The six most boring words in my kind of journalism are, “Imagine if this were a Republican.”
Highlighting pro-Democratic media bias is Sisyphean work—and so I will here duly insert: Harrumph, harrumph, etc.—but there is more at work in the media’s predictably gentle approach to the shenanigans of the Biden clan, which are, do note, not limited to the antics of the president’s son, Hunter. It is not only Hunter who has shady dealings with far-flung oligarchs and princelings. And Biden’s misdeeds are right there in the open.
Consider the president’s effort to persuade our good friends in Saudi Arabia to delay planned production cuts that might contribute to even higher gasoline prices. The president did not ask the Saudis to reverse the policy, but rather to postpone its execution by one month—meaning after themidterm elections.
The shape of the thing is Trumpian: The president has tried to persuade a foreign government to provide him with political assistance to help him through a difficult election. But the style of the thing was not Trumpian, and you don’t hear any outcry about this scandal because almost nobody who matters thinks it is a scandal. I am 100 percent confident that some of you will respond that this is in some very important way entirely different from Donald Trump’s “perfect” telephone call to Volodymyr Zelensky, in which he tried to bully the Ukrainian president into launching an investigation of Joe and Hunter Biden’s business dealings in Ukraine. I am not persuaded that this is the case. And Trump was impeached over that matter. Biden will be criticized, if at all, in only the most charitable of terms.
The Biden administration is in a bind when it comes to energy policy—a problem that is not going to go away for Democrats. The dilemma is this: A relatively small group of very important progressives—including donors, corporate friends, and media allies—puts environmental issues, and especially so-called sustainable energy, at the top of its priority list, while a very large group of voters—the American electorate at large—demands cheap and abundant energy, especially when it comes to gasoline.
There is a great deal of intellectual dishonesty in the environmental debate. There are Republican politicians and activists who insist that climate change is a “hoax,” and there are Democratic politicians and activists who insist—no less ludicrously—that their energy agenda can be had at no cost, or that it will even be self-funding. There are all sorts of ways to do the math on the tradeoffs between climate goals and energy prices, but it is entirely irresponsible to pretend that there are no tradeoffs.
The Biden administration has tried to square this particular circle in a particularly destructive and dishonest way, with an “out of sight, out of mind” policy: standing on the neck of the U.S. and North American energy industries (more aggressive regulation, killing pipeline projects) while begging overseas producers—who often conduct their business in a much less environmentally responsible way than do their counterparts operating in the United States—to ramp up output and make up the difference. The energy price story isn’t only about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: U.S. crude oil production has not recovered to pre-COVID levels, much less returned to the strong growth trajectory that held roughly from 2010 to 2020.
When he is not trying to persuade the Saudis to do him a solid, Biden is actively misusing national assets—in this case, the Strategic Petroleum Reserve—in the service of his own political interests. The Strategic Petroleum Reserve is meant for national emergencies that interrupt ordinary energy production, such as wars or natural disasters. Joe Biden’s low poll numbers in October are not a national emergency—they are only a political emergency for Democrats.
Why do Democrats have trouble seeing the problem here?
At the moment, our politics is driven by tribal affiliation, which is, in turn, driven by shared hatred: The main (maybe only) thing Republicans have in common in 2022 is that they are broadly anti-Democrat and anti-left, and Democrats are in the inverse position. It is easier to see wrongdoing when it is being done by people we already are inclined to think poorly of, and much more difficult to understand it when it is done by those we think of as “our side.” That is a real problem that needs correcting. Much of the right-wing populist rage of the past years has been driven by the not-entirely-unfounded belief that misdeeds such as the ones the Bidens have been engaged in go unpunished—and, short of extraordinary pressure, uninvestigated—because they fall within Washington norms. They are business as usual—they are what is expected. Joe Biden is no more decent or honest than Donald Trump was, but he talks, for the most part, like a man who has been a fixture in Washington for 50 years, while Trump talks like a man doing a bad imitation of a B-movie mafia don. Style matters, but it should not be the only thing that matters.
The president is, among other things, a steward—that is our oil, not his oil, he is wasting. In his relations with the Saudis, he is supposed to be looking after our interests, not his interests. We have come to accept, so entirely and with so much blasé resignation, that our presidents and other officials will not be stewards but will instead behave only as self-interested political actors that we have, in effect, established a norm of corruption. The designers of our constitutional order assumed that politicians would behave as self-interested actors but not that they would be only that and nothing more. The system they designed for us relies on certain measures of forbearance, moderation, and even a little bit of that now-forgotten thing that Bill Bennett used to write about all the time: virtue.
Joe Biden is using his position as the nation’s chief foreign-policy officer to try to wring political favors out of brutal despots abroad. His son, Hunter, is walking around in the daylight in spite of his being obviously guilty on a federal firearms charge and very likely to be on the hook for a great deal more. And I would say to Democrats, for your own good, really and truly make the effort to do a little bit of work in exercising your moral imaginations and …
… imagine if this were a Republican.