Why do Democrats like Biden always defend Republican politicians? | Thomas Zimmer
Over the past few weeks, President Joe Biden has repeatedly emphasized his friendship with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. At National Prayer Breakfast in early February, for example, he praised McConnell as “a man of his word. And you are a man of honor. Thank you for being my friend.”
Biden’s publicly professed affinity is oddly at odds with the political situation. Returning to the Obama era, McConnell led the Republican Party in a strategy of near total obstruction which he continued with ruthless cynicism. It is true that he has, at times, signaled his distance from Donald Trump and condemned the January 6 insurrection. But McConnell is also sabotaging any effort to counter the Republican Party’s continued authoritarian assault on the political system.
The distinct asymmetry in how the two sides treat each other extends far beyond Biden and McConnell. Republicans immediately derided Biden’s promise to appoint a black woman to the Supreme Court – while Democratic leaders hope for bipartisan support; house tenant Nancy Pelosi insists the nation needs a strong Republican Party – meanwhile, radicals like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Paul Gosar, who fantasizes about committing acts of violence against Democrats, are embraced by their fellow Republicans, proving that they are not just an extremist fringe that has “hijacked” the Party, as Pelosi has suggested. And when Texas Senator Ted Cruz recently hinted that Republicans would impeach Biden if they were to take over the House “whether justified or not” the White House responded by calling on Cruz to “work with us to get something done”.
Republicans couldn’t be clearer that they view Democratic governance as fundamentally illegitimate, but some establishment Democrats are acting as if politics as usual is still an option and a return to ‘normal’. imminent.
There is certainly an element of political strategy in all of this. Democrats are eager to portray themselves as a force of moderation and unity. But Biden’s desire to understand beyond party lines seems sincere. He was reluctant make the fight against the Republican Party’s assault on democracy the centerpiece of its agenda; Democratic leaders have mostly been reluctant to draw public attention to the Republican Party’s authoritarian turn.
An important explanatory factor is that many Democratic leaders are elderly. They emerged in a very different political environment, when there was indeed a lot of bipartisan cooperation in Congress. There’s no reason to be nostalgic about it – the politics of bipartisan consensus has more often than not stifled racial and social progress. But there was certainly an established norm of intra-party cooperation until quite recently. When the California senator Dianne Feinstein hugs South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham at the end of the 2020 Amy Coney Barrett hearings was a bizarre throwback to those days of cross-party friendship amid a naked Republican power grab.
Beyond institutional tradition and personal familiarity, this failure to seriously address the post-Obama reality in which Democratic politicians are almost universally viewed as members of an “un-American” faction by most Republicans has deeper ideological roots. The way some establishment Democrats have acted suggests they feel a kinship with their Republican opponents based on a worldview of white elite centrism. Their view of the prospect of a reactionary white regime is influenced by whether, consciously or not, they understand that their elite status would not necessarily be affected as much. Republican dogma — that the world works better if it’s run by prosperous white people — has some appeal to wealthy white elites, regardless of party.
From this perspective, it is rational to believe that the greatest immediate threat comes from the “left”: an agenda to transform America from a restricted white male democracy that has largely preserved existing hierarchies into a multiracial, pluralistic and functional social democracy. is indeed a losing proposition for people who have traditionally been at the top. When Biden insists that “I am not Bernie Sanders. I am not a socialist, and instead emphasizes his friendship with Mitch McConnell, he offers more than strategic rhetoric. Many establishment Democrats seem to believe it is high time to push back against the “radical” forces of leftism and “revivalism.”
The constant attempts to normalize a radicalizing Republican party also have a lot to do with two founding myths that shape the collective imagination: the myth of American exceptionalism and the myth of white innocence. We may be decades away from the height of the so-called post-war “liberal consensus,” but much of the country’s Democratic elite still subscribes to an exceptionalist understanding that America is fundamentally good and the United States inexorably on the verge of overcoming everything there might still be residual problems. This often goes hand in hand with a mythical account of America’s past, portraying democracy as exceptionally stable. Never mind that a true multiracial democracy has existed for less than 60 years in this country. What could possibly threaten America so-called “old, consolidated” democracy? Recognizing what the Republican Party has become goes against the pillars of this worldview.
Finally, American political discourse is still significantly shaped by the white innocence paradigm. Economic anxiety, anti-elite backlash, or just plain liberal malice — whatever drives white extremism, it doesn’t have to be racism, and they can’t be blamed for their actions. White innocence dogma instinctively leads to elite opinion sanitize the reasons for the rise of right-wing demagoguesa common trend in commentary surrounding the success of George Wallace in the late 1960s, David Duke in the early 1990s, or Donald Trump in 2016. The idea of white innocence also blurs the perspective of Democratic elites on the Republican elites: since they cannot be driven by reactionary white nationalism, they must be driven by more benign forces, fear of the Trumpian base perhaps, or perhaps they are seduced by the dangerous demagogue.
“I actually like Mitch McConnell,” Biden said at a press conference a few weeks ago, offering a window into what he sees in Republicans: No matter what they do, underneath they’re good guys, they’ll be fine. . To promise. It is the manifestation of a specific worldview that makes it nearly impossible to recognize the depths of Republican radicalization – a perspective that severely hampers the struggle for the survival of American democracy.
Thomas Zimmer is a visiting professor at Georgetown University, specializing in the history of democracy and its discontents in the United States, and contributing opinion writer for the US Guardian.