The only way out for the US President would be for him to show less caution and more conviction that he means what he says, writes Prof. Madhav Nalapat
Whether welcome or not, Democratic Party candidates for the US House and Senate in the November midterms will be glued to the coattails of President J.R. Biden. Judging by the way in which voters are reacting to the increasing number of missteps by the 46th President on matters of policy, the Biden White House may result in a disaster similar to that witnessed by Barack Obama during his stint in the Oval Office. As with Obama, Biden has sought to reach out “across the aisle”, and in the process convinced many that he has no convictions save the desire to protect his job.
Obama chose Wall Street favourites to man key slots connected with the Street, forgetting that he was elected to “be the change that would make the change”. Less progress was made in the matter of racial equity in the US under the two terms of Barack Obama than has taken place just in the first year of a Biden term. Of course, his political instincts being attuned to the fraternity rules of the US Senate than to the scrimmage that democratic politics is, clumsy tactics have been plentiful. That an African-American woman jurist will be his choice for the US Supreme Court is unexceptionable.
There are more than a few such individuals, all of whom have gone unrepresented during the entire existence of the US Supreme Court, which has overwhelmingly been a club comprising of males of European extraction. Clarence Thomas may be superficially black, but his judicial pronouncements appear to reflect a mind that may have been in agreement with past Justices such as Chief Justice Robert Taney. This is unlike Thurgood Marshall, who understood lack of privilege and opportunity and reflected that in his judicial pronouncements. A better grasp of politics would have led Biden to check on women jurists of every hue before announcing his pick, which, surprise, surprise, would turn out exactly the way he had promised during the 2020 campaign.
Donald Trump erred in choosing the (admittedly capable) Amy Comey Barrett over her Latino rival Barbara Lago. Choosing the latter would have helped him and his party substantially where Latino votes are concerned, as was pointed out in these columns even before the 45th President’s final choice was made public. By publicly declaring that he would choose from only African-American women jurists, Biden’s pick will unfairly have the taint of ethno-based advantage in a context where ethnicity has played a role in so many nominations, including those made by President Trump. Telegraphing his preferences early has resulted in a flurry of condemnation. Some of these have been politically unwise for those who made them, as well as for the Republican Party, such as the unsavoury comments made by Senator Ted Cruz, who has on many issues shown great courage and foresight, including in the matter of dealing with the activities of the Chinese Communist Party.
Senator Cruz been a contrast to Senator McConnell, who has sought to give China a free pass by asking for harsh sanctions to be imposed with immediate effect on Russia, thereby fulfilling Beijing’s push to ensure that NATO’s focus remains on Moscow rather than shift to the Indo-Pacific. The Senate Minority Leader joins US President Joe Biden, who seems to have regressed in his geopolitical understanding back to Cold War 1.0 (USSR-US) from the ongoing Cold War 2.0 (PRC-US).
Indications of such a shift towards a CCP-friendly narrative had been present from the start, when he retained Dr Anthony Fauci (of Gain of Function renown) as his principal adviser on the pandemic when it would have been cheaper to taxpayers to have secured similar CCP-prepared conclusions from the WHO. It was forecast by WHO and Dr Fauci that a full lockdown lasting about two weeks would “break the chain” of transmissions of SARS-Cov-2. Such unprecedented measures certainly broke a considerable amount of crockery around the world as a consequence of adopting WHO-recommended measures in efforts to stop the spread of a pathogen that, at its worst, killed less than 3% of known patients. It may be added that SARS-Cov-2 is an affliction where most of the cases are asymptomatic, and hence remain undetected, so that the actual number of patients are much more than what gets recorded. Those (such as this columnist) who gave the initial benefit of the doubt to Biden where the approach to Cold War 2.0 was concerned, seem on track to having their expectations unfulfilled, at least by the present occupant of the White House.
The worst losers will be office-holders from the Democratic Party, who would suffer at the polls as a consequence of the unpopularity of their 2020 standard-bearer. The only way out for them, as for the US President, would be for him to show less caution and more conviction that he means what he says, and is willing to work towards actualisation of measures that he promotes in the media. Terrified of the “negative” reaction of the public to FDR’s threat to “pack the court”, in 1937, Biden has been cold to the imperative of raising the strength of the Supreme Court from 9 to 15. Instead, if he were point out to voters the way in which the Roberts court has rewarded money and privilege over the disadvantaged, and ask for a Democratic majority in the midterms sufficient to overturn Republican obstruction to his reforms, his party may not be gasping for breath, as is the case now.
In the case of Roosevelt, his tactics worked, and the US Supreme Court ceased from 1937 onwards to remain an obstacle to his New Deal. In contrast, the Roberts court, aware of the lack of interest in change of the White House, is multiplying its one-sided verdicts in a manner that shows that partisanship is strong within the minds of at least five of the nine justices. Apparently tone deaf to political reality, President Biden (and his party) seem unconcerned about the boost that the Islamophobia bill is giving to the Republican Party by the manner in which it deals with only a single faith rather than the spectrum of faiths in the US.
Toxic comments against Islam are indeed obnoxious, but so are similar comments against Christians, Sikhs or Hindus. Nor has he understood the importance of the ongoing battle within the Muslim Ummah in favour of moderation, and against Wahhabi radicalism. Hence Biden’s moves, such as the censure directed by Biden appointees towards the reformist regimes in Riyadh and Cairo, both of them also being US allies of long standing. Courage is usually a more potent magnet for votes than an excess of caution, something President Biden needs to consider as he approaches his midterms test.