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WHAT DOES JOE BIDEN BELIEVE?
It will matter soon.....
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The most revealing moment of Monday’s wide world of news came at the conclusion of Joe Biden’s moderately long engagement with the reporters who cover him.
After initially fielding another round of predictable questions that largely amounted to some variation of “How do you feel about — and what will you do about — what a bad person Donald Trump is?,” Biden was asked about a possible United States role in the new Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.
The Delawarean offered a typical politician’s bob-and-weave, saying it would be wrong for him to give his view, since the United States has only one president at a time.
When the reporter smartly followed up by pointing out that Biden has shown no such reticence on innumerable issues, such as the Paris climate pact, the president-elect-presumptive dodged with some seemingly non-sensical distinction-without-a-difference claim about the the contrast between a situation in which Biden is happy to offer a view and one in which he is not.
What happened next should not have been the least bit surprising to anyone who has watched Team Biden micro- and stage-manage the Biden brand: the press availability was suddenly ended.
I’ve covered Joe Biden for almost 30 years. I’ve studied him closely through his Senate career, his presidential runs, and his time as vice president.
I’ve listened to him intently, studied his policy statements, and wondered about his posture towards the different ideological and substantive wings of the Democratic Party.
And the result of all that reporting and cogitating is that I have almost no idea where Joe Biden stands on either specific issues or on the many philosophical disputes within the party and the country.
Why is it so hard to know where Biden stands?
I would posit it is some combination of at least five factors:
1. His advisers have for years and in 2020 cleverly fuzzed things up.
2. The media has almost never pressed him on his views.
3. Biden doesn't want to get crosswise with any elements of the Democratic coalition (as, for instance with Big Labor on trade issues).
4. Biden has mixed views on some issues.
5. Biden has no views on some issues.
While this lack of definition arguably well served the political interests of Senator Biden, Vice President Biden and 2020 presidential candidate Biden, it is easy to imagine that, despite the media’s general apparent lack of curiosity about Where Joe Stands, at some point a President Biden is going to have to actually not only weigh in decisively but convince the country that his passionately held views on matters of public import and controversy should animate the direction the nation heads.
One can cherry pick certain Biden responses from ed boards, debates, Senate floor speeches, and other venues to create a mirage construction of Where Joe Stands on almost any given matter.
But in reality, on most stuff, we have no idea.
This lack of clarity applies perhaps most significantly in two areas: economics and the record of the Obama-Biden administration.
Truly, I don’t know what Joe Biden would actually think of my thesis.
My guess is that he would argue that he has strongly held, frequently expressed positions on everything.
Truly, I know what some of his advisers think of this thesis: They hope they can continue to delay the days of reckoning on every one of these matters for as long as possible.
And/but the aides who works in comms laugh and laugh and laugh at how easy such stall tactics have been and, generally, are.
Besides that new Asian trade agreement, there are scores of items, just choosing from what is in the news today, on which it is really impossible to know what Biden thinks about the philosophical or practical choices he will face in 2021.
This list includes but is not limited to:
* What is the proper way for government to enforce mask wearing requirements?
* When considering shutdown measures, what is the proper balance between saving lives and saving jobs?
* What is the proper role for lobbyists to play in government?
* How aggressively should government be in deporting those who are in the United States illegally and what should happen ultimately with the more than 14 million such people in the country now?
* What should government do about the way Facebook uses its monopoly power to make money at the expense of the wider society?
* How should the Biden-Harris policies on Iran, North Korea, Iraq, Israel, and Afghanistan differ from the Obama-Biden and Trump-Pence policies?
* The same on, uhm, China and Russia.
* How should the federal government and a Democratic administration treat both Rupert Murdoch and the things he owns?
* What are the implications of these two Bret Stephens paragraphs:
It is perfectly possible to see Trump for the reprehensible man he is and still find something to like in his policies, just as it is possible to admire Biden’s character and reject his politics.
The apparent inability of many on the left to entertain the thought that decent human beings might have voted for Trump for sensible reasons — to take one example, the unemployment rate reached record lows before the pandemic hit — amounts to an epic failure to see their fellow Americans with understanding, much less with empathy. It repels the 73 million Trump voters who cannot see anything of themselves in media caricatures of them as fragile, bigoted, greedy and somewhat stupid white people.
* What does it mean to call school choice “the great civil rights issue of our time” and what do unions representing teachers think of that phrase?
Again, I could go on, adding to this list forever.
I hope it is clear that I have not chosen some esoteric catalogue of gotcha topics on which lack of clarity from someone just elected president of the United States is understandable.
Barack Obama and, certainly, Donald Trump, as candidates and even as presidents were often charged with demonstrating a lack of specificity on matters of public import, as well as an ideological flexibility to suit the moment.
But Joe Biden’s status as the very model of a pre-modern blank slate is, I suspect, about to help define the prospects he has a successful 2021 as much as almost anything else.
Thank you to those who attended Monday night’s Virtual Town Hall.
My apologies to those of you who took the time to register in advance and were not allowed entry. A combination of technical difficulties and overwhelming demand kept us from adding all of the registered guests into the Zoom room, preventing some of you from participating.
More town halls are on the way, and I hope those of you who got locked out last night will choose to return and get a chance to ask a question.
Thank you for your patience and understanding.
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