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Country for Old Men
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Country for Old Men

Are we really thinking of replaying the 2020 election in two years?

Dear Reader (even those of you who are taking a break from setting up your profile on the hot new conservative dating app),

I have literally no more than 120 minutes to write this “news”letter. I tell you this in advance because I won’t be annoyed if you opt not to read it. I’m telling you in advance that I’m merely going for the Arby’s of “news”letters here: It will meet the absolute minimum expected of such fare. Anything beyond mediocrity will probably depend not on the effort going in, but on the hunger of the consumer. Or maybe you’ll grade me on the curve of your low expectations: “That wasn’t a great piece of writing, but pretty impressive for less than two hours at the end of the day.” In other words, think of me like a cat playing a piano—pretty bad for a pianist, but wildly impressive for a cat. (If you want a more substantive and considered G-File, please read the Wednesday edition, which we’ve made available to non-Dispatch members. I’ll try to respond to my critics next week, if it seems worthwhile.)

Joe Biden presents something of a challenge for me. I’ve been making Joe Biden jokes for a very long time. Two decades ago, when Biden was a youthful fiftysomething, I was pointing out that he was the rhetorical equivalent of a Dada painting. His sentences would go on and on like a drunk guy chasing a blind spider monkey through a Chuck E. Cheese ball pit. And when he’d catch a moldering teddy bear that had been left at the bottom of the pit he’d show it to you and say something old-timey, like, “And you can take that to the bank!” Or when he was acting like the verbal equivalent of a melting clock with caveman feet, he’d stop dead in his tracks and say something in the loudest whisper you’ve ever heard: “And that’s why unicycles don’t have wings.” A few things have changed since the old days. He has more hair than he used to. That’s true for many of us, but usually the new crops sprout up elsewhere. Also, he doesn’t flash his new teeth the way he used to. I don’t intend this to be mean, it’s just that he used to do this thing where he would punctuate his monologues with these giant oral semaphore flashes of teeth that he didn’t have as a younger man. It was almost like his teeth were in a kind of open rebellion with his mouth, like an untrained rider atop a stampeding elephant, screaming for all to hear, “I’ve got no brakes!” To his credit, it does seem like the teeth eventually won the battle, because he’s not nearly the loquacious talker he once was. He still produces gaffes—he’s called himself a “gaffe machine” for years. He also said chipmunks taste blue. Actually, no he didn’t. But you believed me for a second, didn’t you?

His relative succinctness—measured against his previous performances at least—is probably in part an impressive victory over a very real challenge he once had with stuttering, a condition I wouldn’t ever want to mock. But it’s also a victory over his younger arrogance of thinking the 10,000th word from Joe Biden was more important than the first word from one of his Senate colleagues or the hearing witnesses he was nominally questioning.

Oh, and one other thing has changed: He’s gotten old. And that’s a challenge for me. Making fun of Biden’s schtick 10 or 20 years ago was fair game. But now it feels mean-spirited. I don’t like all the mockery of Biden’s age and mental decline in part because it has the weight of truth. It’s sort of like Michael Scott in The Office explaining that he would never call someone who is actually gay, “gay.”

But here’s the problem: It matters. We can all debate how much it matters. We can all debate how big a problem it is. But the White House’s approach seems to be to simply deny, deny, deny. I don’t mean that they deny it’s a problem or that it matters. They deny the obvious reality of the situation. This week at a White House event, Biden called out a congresswoman who died just over a month ago. “Jackie, are you here?” he asked. “Where’s Jackie? She was going to be here.” It was painful—for everyone. And what made this episode different from all the previous ones is that the press corps—beyond Peter Doocey at least—had to acknowledge it. Much to the consternation of press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre.

Since we’re wandering down memory lane here, like Biden telling NATO about CornPop, it’s worth pointing out the double standard Biden benefits from. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan’s age was a source of constant worry and even mockery. Here’s the 1986 music video for Genesis’ “Land of Confusion,” which portrays Reagan as such a doddering old fool he launches a nuclear missile by mistake. Reagan was two years younger than Biden is today when it was made. Indeed, Reagan did not turn 78 until after he left office. This November, Biden will turn 80.

A few things are worth noting. First, it’s true Reagan showed his age at the time, but he was at least as “together” as Biden is today. The second thing worth noting is that everybody noted Reagan’s age. The third is that we are far closer, by any measure, to a nuclear conflagration today than we were back then. But it is inconceivable that a prominent artist today would mock Biden the way Phil Collins did.

I don’t have a great answer to any of this, and I don’t think the Biden administration does either. But even if I wasn’t the Trump critic I am, I think it’s insane that people are seriously talking about rerunning the 2020 election with the same old men who ran in the last one. I have no problem, in theory, with old people being in charge. But surely we can do better? And surely there can be room to say so? Add up the ages of Biden, Trump, Nancy Pelosi, and Mitch McConnell, and the most powerful politicians in our country right now are older than the United States itself.

Of course, one of the hitches for the Democrats is that the person waiting in the wings—Kamala Harris—has proven to be … a less than ideal understudy. The same week Biden had a séance of sorts calling out to a deceased congresswoman, Harris spoke of our “very important relationship, which is an alliance with the Republic of North Korea.” In one sense it’s a minor gaffe, but given how she has fumbled such occasions so many times, you’d think she’d go to great lengths not to give credence to the argument that she was picked to be vice president for reasons that had little to do with her ability to do the job. During the 2020 election, BET declared that people should vote for her because she walked off a plane with “wheat timbs”—short for wheat-colored Timberland shoes.

Two years later, it’s impossible to separate the wheat (timbs) from the gaffes.

Pardon?

If I had the power to cut the Gordian knot of our politics, I wouldn’t go all Logan’s Run and blow up the top ranks of our gerontocracy. But one—only slightly less plausible—solution would be to persuade Joe Biden to pardon Donald Trump in exchange for him agreeing to never run for office again. Biden would have to lean on some state prosecutors to agree to the deal, but that’s doable. There would be nothing illegal about it. The president’s pardon power—which I think has outlived its usefulness for reasons Andy McCarthy has laid out—is very broad and can be conditioned however he sees fit.

Now if Biden did this, it would almost certainly cost him any chance of reelection, which would be fine with me. But the more important point is that it should be fine with him, too. He’s in no shape to run again. Pardoning Trump would let him go down in history as a statesman who put the nation’s interest ahead of his (perceived) political interest. It would be a face-saving way of retiring from the public stage as a “successful” one-term president who could spend his retirement years saying he could have won against Trump, but he didn’t want to put the country through such an ugly ordeal. This would take away what is really the only argument for him to run again anyway. Whenever Democrats say they want someone else—and all of the polls say that’s what Democrats want—Biden points to the fact that the polls say he would beat Trump.

Trump clearly wants to be president again. But he also doesn’t want to lose again, which is why he wants to announce before anyone else in the hopefully vain hope of preemptively clearing the field. He wants a coronation.

But if Mike Pence, Ron DeSantis, Mike Pompeo, Nikki Haley, Tom Cotton, and the rest make it clear he won’t get a coronation—and if the Republican Party recaptures a modicum of its integrity and patriotism and refuses to once again become Trump’s personal plaything—he might decide not to run. More to the point, if he’s in such legal jeopardy—still a major “if”—that he thinks he could end up in the dock, he might accept the pardon deal simply to give himself a face-saving way to avoid losing fair and square (again). Of course, this too would depend on all of these actors putting the interests of the country and their party above their perceived personal interests.

My hunch is that Harris would end up going down with Biden amid all the uproar from the left, which has convinced itself that anything short of Trump making wine in a prison toilet for his cellmates would be a disappointment. She might break with Biden and try to run anyway, but without an actual incumbent in the race, there’s no way Gavin Newsom and his very important hair don’t jump into the breach. And I suspect they wouldn’t be alone.

Again, I’m highly confident none of this will happen, for all sorts of reasons. But the most important—and dismaying—one is that I have no confidence in any of these players mustering the required effort or resolve to overcome the layer upon layer of collective action problems—as well as the selfish ambitions that create such collective action problems—and put the country first. After all, we live in a country where even very old and very rich people would rather cling to, or regain, power than head to retirement, either in Delaware or Palm Beach.

Various & Sundry

Canine update: All of the beasts are well. Gracie has adapted to her robot litter box with fitting grace. She has developed a very cute, but exceedingly annoying, habit, though. You know how both Zoë and Pippa will paw me to demand payment in scritches and belly rubs? Grace does it too. But her approach is to sit next to me in the chair, extend a single claw like some cartoon cat about to cut a circle in glass, and poke my arm with it until I pay her the attention she demands. It doesn’t hurt, it just implies she could hurt me if I continue to ignore her. Zoë, meanwhile, continues to mellow. Warren blocked her path to the shotgun seat, and rather than responding in tooth and claw, she merely stared at Warren in incomprehension. Both girls just love the weather, especially when Sammie joins the crew or when they get to run the bases. Anyway, that’s all I’ve got. 114 minutes, baby. 

ICYMI

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Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-in-chief and co-founder of The Dispatch, based in Washington, D.C. Prior to that, enormous lizards roamed the Earth. More immediately prior to that, Jonah spent two decades at National Review, where he was a senior editor, among other things. He is also a bestselling author, longtime columnist for the Los Angeles Times, commentator for CNN, and a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. When he is not writing the G-File or hosting The Remnant podcast, he finds real joy in family time, attending to his dogs and cat, and blaming Steve Hayes for various things.