President Joseph Robinette Biden is not as successful as Lyndon Baines Johnson was in the job. Johnson presided over the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, the successful and long-lasting pivot of the Democratic Party from the party of slavery to the oppressed Black voter’s best friend, the soft socialism of the Great Society, and the hard anti-communism of the Vietnam War. As Democrats go, I could make a strong argument that he was the most successful president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and arguably more successful in getting his agenda passed than William Jefferson Clinton or even Barack Hussein Obama.
Yet in 1968, the country was in turmoil. The Soviet Union was as strong as ever, there were riots in the streets of American cities, and America’s military was rocked by the North Vietnamese Tet offensive. The public mood was ornery and exhausted. Johnson, who would have been a lock for the nomination, decided instead to withdraw. History has been kinder to Johnson than his cutthroat politics should deserve.
Joe Biden should retire from public life a winner. After all his years in government service—Biden was 25 when Johnson declined to run in 1968, and just 29 when he was elected to the Senate in 1972—the 80-year-old who actually peaked as Barack Obama’s Vice President should bow out now.
This country is in turmoil. Russia is locked in a long war with Ukraine, into which we are being inexorably pulled further and further toward the “line” of direct military contact with Putin’s troops and Wagner criminals. There are Antifa protests in Atlanta that are being dismissed because “property damage” (setting fire to and illegally occupying land set for a law enforcement training center, and shooting police officers) is not “violence” if not done by right-wing militias. Portland is pockmarked with filthy anarchists and nihilists controlling private property and calling it their Nirvana. San Francisco is making even far-left residents recoil at its lack of proper governance.
NATO is fracturing over Sweden and Turkey. Germany and Japan are rearming at a rapid rate while the U.S. swings in line to follow Berlin rather than setting the standard. China has its tendrils in everything, everywhere, from its quickly crumblinginvestments in low-grade “Belt and Road” international initiative, to its large spynetwork in America, to its penetration of education and technical institutions. I can also mention China’s increasing military bravado and its sights on Taiwan.
America’s economy is caught between the left’s devotion to the extreme radical climate change cult and protectionist policies put in place by Trump and left there (or doubled down) by Biden’s administration. Our border problem is not in the least bit solved, and Americans’ trust in government, the media, and even the judiciary is depressingly low.
Yet Joe Biden is not a bad guy in most people’s minds. He bungled getting us out of Afghanistan, but he did get us out. He managed to bring the country out of COVID, though the disease will be with us for a very long time (the Spanish Flu is still here too in various annual flu strains). Biden got his infrastructure plan and his green investment plans through Congress, and managed to not lost the Senate in his midterm election. Republicans are making a clown show of running the House of Representatives, and many of the investigations against Biden will be side-show wastes of time. The January 6th Select Committee’s work will live on as a testament to the excesses of populism and personality cults.
Biden is not a cult of personality guy. He could decline to run and leave a respected elder statesman, and put his wind behind a new sail, in whoever the Democrats decide should run. While nobody interesting comes to mind (Eric Swalwell? No.), it’s time for the octogenarian generation to move into its sunset in the Democratic Party, just as it’s time for Republicans to finally cut the last strands of its ties to Donald John Trump.
There have been comparisons made between Biden and LBJ. Both were in the shadow of hugely popular personalities. Both served a long time in the Senate before rising to Vice President. Both faced deeply troubling problems while in office, but both also had their successes. Johnson stepped aside, tried unsuccessfully to end the Vietnam War with a peace initiative (which private-citizen Nixon secretly conspired to derail), and ultimately, Richard Milhous Nixon ascended to the presidency—where he promptly continued many of Johnson’s policies, birthed the EPA, expanded the Vietnam War into Cambodia, and betrayed conservative “Goldwater” Republicans. All of Johnson’s problems became Nixon’s and Nixon got blamed.
Someone—Ron Klain on his way out?—needs to tell Joe Biden that it’s time to unload his problems on the next guy to occupy the White House. If he leaves now, his legacy (the bad parts) will be blamed on Trump, and the rest will be the next guy (or gal)’s problem. If Biden stays, he will certainly decline, both mentally, physically, and in his fitness for the office. The presidency is a giant weight to the most healthy, young and vigorous people. It will crush a man who would potentially serve past his 84th birthday.
Nobody will blame Biden for stepping away. He will be lauded and celebrated for it. But if he runs, nothing good can come of it. I know, Republicans salivate at the chance to beat him. But why should anyone vote for a Republican when the GOP leadership is even considering Mike Lindell to co-chair and RNC? Why should anyone vote Republican when Speaker Kevin McCarthy won’t agree to keep George Santos off any committees, and has handed plum committee assignments to conspiracist kook Marjorie Taylor Greene? There are millions of Republicans and MAGA-ites who will vote for a Republican to keep Democrats out of the White House, but there’s a very decent chance Biden would win another term.
Biden needs to truly put America first in his own long history of public service, and not run. He might win—or he might lose to someone worse. His best bet, personally and for the country, is to do what Johnson did and step away.
I’m hearing that he will run, but hopefully he will shock us all by declining, like Johnson did.
Follow Steve on Twitter @stevengberman.
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