Julia: [(50, white, Illinois, small-business owner)] I live in downtown Chicago. I’m sure you’ve heard on the news what’s been happening here. The crime in Chicago is completely out of control.

Mark (51, white, Texas, business manager): I think it’s kind of common sense when you’re trying to defund the police, that you take away from their budgets — logically, the crime is going to go up…

Azariah: [(38, Black, New York, hospitality)] A lot of these young kids, it’s so easy to get a gun. A lot of these kids are so young, and so a lot of these elderly folks, they fear for their lives. I have family in the police force, in N.Y.P.D. I know there are bad police officers out there, but there are a lot of good ones, and a lot of their good deeds don’t get highlighted.

The same group isn’t much more upbeat about the economy. Democratic PR flaks must be reading this transcript through tears. Sullivan uses this as a launching point to discuss Biden’s big press conference this week.

Now imagine these people watching Biden’s press conference on Wednesday.

It would have said absolutely nothing to them. It would show that the president doesn’t share their priorities, that he sees no reason to change course, that he has no real solution to inflation, and that his priority now is a massive voting rights bill that represents a Christmas tree of Dem wishes, opposition to which he categorized as racist as Bull Connor. Biden was, as usual, appealing as a human being: fallible, calm, reasonable, and more “with it” than I expected. I can’t help but like him and want the best for his administration.

But the sheer gulf between the coalition that voted for him and the way he has governed became even wider as the time went by. Joe Biden can say a million times that he’s not Bernie Sanders. But when his priority has been to force through two massive bills full of utopian leftist dreams, and conspicuously failed to pass either, while also embracing every minor woke incursion in American life, he’s just a Bernie Sanders without the conviction or mandate. Which is … well, not great.

But if they haven’t heard much that speaks to their actual concerns from Biden and Democrats, they certainly have heard plenty that doesn’t.

Another aspect of the problem is that so many Dem activists and groups have deeply imbibed the notion that America in 2022 is a “white supremacist” country, designed to suppress non-whites, and that we are now living in a system of de facto “legal fascism,” with a minority “white” party holding the country in its undemocratic grip, perhaps forever. The Democrats and elite liberals really seem to believe that we are back in the 1960s or 1890s or even 1860s, that we live in a black-vs-white world of good vs evil, and that the choice today is literally, in Biden’s words, between backing Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis. This is as self-righteous as it is ludicrous. It’s MLK envy. It’s an attempt to recreate the moral clarity of the civil rights movement, in a country no one from 1964 would begin to recognize.

Finally, Sullivan invites readers to imagine the speech Biden could have given, the one that actually did speak to voters’ concerned about violent crime, education and inflation.

Imagine if Biden had given a tub-thumping speech last week not on why it’s still 1964 in America, but on why he is appalled by the soaring murder rates in many cities, especially in poor and minority neighborhoods, and opposes the catastrophic soft-on-crime policies Democrat DAs are promoting around the country. Go visit the NYPD with Mayor Adams. Work with Romney on childcare assistance. Head to San Francisco to support Mayor Breed’s attempt to rein in anarchy. Now that would hurt Trump.

I don’t have the same faith in Biden’s character that Sullivan does. I remember him using race as a political cudgel before he was president, so I don’t think his speech in Georgia was really that surprising. But I do think there’s some sense in which Biden seems almost hopelessly isolated from reality. The people surrounding him are more progressive than he was on the campaign trail. Maybe if he were younger and more energetic he’d push back on whatever Ron Klain is whispering in his ear, but as it stands Biden seems to be riding the wave of leftist enthusiasm and he’s paying a price for it.

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