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No, Americans Aren’t Voting for an ‘Administration’
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No, Americans Aren’t Voting for an ‘Administration’

Joe Biden is running for president, not prime minister.

President Joe Biden is flanked by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen as he hosts a meeting inside the Cabinet Room at the White House on October 20, 2023. (Photo by Tom Brenner/Pool/Getty Images)

Happy Canada Day, eh. 

In other news … 

Conservatives talk a great deal about bias in the press, almost always referring to viewpoint bias: This guy is pro-Democrat, that guy is anti-gun, that newspaper doesn’t like evangelical Christians, etc. But that is not the only kind of bias in journalism, or even the most important kind of bias. One very, very powerful kind is drama bias—I mean the bias toward excitement, toward big stories, toward stories with a kind of literary or cinematic quality. A reporter is happy if he’s working on a story, but he’s happier if he’s working on a bigger story, and happiest if he’s working on the biggest story of the day. 

Journalists are not making up those stories about Democrats having panicky conversations about dumping Joe Biden as their 2024 candidate following his disastrous debate with Donald Trump—a debate that left many people who are not bitter partisans wondering sincerely whether Biden is really credibly able to finish up his current term, much less ready to serve another. It is not easy to make quondam game-show host and pornographic dabbler/diddler Donald Trump seem like the relatively safe, confidence-inspiring choice, but Biden was out there looking like you wouldn’t want him in the driver’s seat of a Buick, much less the big chair at the White House. So, those conversations are really happening.

But they almost certainly are not going to mean very much. 

We want them to. And by “we” I mean those of us who make our livings from clicks and subscriptions and advertising sales, and those of us who have invested way too much of our lives in the tumbling minutiae of competitive democracy. It would be a huge story: Who would play Alexander Haig and leave Joe Biden with the political equivalent of a bottle of whiskey and a revolver? Who would take up the nomination? How would Kamala Harris be pushed aside? Can Kamala Harris be pushed aside? Must Kamala Harris be pushed aside? Etc.

My sense is that if something dramatic doesn’t happen this week, then nothing is going to happen. Indeed, even now one already senses that the moment has passed, that any sense of urgency there was has dissipated. Inertia is one of the most powerful forces in the universe, right up there with greed and stupidity. One suspects that if Biden were going to have a come-to-Jesus moment, he’d have had it by now. Biden doesn’t seem to be one of those guys who wants to slow down and spend more time with his family—and, given the family, it is difficult to blame him: He is a patriarch of putzes. One might be tempted to appeal to his patriotism, but Joe Biden is, first and foremost, a textbook example of the stunted sort of man who has never discovered anything he cares about more than himself. Of course, the irony of such a man losing his position to Donald Trump would be practically Shakespearean. 

Democrats are already wandering onto the path of least resistance: the “parliamentary” strategy. 

Democrats terrified by Biden’s obvious disability and dreading his likely—at this point, very likely—loss to Trump but too cowardly to do the right thing and put the (political) knife in his back have a comforting story to tell themselves: “We don’t have to convince Americans that Biden is up to the job. We have to convince them that a Biden administration would be up to the job, that the Democratic agenda is preferable to the Republican agenda, that—the country having failed to collapse since 2021—there is no reason to suspect that it would collapse under a second Biden term. We’d have such figures as Antony Blinken and Janet Yellen keeping steady hands on the tiller while Rudy Giuliani and Peter Navarro languish in bankruptcy or jail or whatever, kept at a respectable safe remove from the levers of power. It’s us or those mean Republicans.” 

That’ll probably work pretty well for Labour leader Keir Starmer, whose party is set to crush the Conservatives in the U.K. elections on Thursday. Yes, who Starmer is and what sort of man he is matter to British voters, but what Starmer et al. are saying in their campaign is less “Vote Starmer” and more “Vote Labour, Especially Considering What an Absolute Bag of Dicks the Conservatives Have Proved To Be Lately.” 

But the United States is not the United Kingdom. We do not have a parliamentary system. Whoever the president is in 2025, he is reasonably likely to be dealing with a Congress in which at least one house is controlled by the opposite party—and if he doesn’t start that way, he’ll probably end up that way in two years. In some ways, the U.K. prime minister is a much more powerful figure (in his context) than is the U.S. president—the prime minister is the executive and the head of the legislative branch and is much less constitutionally constrained than is the U.S. president.

The difference—the important one—is that the president of the United States is the president of the United States, and is therefore in possession of vast powers enjoyed by no British or European head of government, or, indeed, any head of government anywhere in the world. And there’s the weirdness of Americans’ sacralizing attitude toward the president: To put it in American terms, the British PM combines the power of the president with that of the speaker of the House; to put it in British terms, the American president combines the power of the prime minister with the special cultural status of the monarch.

That’s a lot to invest in one guy, often a jackass, in one office. But that is how we do it. And that is why Democrats are not going to reelect Biden on such proffers as: “Sure, he’s basically an eggplant, but he’s a Democratic eggplant.” Or: “Of course the president is going to be more or less incapacitated, but just think of who we could get in there as deputy assistant undersecretary of health and human services. And do you really want Donald Trump hand-picking the next person to wield the awesome powers of the office of the Supervisor of the Motion Picture Preservation Lab? Somebody has to run the Federal Theater Project—is it gonna be us or them?”

I have suggested in the past that presidential candidates should try to run as administrations. (I know: They can’t, because there’s a weird law against promising people appointments.) In the United Kingdom, they have the “shadow Cabinet,” with members of the opposition taking on the job of nitpicking the work of this or that Cabinet minister, and extending that to an electoral feature in the American context would, I think, enrich our elections. I don’t think it matters very much who the secretary of agriculture is (those ethanol bastards are going to get paid, no matter what) most of the time, though I will thank Brother Stirewalt for his recent interview with Henry Wallace biographer Benn Steil, reminding us that it does sometimes matter who is secretary of agriculture. 

The USDA is prime humor material, of course, but it very often does matter who is secretary of state, of commerce, of energy, who is administrator of the EPA, etc. There is no circumstance under which I would support Trump’s bid for the presidency, but it is not difficult to imagine one of the parties or the other putting up a candidate who is himself unimpressive or objectionable but who nonetheless manages to put together a team that might make a thinking person feel a little better about voting for him. I think that if the Democrats had put up someone like Michael Bloomberg—a competent administrator with whom I have vehement policy disagreements—and if Bloomberg had put together a campaign shadow Cabinet with a bunch of other competent men and women (even competent men and women well to the left of where I’d like them to be) a lot of conservatives and conservative-leaning moderates would have felt just about okay voting for that ticket over the guy who, you know, tried to stage a coup d’état the last time he was entrusted with power. Many of my Democratic friends will insist that those same conservatives and moderates should feel good about choosing Biden over Trump, too, but the normative case is beside the point: Maybe they should strongly prefer Biden to Trump, but they don’t.

And Biden and his team, in a case of astonishing political malpractice, have given them no reason to. They have made almost no effort to reach out to that persistent 20 percent of voters who opposed Trump in the Republican primaries, voting for Nikki Haley or another candidate even when doing so was guaranteed to be fruitless. In 2020, Biden—who had been running for president since before your favorite correspondent was old enough to vote—floated to the top of the Democratic stew because he was seen as being simultaneously moderate enough and partisan enough to be sufficiently appealing to a sufficient number of the important Democratic constituencies. The idea was that, while most Democrats didn’t particularly love Biden, they would fall in line behind him and do what seemed to them most important: beat Trump. 

The problem for the Biden campaign in 2024 is that uniting the major Democratic constituencies behind Biden will not be sufficient to beat Trump. The 2024 electorate is not the 2020 electorate. Biden probably will once again win the majority of the votes of young people, African Americans, Hispanics, women, etc., but he probably will win smaller majorities: less than the 57 percent of women he won in 2020, less than the 87 percent of African Americans, less than the 65 percent of Hispanics, less than the 60 percent of voters 18-29 years of age, etc. Biden has real problems with young voters and African American men, among others. And if you are not the kind of slavering partisan who would crawl across a field of broken glass to cast a vote against Trump—did Biden give you something to vote for in that debate? I cannot imagine that he did.

The Biden campaign is astonishingly clumsy. Democrats believe, with good reason, that abortion politics are on their side, but it is difficult to paint Trump as an abortion radical when he is a lot less radical on the issue than his party is. He is, strange as it is to write, the most important moderating force on the abortion issue in the Republican Party today. (Yes, that is purely self-interest—we are talking about politics, are we not?) Trying to cast Trump as the radical on immigration runs into the opposite problem: Trump is a radical on immigration, but the electorate is closer to the immigration policies Trump has described than it is to the immigration policies (and non-policies) Biden has enacted. Biden’s trying to blame persistent inflation on Trump is a political loser, too: It is a very plain confession of impotence.

We live in a weird political time, but at least one of the old rules still applies: You win by putting together a bigger voter coalition than the other guy. Biden and his team have shown themselves so far entirely unable to do that, which is why so many people are dreaming about Democrats swapping in a last-minute asinus ex machina, an asinine proposition if ever there were one. As I said on The Dispatch’s post-debate show, what I learned from 2016 was to be suspicious when I feel extraordinarily certain about something. So, maybe I’m wrong. 

But I’m not wrong. 

Words About Words

The Taylor Swift Economy Has Overtaken London. I Went to Its Epicenter.

No, you didn’t.

The word epicenter is used as though epi were some kind of intensifier, as though epicenter meant very center or precise center or something like that. But what epicenter means is: not the center. The prefix epi- means near, often near and above or near and preceding. The epicenter of an earthquake is the point on the surface of the Earth above the center of the underlying seismic action. The center of the earthquake is underground. The epicardium is the outermost layer of the heart, just as the epidermis is the outermost layer of the skin; epigenetics is the study of factors in gene expression adjacent to, but not directly involving, genetics, meaning the composition and configuration of the DNA sequence proper. The dura mater is a membrane around the brain and spine; an epidural anesthetic is injected into the space around the dura mater. (Don’t go poking into the dura mater—it is one tough mother.) Epi also is used to mean in addition or supplemental, as in epilogue and epigram.

More Wordiness

Alas, this is not a unique error.

Look at what else is happening in those very regions when it comes to home insurance: Providers are either retreating from or dramatically heightening their prices in states like CaliforniaTexasFlorida, and New Jersey, thanks to their unique susceptibility to climate change.

I should send a note of thanks to Slate, the incompetent editing of which gives me so much material.

If California, Texas, Florida, and New Jersey are all similarly susceptible to climate change, then the quality they have in common is, by definition, not unique to any of them. Unique means one of a kind, not unusual or peculiar. The 26th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union diamond is unique—there is only one, and there is no other named diamond with quite so stupid and evil a sobriquet. (I much prefer the much more charming name—and story—of the Amarillo Starlight. The market for unique diamonds is … an Enigma.) The Bodleian’s copy of Venus and Adonis from 1593 is unique, the only surviving copy in the world. A particular copy of Douglas Hofstadter’s Fluid Concepts and Creative Analogies: Computer Models of the Fundamental Mechanisms of Thought has the unique distinction of being the first book sold on Amazon. 

And, of course, you are unique.

Just like everyone else. 

Furthermore … 

A toy rocket launcher isn’t a weapon, BBC. 

But when she was arrested in late February, the police found tens of thousands of euros in cash in her Berlin flat and five weapons, among them a Kalashnikov assault rifle and a replica rocket launcher.

Come on, dudes. 

Economics for English Majors

Unexpected, huh? From the Wall Street Journal:

High interest rates have had an unexpected impact on U.S. housing. Instead of triggering a fall in home prices, as happened with commercial real estate, costlier mortgages have pushed residential values higher. The value of the median existing home rose to a record $419,300 in May, according to the National Association of Realtors. Before the pandemic, it was $270,000. 

Blame the “lock-in” effect of ultracheap mortgages secured when interest rates were low, which are trapping owners in their homes. It is an unforeseen consequence of years of easy money. Two-thirds of outstanding U.S. mortgages have a rate below 4%, according to Morgan Stanley’s housing strategist Jim Egan. Were these homeowners to move, they would have to pay close to 7% for a new 30-year mortgage. The gap hasn’t been as wide since at least the late 1980s.

I don’t have any particular beef with Carol Ryan’s report, but I did get a little hung up on the word unexpected. That higher mortgage rates might lock up a great deal of the housing supply was both foreseeable and foreseen. As an American Enterprise Institute paper put it back in 2021, higher mortgage rates may not slow down the increase in house prices if there is a severe supply constraint. Markets are driven by supply and demand, and, in some markets—particularly for big-ticket items such as houses and automobiles—supply and demand are very strongly influenced by financing options.

There are many buyers who do not care as much what a car or a house costs in toto as they care what their monthly payment is going to be. That makes more sense with a house than with a car, of course: Most people who buy houses expect (with no guarantee but not without some reason) that they’ll be able to sell the house in 10 years or 20 for more than they paid for it, so (the thinking goes) acquiring a debt and an offsetting asset at the same time is more or less a wash (or better, if the house’s value goes up a great deal), so what’s top-of-mind is managing monthly expenses. (If you buy a car expecting it to appreciate, you’d better be paying cash for collectable classics; that’s a risky proposition, too, something like investing in art. You won’t find out for a while whether you’ve engaged in investment or consumption.)

That being the case, it was reasonably predictable that people with relatively low interest rates on their mortgages would not be eager to swap those loans out for new mortgages with rates two or three times higher, paying much more monthly for the same real level of housing consumption. If rates go down, you might swap a $300,000 house for a $400,000 house, provided the monthly payment doesn’t get too much bigger; but if interest rates are going the opposite way, you’re not going to be as quick to switch—which means your $300,000 house doesn’t go on the market.

You know what would make Americans feel like they had more housing options? 

More housing.

Elsewhere …

Many thanks to Jonah for letting me hijack The Remnant podcast for a day, and many thanks to Kent Lassman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, where I am a writer-in-residence, for telling listeners about tax-law developments and his recent epic swim across the English Channel. 

You can buy my most recent book, Big White Ghettohere

You can buy my other books here

You can see my New York Post columns here

Please subscribe to The Dispatch if you haven’t. 

You can check out “How the World Works,” a series of interviews on work I’m doing for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, here

In Conclusion 

Nobody in Joe Biden’s world is going to listen to me about this, but they might listen to the editorial board of the New York Times

Mr. Biden answered an urgent question on Thursday night. It was not the answer that he and his supporters were hoping for. But if the risk of a second Trump term is as great as he says it is—and we agree with him that the danger is enormous—then his dedication to this country leaves him and his party only one choice.

The clearest path for Democrats to defeat a candidate defined by his lies is to deal truthfully with the American public: acknowledge that Mr. Biden can’t continue his race, and create a process to select someone more capable to stand in his place to defeat Mr. Trump in November.

The problem is that Joe Biden is too stupid, too arrogant, too selfish, and too unpatriotic to do the right thing—which is to say, his character is the same as it was before his mind decayed to its current state. And so to avoid a relatively minor embarrassment, he has chosen a path toward enormous shame. And that is completely in keeping with what we’d expect of Joe Biden at any age.

Kevin D. Williamson is national correspondent at The Dispatch and is based in Virginia. Prior to joining the company in 2022, he spent 15 years as a writer and editor at National Review, worked as the theater critic at the New Criterion, and had a long career in local newspapers. He is also a writer in residence at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. When Kevin is not reporting on the world outside Washington for his Wanderland newsletter, you can find him at the rifle range or reading a book about literally almost anything other than politics.