Note to Biden’s Defenders: “Shut Up!!” is not an Argument (Part Two)

[Note: My new column on Verdict today, "Does the Biden Stay-or-Go Debate Matter If We Are Already a Dead Democracy Walking?" discusses the Biden nomination controversy from my more familiar all-is-(probably)-lost perspective.  The column below continues to discuss the controversy based on the assumption that the Republicans would be unable to carry out a coup.]

In Part One of this column yesterday, I offered the first half of the observation that the current Biden-or-not-Biden argument among people who oppose Trump (which includes not only Democrats but everyone who has even a shred of decency) has been depressingly asymmetrical.  The Biden people have gone on the attack, whereas the people who think that Biden should step aside have been notably -- I might even say excruciatingly -- deferential to Biden because of everything that he has accomplished.

I am in the next category over from the Biden-must-go caucus, which means that I can be persuaded that Biden is still the better option in a terrifying situation.  That is, I am not sure that having Biden out and someone else in is the better choice.  I say only that he might not be the best way to defeat Trumpism, which means that I am more than open to hearing a persuasive case for lining up behind him.  Much to my dismay, however, his supporters have instead followed the pattern of two of the most disturbing relatively recent episodes in US political history where a person who momentarily seemed to be down for the count suddenly jumped up and "won" by playing the victim.

I am referring to now-Justices Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh, both of whom were left for dead after a morning's hearings but miraculously saved themselves later in the day by claiming to be the victims of evil insiders.  To be very clear, I am not in any way saying that Biden is substantively equivalent to either Thomas or Kavanaugh.  Indeed, I have written many times about how impressed I am by everything that Biden has done.  That, however, is a matter of substance -- which matters more than anything, but it is still not everything.  As a matter of process, Biden and his team have now decided to use every "I'm the victim of the big bad people who hate me" trope that they can conjure.

Again, my argument in yesterday's Part One was that the people who are considering a non-Biden presidential alternative have been, if anything, impressively respectful.  Unfortunately, these doubters' calls to think carefully about our current situation in order to reach a consensus about how best to challenge Trump have been met with the following responses (and others) from the Biden camp, in no particular order: Shut up!  You're just the elites.  You don't care about the people who would be hurt by a fascist regime.  You're helping the media, which only cares about ratings.  You never liked Biden, anyway.  You're a bunch of nervous nellies.  Stop the circular firing squad.  And that is the printable stuff.

As the ideas for this column began to coalesce in my mind, I noticed that the overall theme from Team Biden has been to offer an endless series of embarrassingly bad arguments.  That is not to say that there are not some bad arguments on the other side, of course.  For example, I personally do not think that George Stephanopoulos's interview question last Friday -- whether Biden can serve for another full four-year term -- is at all relevant.  That is why the Twenty-fifth Amendment exists, after all.  If someone could convince me that Biden will beat Trump but become too infirm to serve on January 21, 2025, that would be fine by me (and I assume with Biden as well, if he believed that prediction), at least as a political matter.  Biden is right that this is an existential question about the future of the US as a non-dictatorship, so stopping Trumpism is all that matters.  Anyone who says that Biden should not run because he might not serve a full second term is as off base as Biden seems to be on the threshold question of whether he should run.

And I readily concede that there are very valid counter-arguments that keep-Biden people can (and sometimes have) offered.  We simply do not know whether, for example, Republicans would be able to keep Biden's replacement off the ballot in some key states.  We also do not know whether any choice other than Kamala Harris would drive down turnout from key constituencies and thus hurt the Democrats.  I would point out, however, that the same people who are telling us that we need to worry about those who would be hurt by a Trump dictatorship are not well positioned to say that those most vulnerable people will not bother to keep Trump out of the White House if they do not get their first (or second or third or fourth) choice to lead the ticket.

Similarly, the screaming from the Biden defenders about circular firing squads (along with "This is what Democrats always do!" and other variations on the theme) have a simple solution at hand.  They could agree with the other side.  They are saying: "You people are tearing the party apart by disagreeing with us.  You have to come over to our side, or our continued division will be your fault."  Telling someone that arguing is harmful is a good reason to stop arguing, not to blame the other side.

And what about timidity?  As someone who has often chided Democrats for being weak in the knees, I can say that  this argument is not about who is or is not timid.  Both sides are telling everyone else to take a risk -- keeping Biden is a risk, replacing Biden is a risk -- and it would be funny if the stakes were not so serious to note that the keep-Biden side is simultaneously saying that the other side is a bunch of wussies but also that they would lead the party into risky, scary, unknown territory.

The problem, then, is that one side wants to have an honest discussion; and as I noted above, that discussion could in fact lead reasonable people to conclude that keeping Biden on the ticket is in fact the least-bad of the bad options.  At that point, everyone could unite and say, "We now know what we have to do, so let's go do it."  At present, however, what I am seeing and hearing from Biden and his surrogates is a series of reality-challenged ad hominem attacks (seriously, opposing Biden is an elitist position?), honest-to-goodness silliness, and snide arguments that would fit in well in TrumpWorld.  On that latter point, arguing that Biden-doubting Democrats should shut up and that anyone who will not toe the line is a Big Media enabler?  Again, seriously?

Other arguments are merely weird.  One NeverTrump political operative argued that those who want Biden not to run this year must also be willing to tell him that he has to resign the presidency immediately.  When asked why, she very confidently asserted that there would be Too Much Political Pressure not to do that.  Huh?  Biden and the Democrats could easily argue that he can do the very difficult job of being President for the next six months, especially if he is released from the rigors of also being a full-time candidate.  But beyond that, so what?  If there were enough political pressure to cause Biden to resign the presidency, that would immediately make Harris presidential -- because she would be President.  I am not saying that I know whether that would be a net plus or minus in November, because no one knows.  But telling the people who are asking for an honest conversation to shut up about who is running because it might lead to a different conversation is, again, weird.

But I have saved the most puzzling argument for last.  The Biden people say with straight faces that because Biden won the primaries fair and square, it would be illegitimate not to nominate him.  When I first heard that argument last week, I laughed out loud and noted that the person making it was a relatively unknown commentator.  As much as I wanted to respond, it felt like punching down.  Then another pundit made the same point the following day, followed by a Democratic US Senator on Saturday.  Yesterday, I saw that one of the purported explanations for why so many Black voters have been rallying behind Biden is that "they don’t want their votes in the presidential primary to be overturned."

And after a very short gestation period, this is now a central argument from the Biden campaign itself.  Biden made the argument in his letter to Democrats in Congress on Monday.  And on Monday night, a surrogate identified as Biden-Harris Principal Deputy Campaign Manager Quentin Fulks went on MSNBC and said this:

The voters have overwhelmingly said that Joe Biden is the Democratic nominee.  ...  President Biden got 87 percent of the 14 million votes cast ...  The voters have spoken.  President Biden is the presumptive Democratic nominee.  Our campaign has earned that.  ... Joe Biden has been the nominee ever since we wrapped up the Democratic primary process, with force.  Voters overwhelmingly spoke."

Could we please have a discussion in which no one insults the intelligence of the other people in the room?  This is like the people who say that the UK must never reconsider Brexit. even in light of new evidence, because "the people have spoken."  The Bidenites' argument is even worse, however, because of course the only reason that Biden amassed seven out of every eight votes cast is that he and his people shut down the process and made it abundantly clear that anyone who challenged him would be punished.  That is not unusual, and it is not even necessarily bad, because an incumbent President has good reason to try to avoid a challenge.  Taking that as proof that The People Have Spoken, however, is more than a bit rich.

More to the present point, we have more information now than we had during the primaries -- and much more information than we had during the months leading up the primaries, when potential candidates would have been raising money and building campaigns.  People, and this includes me, sighed and agreed that if Biden insisted on running again, we might as well accept that as an unchangeable fact and fall in line to support the only alternative to Republican one-party autocracy.

As a result, however, the Biden people are now basically saying, "Too late, you made your choice!"  They actually seem to think that they can get us to believe it, too, even though they know that they did everything possible to make sure that there was no real choice.  Had we been able to see into the future, there is every reason to think that things would not have gone so smoothly for Biden in the primaries.  And it is not as though Biden's journey through the primaries was smooth sailing, given that he lost 13 percent of the vote in what was in essence an uncontested race.  Those "no" votes overwhelmingly went not to another candidate but were clearly protest votes.  This is not the nomination by acclamation that the Biden people are describing.

At this point, I admit that I am genuinely annoyed with the people who are telling everyone else to shut up.  They are projecting weakness rather than strength, and they are attacking people who are offering good-faith arguments and raising important questions.  Everyone in this discussion is ultimately on the same side.  It would be much more calming if the President and his supporters had the confidence to rely on persuasion rather than shouting and bullying.

Lest I be misunderstood, I emphasize here that if they get their way and Biden is indeed the nominee, he will be the only rational choice on Election Day.  I only wish that we could get there on the basis of an honest assessment of the choices rather than by vilifying anyone who dares wonder whether a different choice might make more sense.