Andrew Sullivan gives Biden a pat on the back

October 31, 2020 • 1:15 pm

I haven’t found the latest few installments of Andrew Sullivan’s The Weekly Dish terribly exciting, and, truth be told, they haven’t been as thoughtful or engaging as his old tripartite column for New York Magazine. I know his readers enjoy the ability to publish their “dissents”, which is good, and like to guess “where was this photo taken?”, but I prefer his serious, longer-form pieces.

There’s only one such piece per week now, and this week’s is about Joe Biden. It’s pretty good, but I’m wondering if my $50 subscription was well spent. I’m hoping that, after the election, Sullivan will find new and interesting things to write about. I’m not giving up yet.

I think The Weekly Dish is now pay-only, but if you subscribe you can see the post by clicking on the screenshot below. I’ll give a few excerpts, but I have little to say about Sullivan’s take, which is fine but unoriginal.

Do note that this week’s podcast on Sam Harris’s Making Sense site, also reproduced on Sullivan’s page, is a 1.5-hour conversation between the two of them about Trump. I’ll probably listen to it since it’s relatively short for Sam (how can anyone listen to three hours of conversation?), so stay tuned.  If you subscribe to Andrew’s site, the podcast is free there, but if you don’t subscribe to Sam’s site you can listen to only an excerpt. I guess the serious media people on the Left have decided that, in the future, podcasts are the way to go. They’re more lucrative and also more spontaneous, but I’m happy to keep typing.

Sam says this about Andrew on the site:

[Sullivan] is writing a book on the future of Christianity, and his collection of essays will be published in 2021.

Christianity, eh? That should be interesting!

The main lesson from Sullivan’s piece is that Biden is not going to further wokeness in America, and that Uncle Joe turned out much better than Sullivan anticipated. Just a few excerpts:

. . . Biden’s core appeal, as he has occasionally insisted, is that he ran against the Democratic left, and won because of moderate and older black voters with their heads screwed on right. He was the least online candidate. For race-leftists like Jamelle Bouie, he was part of the problem: “For decades Biden gave liberal cover to white backlash.” For gender-warriors like Rebecca Traister, he was “a comforter of patriarchal impulses toward controlling women’s bodies.” Ben Smith a year and a half ago went for it: “His campaign is stumbling toward launch with all the hallmarks of a Jeb!-level catastrophe — a path that leads straight down … Joe Biden isn’t going to emerge from the 2020 campaign as the nominee. You already knew that.” The sheer smug of it! And the joy of seeing old Joe get the last laugh.

. . . His core message, which has been remarkably consistent, is not a divisive or partisan one. It is neither angry nor bitter. Despite mockery and scorn from some understandably embittered partisans, he has a hand still held out if Republicans want to cooperate. In this speech at Warm Springs, where Biden invoked the legacy of FDR, you can feel the Obama vibe, so alien to the woke: “Red states, blue states, Republicans, Democrats, Conservatives, and Liberals. I believe from the bottom of my heart, we can do it. People ask me, why are you so confident Joe? Because we are the United States of America.”

. . . What I grieve is an idea of America that is decent, generous, big-hearted, and pragmatic, where the identity of a citizen, unqualified, unhyphenated, is the only identity you need. I miss a public discourse where a president takes responsibility even for things beyond his full control, where the fault-lines of history are not mined for ammunition but for greater understanding, where, in Biden’s words, we can once again see the dignity in each other. I am not a fool, and know how hard this will be. But in this old man, with his muscle memory of what we have lost, and his ability to move and change in new ways, we have an unexpected gift.

Sullivan is a big believer, as I used to be, in America United—the possibility that someone could bring the ends of the political spectrum together and we’d be One Big Happy Country. While I fervently wish that were possible, and it’s my ideal as well (so long as the Happy Country is a liberal one!), I don’t think that it’s possible for Biden, or anyone, to Superglue the fractures in the American populace. Yes, we may well have a Democratic Senate, House, and President, and that means that things will get done, but don’t expect the evangelicals, the gun nuts, the anti-maskers, and others on the extreme right to come around. And, of course, we’re facing a Supreme Court that will fight liberalism at every turn.

32 thoughts on “Andrew Sullivan gives Biden a pat on the back

  1. >>…don’t expect the evangelicals, the gun nuts, the anti-maskers, and others on the extreme right to come around….

    Agreed. And perhaps even worse, they might not only refuse to ‘come around.’ I fear that too many among them will act violently.

    It feels as though some perverted toothpaste has been seeping out of the tube and I don’t know that it can be put back. (I hope that I shall be proven spectacularly wrong.)

    1. Ron Suskind (author of several books about George W. Bush’s administration) wrote a piece in yesterday’s NYT — based on numerous interviews with current and former Trump administration officials — about the possible scenarios that could play out among Trump supporters after Tuesday’s election.

  2. “…we’re facing a Supreme Court that will fight liberalism at every turn.” Sure enough.

    Past history is instructive, and may or may not be encouraging. Before 1937, the SCOTUS ruled against various New Deal enactments. Right after his 1936 landslide re-election, President Roosevelt proposed the Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937, to fix this.
    He discussed it in a fireside chat. Soon after, SCOTUS upheld a New Dealish minimum wage law in Washington State by a bare 5:4 majority. Later, it upheld the Wagner Nat’l. Labor Relations Act—the New Deal’s iconic legislation—by the same bare 5:4 majority.

    The Justice whose shift into the new majority was named—wait for it—Roberts!
    Owen Roberts in that case. In this century,
    we need two Robertss. Gorsuch? Who knows?
    Or else a new Judicial Reform Act.

  3. I wish Biden well, but assuming he wins and Trump doesn’t stage a coup, his troubles will only be beginning, even if the Democrats take the Senate. As to be expected, the Trump cult will still be around, festering in their cesspool of grievances of persecution. Right-wing violence may become commonplace. McConnell and his fellow congressional Republicans will, as under Obama, offer no cooperation. But, Biden will also face the unraveling of the coalition that got him elected, probably just days after the election. The far left that voted for him out of fear of what Trump would do in a second term, not that they actually liked him, will immediately demand that he support programs that Biden does not like temperamentally and have no chance of passage. The far left will create trouble for Biden — that is for sure. Thus, the Democratic center and traditional liberals will have trouble getting legislation passed. The Supreme Court will be poised to strike down liberal legislation should any pass.

    All this means that despite Biden’s best intentions, a united America is not likely. There are no indications that he will be able to diminish significantly the deep polarization. The sea will be calmer with Trump gone, but still very choppy.

    1. My expectation of what will happen during a Biden presidency is not as bleak. I don’t see much chance of a united America but I do think they’ll be able to pass some legislation, assuming the Dems win the Senate. Democrats in Congress will be under great pressure to unite in order to teach the Republicans a lasting lesson. That shouldn’t be too hard as Biden is a centrist and won’t be trying to pass too radical an agenda. Health care and taxing the rich are popular with voters and the Republicans will find it hard to fight against. One thing I do worry about is the difficulty of a Biden administration to do much about the pandemic. There’s too high an infection rate to battle with a testing and isolation regimen. He’ll increase mask wearing a little but not enough to matter that much. We’ll all still be waiting for a vaccine. Enemies of Biden will claim without evidence that it is taking much longer to get a vaccine than it would have under Trump since he’s promised one in weeks.

      As far as the Supreme Court is concerned, the Trump appointees will not feel much pressure to think about what Trump or the GOP would have them do. As with past Supremes, they will worry more about their legacy. Six of them will still be conservative, of course, but they are limited by the Constitution even more than the others. The Dems should be careful to pass Constitutionally sound legislation, which they should do anyway.

  4. I do not expect a united America, we never had that anyway. People say, well, we were united during WWII. No, not really. The isolationist never really came around and the Republicans hated FDR with a passion. When he died at the end of WWII they cheered. You have to force feed the republicans or whatever they want to call themselves, otherwise you have the extreme rich, and all the rest. That is what they want. That is what they think they have bought with the court. The facts of history are that FDR got the country through the worst financial crisis and then engineered our victory in WWII. But who cares. The American public of today is open to every con job and scam that comes along. They are mostly made up of herd followers waiting for the next Jesus to walk in the room. They want everything they can get and forget about paying for it. That is America.

    1. My knowledge of Iowa politics is not nearly as sharp as yours but the eastern half of Iowa is always where the democrats were. Maybe many are coming home again? What Trump and his China crap has done is turn most the Iowa farmers into welfare projects living off of handouts from the taxpayers. I suspect they know that is wrong. Joni Ersts, the Senator from Red Oak is as phony as a three dollar bill. She played up her veteran status when her guard unit was called up. Big star of Iraq. Nonsense, she spent most of her time in Kuwait where it was safe. After all, she acts like a combat vet when she was an officer in charge of logistics.

  5. The only way to unify the country in any meaningful sense is to reduce the power and scope of the federal government. The reason people are increasingly at each others’ throats is because the stakes are increasingly higher as the size of government grows.

    The federal government should be responsible for protecting individuals from foreign aggression and internal infringement on their rights by the states and local governments. If all other powers remain with the states and the people, as decreed in the 9th and 10th amendments to the constitution, the political battles at the federal level wouldn’t be as vicious.

    When people can vote with their feet by moving to a different state, there is less reason for differences to escalate. When the federal government can impose one set of mandates on everyone, there is far more incentive to fight without compromise.

    The problem isn’t the people in power, it’s the power itself.

    1. You make a pretty good republican from the sound of it. By the way, how is that state managed virus pandemic working out?

      1. About as well as the rights of minorities worked out under the “states’ rights” regime that prevailed for the first two centuries this Republic’s existence, until passage of the landmark federal civil-rights legislation of the mid-1960s.

          1. Social security, medicare, and other entitlement programs should be the first to be removed from the federal budget. Yes, it will need to be done carefully, but those are not proper functions of the feds under the constitution.

        1. Protecting civil rights of individuals against the states is something I explicitly mentioned as a proper function of the federal government.

      2. “Republican” seems to be your go to insult, despite having been informed in the past that I am far from the GOP. It also appears to be how you avoid making a substantive response to the argument I made.

        With regard to state management of the pandemic, that would work far better than the pathetic non-response at the federal level. Each state is different — a one size fits all solution isn’t possible. If, at the beginning of the pandemic, the populist in chief had told the governors that the federal government would provide whatever logistical support needed and protect the borders from external carriers, we would have seen a lot more experimentation and more viable solutions appearing.

        The problem is centralized power.

        1. Given free movement of people between states, I take issue with your suggestion that each state handling its own reaction to the pandemic would be the way to have gone. In fact, due to the bad response at the federal level, it could be said that state-by-state was actually how COVID was handled. You appear to be arguing that we needed even more of that failed response.

          As I see it, the need for each state to have its own government is a relic of how things were centuries ago. In the modern world it is more of a hindrance than a help. Sure, multi-level hierarchical government structure has its role but there is way too much duplication resulting in terrible inefficiency. The differences between states are more artificial than meaningful.

  6. I see Biden as a necessary stepping stone toward a more progressive and inclusive future.
    My dream: That under a Biden presidency, besides getting the damn pandemic under control, we …
    a) Get Washington DC and/or Puerto Rico full statehood. This would greatly help to tip elections toward democrats.
    b) The above would help moderate republicans. With that in tow, the whole country will gradually evolve to become more progressive. Socialized medicine and other measures would seem far less ‘radical’.
    d) Something be done about the $%&$# electoral college.
    e) The procedures for electing supreme court judges should be modified to make it more boring and less partisan.

    Well, that is the future in my “happy place”. No doubt establishment republicans will find some way to f- it up.

  7. ‘how can anyone listen to three hours of conversation? … but I’m happy to keep typing.’

    I subscribe to Skeptic magazine’s newsletter, and it usually includes an interview lasting a couple of hours. The topic may be interesting, but I don’t listen, it’s too long.

    Half an hour is my limit, and I’ll read a transcript instead if I can.

  8. I listened to the Sullivan/Harris podcast. It wasn’t really that interesting. Overall it was more Sullivan than Harris. I did find I disagreed with Sullivan on a few things, which surprised me, the most important of which were his opinions of the Mainstream Media. He feels that they are tremendously biased against Trump. It’s not that he loves Trump but he feels that the MSM goes too far. He complains that they give Joe Biden a pass on Hunter Biden’s laptop. As has been noted by several commentators, media outlets seem to be colluding in a decision not to give the laptop case any serious airtime and Sullivan feels that’s a serious breach of journalistic ethics. Personally, I think Trump and his minions really give them no choice but to shut it down. They’ve looked at the evidence and decided it’s a fabricated story. If they are forced into blowing the issue up, then we risk a repeat of Hillary Clinton’s emails in 2016 and Biden’s election could be derailed for no reason. That would be worse regardless of whether the ethics are journalistic or not.

    1. Maybe not relevant since Sullivan probably did not know about it but are you aware of the big Trump story just out the other day by the NYTs. It is a really good investigative report on his actions regarding Turkey. I won’t go into all of it here but you should get a look at it. Very impeachable for Trump and his lackey Attorney General Barr. If Sullivan would ignore the “MSM” and just stick to the investigative real stuff from the Times and the Post he might have a better idea. I personally think the MSM gives Trump way to much air time and they are as responsible for his high popularity as anyone else. He gets tons of free coverage that no other politician gets.

      1. Yes, I am aware of the Turkey issue but we know Trump is immune from impeachment. It’s hard to get excited over yet one more tally against Trump. It may be more important after he leaves office but only if Dems decide to prosecute him and his hench-persons. I fully expect a President Biden would not push for investigations in order to better unite the country. I would prefer to see those that supported Trump feel the full weight of the law but they wouldn’t feel chastened, only cheated. It would be nowhere near as satisfying as it ought to be.

        I do think the MSM gives Trump too much air-time but, after all, he is the President so they really don’t have that much choice. It will be interesting to see how they treat him after he’s gone. He’ll still have Fox News and right-wing media though it is unclear how long that will last.

        I get the feeling from what you say here that you feel Sullivan is just not keeping up with the details on Trump’s crimes. If so, I agree. There are a lot of commentators that are like that. They are anti-Trump but they don’t really know the extent of his crimes and dysfunction.

        1. Yes, it is like everyone is just immune to the stuff this guy has done. If any other politician did any of this stuff the press would be all over it non stop. But this Turkey business, does not even make the news on TV. The only big coverage of this event I saw on Rachael Maddow’s show.

  9. I don’t know prof, that’s not bad (for Andrew S. who gets a LOT wrong).

    I do pay for Sam’s podcast (play at 1.25x) though (along w/ the Atlantic and my hometown New Woke Times – TELL me about it!).

    And yes, Biden isn’t super glue, but he’s the best adhesive we’ve got.

    D.A., NYC

  10. There’s only one poll that has consistently predicted victory for Trump, one by the Democracy Institute. Now, I don’t know much about that group, but there’s an interview with the director in Forbes wherein he brings up some worrying problems with other polling. Again, I don’t know much about the group, and I haven’t been able to check out the claims the director makes in any great detail. But if he’s right, I’ve got even less certainty than the little I had before of a Biden victory, though I do still think he’ll win. (Turnout, for example, which the director mentions as being overestimated by other polls, actually seems to be pretty high).

    The interview:

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