Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2912

The Biden presidency looks weaker by day

After the TV debate against Donald Trump, Joe Biden's presidency is on the ropes
Issue 2912
Joe Biden at the White House (Trump debate)

Joe Biden isn’t fit for presidency (Picture: The White House)

My guess is that Joe Biden’s presidency effectively came to an end last Thursday. A week earlier the Tory historian Niall Ferguson imagined, “American sailors asking themselves one day—perhaps as their aircraft carrier is sinking beneath their feet somewhere near the Taiwan Strait—are we the Soviets?”

Ferguson was referring to the last years of Stalinist Russia, the so-called “era of stagnation” during the 1970s and 1980s. It ended in utter economic and geopolitical collapse.

He argues that it is a sure sign of a declining empire when it starts spending more on servicing its debt than on the military, which he predicts the United States will start doing this year. But, Ferguson adds, “Even more striking to me are the political, social and cultural resemblances I detect between the US and the USSR.

“Gerontocratic leadership was one of the hallmarks of late Soviet leadership, personified by the senility of Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko”— presidents in Stalinist Russia in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Actually, none were senile, just old and infirm.

It was the much younger and more vigorous Mikhail Gorbachev who presided over the USSR’s disintegration. As one commentator Mark Krotov put it, “To compare Biden to this trio is—well, it’s Russophobic.”

Nevertheless, the comparison hit home to many watching the presidential debate, where 78-year-old Donald Trump confronted 81-year-old Biden. But it was the latter’s rambling, incoherent performance that struck—and scared—audiences around the world.

Trump may be a racist, sexist liar, but he’s in control of his faculties. The investigative journalist Seymour Hersh wrote, “The reality behind all of this, as I’ve been told for months, is that the president is simply no longer there, in terms of understanding the contradictions of the policies he and his foreign policy advisers have been carrying out.

“People in power have to be responsible for what they do, and last night showed America and the world that we have a president who clearly is not in that position today,” he said. “The real disgrace is not only Biden’s, but those of the men and women around him who have kept him more and more under wraps.”

If this is true, Biden is like Woodrow Wilson, who was largely incapacitated for the last 18 months of his presidency after suffering a stroke in October 1919. His wife and advisers kept his condition secret and took decisions on his behalf.

The office of US president has great powers, particularly when it comes to foreign policy and war. But increasingly the incumbent has largely ratified the decisions and provided the public face of what an adviser to Barack Obama called “the Blob”—the national security bureaucracy that manages the US’s global empire.

Biden has been a more reliable front person for the Blob than Trump was—although he has continued the latter’s economic war with China. Nevertheless, the editorial board of the New York Times newspaper, the voice of the mainstream of Biden’s Democratic Party, quickly urged, “To Serve His Country, President Biden Should Leave the Race.”

But he has insisted he is carrying on, and the Democratic Party establishment—with Biden’s predecessor Obama in the lead—is rallying round him. As with Emmanuel Macron’s disastrous decision to call a snap election in France, the neoliberal centre is opening the door to the far right.

Keeping Biden in the race favours the interests of Biden’s entourage. If he carries on, they hang onto their jobs and power for a while.

Moreover, replacing him as Democratic Party candidate would unleash a contest between vice president Kamala Harris and an assortment of obscure state governors. Whoever won the nomination would have nothing comparable to Trump’s profile or popular base.

His strongest card is the dire impact of inflation on living standards. He will continue to play it, and this will probably take him back into the White House.

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