A much steeper climb

What a missed opportunity! Trump lied throughout the debate, failed to answer moderator questions, and left a lot of room for Biden to counter his false claims and demagoguery. Trump did nothing to help himself in this debate. He was dreadful.

But Biden’s performance wasn’t up to snuff either. He appeared old, lacking in energy and inarticulate which were the perceptions that Biden and his advisors wanted to dispel coming into the debate.

His failure to do so makes the climb to a second term, not impossible, but much steeper for sure. How much? We don’t know at this point. We’ll find out more in the coming week or two. What we do know is that Trump’s miserable performance tonight gives us further evidence of the overarching imperative to do whatever is necessary, including changing horses in midstream, to defeat him.

Time to step down

Joe Biden should step down. And he could leave with a good measure of dignity and the applause of many that he did much that was good for the country while in the White House. In his first three years he registered a sizable number of legislative and political successes and shined a light on the existential danger to democracy and democratic governance as well as governed with a sense of dignity and compassion.

In this, his final year, the same cannot be said. Between his handling (or mishandling) of the genocidal like response of Netanyahu to the horrendous murder of 1200 people, mainly Jewish Israelis, in Israel on October 7 and his ineffectual campaign for a second term, capped off by his disastrous debate performance last night, he has lost the confidence of much of his Democratic Party constituency and many others Americans.

So much so that he would be well advised by his family and closest advisors to forgo his bid for a second term, thereby allowing the Democratic Party to choose someone else in his place at its coming convention later this summer. The stakes in this election are too high to roll the dice with the hope that Biden will recover the confidence of millions and cross the finish line first in November.

Stepping down and aside is surely an unpalatable thing to do if you are a sitting president; nobody likes to end a journey that you love prematurely, especially when it is implicitly, no matter what is said, an admission that you are not up to the task. But in Biden’s case, it is necessary to accept this truth for the sake of the country and its democracy, for the sake of winning the elections in November. In doing so, Biden could take comfort and earn the sincere and rightful applause and appreciation from many Americans that he had the courage and modesty to put the country above himself.

Lincoln, Douglass, and the elections

In thinking about the unhappiness of some young, progressive, and socialist minded voters who say they have a problem voting for Biden, we should remind them of the dilemma of the abolitionist movement when the Republican Party’s nominee in 1860 was a candidate whose oratory didn’t lift people out of their seats, telegenic he wasn’t (albeit in a non telegenic age), didn’t dress to the nines, and, above all, held a position on slavery that most abolitionists considered inimical to their own views and life work.

Of course, I’m talking about Lincoln, who, by his own words, said he wouldn’t abolish slavery where it existed, while adamantly opposing its expansion to states and territories where it didn’t.

In his famous Cooper Union Address in New York City in February of 1860, Lincoln in a single sentence provided the rhetorical ammunition that fueled the abolitionist critique of Lincoln and his politics:

“Wrong as we think slavery is, we can yet afford to let it alone where it is, because that much is due to the necessity arising from its actual presence in the nation; but can we, while our votes will prevent it, allow it to spread into the National Territories, and to overrun us here in these Free States?”

As you would expect, Lincoln’s words nagged at the conscience of abolitionists, while presenting them with a very practical question? Should they set aside their desire for a pure abolitionist ticket and cast a vote for a candidate who says that he won’t challenge slavery where it is, but will where it isn’t?

Or, should they refrain from party politics until a pure abolition ticket is on the ballot in some future election?

Not surprisingly, the abolitionist movement was divided. What would be mind-boggling is if they were not. Even those who voted for Lincoln must have done it with a mix of hesitations and hopes.

If social media was available during that time, some abolitionists might have established a #NeverLincoln site. Other abolitionists, including a sizable wing of Black political abolitionists, were of a different mind. They wanted no part in sitting out the election. Frederick Douglass was one of them, and while he had plenty of criticism of Lincoln, Douglass was a strategic and tactical thinker of the highest order and understood the dynamics of what a Lincoln’s election would set into motion. He wrote:

“What, then, has been gained to the anti-slavery cause by the election of Mr. Lincoln? Not much, in itself considered, but very much when viewed in the light of its relations and bearings. For fifty years the country has taken the law from the lips of an exacting, haughty and imperious slave oligarchy. The masters of slaves have been masters of the Republic. Their authority was almost undisputed, and their power irresistible. They were the President makers of the Republic, and no aspirant dared to hope for success against their frown. Lincoln’s election has vitiated their authority, and broken their power. It has taught the North its strength, and shown the South its weakness. More importantly, it has demonstrated the possibility of electing, if not an Abolitionist, at least an anti-slavery reputation to the Presidency of the United States. The years are few since it was thought possible that the Northern people could be wrought up to the exercise of such startling courage. Hitherto the threat of disunion has been as potent over the politicians of the North, as the cat-o’-nine-tails is over the backs of the slaves. Mr. Lincoln’s election breaks this enchantment, dispels this terrible nightmare, and awakens the nation to the consciousness of new powers, and the possibility of a higher destiny than the perpetual bondage to an ignoble fear.” (Excerpted from “The Late Election,” Douglass’ Monthly, December 1860, FULL TEXT via University of Rochester)

Let’s hope that those who say that they will never vote for Biden will take close measure of Douglass’ words and come to the understanding that Biden’s reelection is absolutely necessary if we hope to “break the spell” of Trump and the MAGA movement. To believe that sitting out the storm or voting for a third party candidate is the best course is a pernicious and dangerous delusion.

Let’s hope we are smarter. No Biden, no leverage. No chance of a progressive agenda. Forget about addressing climate disruption, embedded inequalities, hate crimes, and immigration flows. We will be fighting on our heels and rights will be lost. The slide toward a dark authoritarian time will begin. And once we arrive at that place, the climb back is steep, likely long, and eminently dangerous.

Leverage anyone

The Biden administration has demonstrated consummate skill in fashioning legislative majorities around a body of democratic and progressive legislation over the past four years. And this, notwithstanding a solid wall of opposition from Republicans in Congress. But even Republican opposition wouldn’t have stymied Biden’s agenda without an assist from Senator Joe Manchin (WVA) and the narrow loss of the House in the midterm elections.

Looking ahead to November, the challenge is clear: Defeat Trump and MAGA, re-elect Joe Biden, and elect a Democratic Congressional majority. If we do, much can be done to address the overarching challenges of economic security, equality, climate disruption, and even peace in the Middle East (where he hasn’t distinguished himself to put it mildly) and worldwide!

One can be white hot angry and deeply disappointed by Biden. And many voters are, particularly young voters. But neither anger nor disappointment are good reasons this year not to vote for him and Congressional Democrats in November. Too much is at stake! The alternative is unthinkable. With Biden and a Democratic Congressional majority we have some leverage and a positive legislative agenda in many respects. With Trump we don’t. It’s that simple!

Willie Mays

Willie Mays arguably baseball’s GOAT! His baseball skills were matched with a rare modesty and a deep sense of decency. Say Hey!

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