The 2021 Election Was Bad for Democrats, But Don’t Blame Joe Biden.

 


October 25, 2021 – President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the Build Back Better event and Infrastructure deal at the NJTransit Meadowlands Maintenance Complex in Kearny. (Photo by Edwin J. Torres | NJ Governor’s Office).

I’ve been to some bad weddings.

 

The meal options are limited, and both choices are unappealing. The reception hall is small and there aren’t any windows. The wedding party has been forced to dress in ochre and puce. There’s an unspoken but palpable sense that no one is happy: neither spouse, neither of the families, certainly none of the guests. There’s a DJ, and he’s playing “Who Let The Dogs Out.”

 

Which is a shame, because ostensibly somebody wanted things to be like this. Someone likes ochre and puce. Someone found the reception hall bright and airy. Someone thought the clams casino was good.

 

When I get home from weddings like this, I assign blame in my head. Surely one of the spouses was a control freak with a love of unflattering colors. Clearly one of the dads was footing the bill and demanded the clams casino. “Who Lets The Dogs Out” had to have been played on orders of the best man.

November 2nd was like a very bad wedding for the Democratic party. Voters handily flipped Virginia red and came close to doing the same in New Jersey. Minneapolitans rejected a ballot measure that would have overhauled their police force – a first-in-the-nation bellwether for where voters stand on defunding the police. India Walton, a democratic socialist running for mayor of Buffalo, was beaten by a write-in candidate. And in central Pennsylvania, the fight over COVID-19 protocols was so aggressive that a dad from Bucks County gave half a million dollars to school board candidates committed to keeping schools open. (His organization is claiming that 113 of the 182 candidates he supported won their races.)

 

November 2nd wasn’t exactly on the level of, say, Margaret of France’s wedding to King Henry of Navarre in 1572, which ended with the slaughter of 3,000 Huguenots. But if you were watching the election night coverage, you know that many of the snap judgments of pundits across the major cable networks certainly painted things as just as disastrous.

 

But it also wasn’t merely “a tough night for Democrats,” as some are now framing things. It was somewhere in between, and the greatest indicator of the potency of these election results will become clear as we watch how the Democrats pivot.

 

Anyone who’s spent the past several years observing both parties descend into unrecognizable distortions of their former selves knew how disastrous November 2nd would be for the Democrats. It was like watching a couple bicker over every aspect of their relationship in the lead-up to their wedding. The “clams casino-ness” of the ceremony is virtually preordained.

 

Over on one side of the room, John Kennedy, the gregarious sexaganarian Republican senator from Louisiana known for his folksy appearances on Fox News and failed efforts to pass something called the WOOFF Act, is fussing about how this isn’t how they do weddings in Louisiana. 

The Representative from Georgia, Marjorie Taylor Greene, a vocal supporter of the claim that Donald Trump won the 2020 election who was stripped of all her committee assignments after calling for her political opponents to be executed, is challenging the validity of the minister’s credentials and claiming the wedding is a false flag. 

Lindsay Graham, who went from saying Donald Trump should “go to hell” to supporting the January 6th insurrection, is sauntering from table to table, tasting a little bit of each person’s plate, spitting it out and saying, “I’ll decide if I like this later.” 

Unprovoked, Rand Paul, who’s been getting a lot of facetime for screaming at Dr. Anthony Fauci, whom Paul seems to believe may have actually single handedly created COVID-19 in his basement, is darting around the room shouting “Gain of function!” at anyone who looks his way. 

Poor Marco Rubio, a sensible guy who’s just trying to get us to stop having to set our clocks back and whose presidential ambitions are not inconspicuous, is hiding in the bathroom, hoping nobody in 2024 remembers he was even invited to this party. 

Meanwhile, on the other side of the room, a maskless Nancy Pelosi is lecturing a busboy about the importance of masks. A year ago, Pelosi became the poster child for some Democrats’ seeming indifference to mask mandates, the central guideline they were advocating for at the time, when she was captured on video visiting a San Francisco salon without a mask. Compounding the issue, Pelosi was getting her hair blown out at the same time salons were closed to the public. I’m not a fan of judging people by only their worst moments, but the video had a profound effect on the public’s perception of what Democrats say in public versus what they do in private. Republicans do ignorant things, too, but they almost always own their ignorance. Indeed, they go on Fox News and celebrate it.  

A slew of folks seem to be going out of their way to talk about important issues in the most polarizing way possible. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is far too worried about cultural issues, like the inherent misogyny of some of the decorations. Pete Buttigieg is making a great point about the poor WiFi in the wedding venue. Everyone agrees with him, but he’s framing it as a conversation starter about historical racism, so folks are walking away. Secretary Buttigieg recently stated that he’s going to use almost a billion taxpayer dollars to rebuild roads that were intentionally designed to harm black communities. There’s ample evidence that Buttigieg is correct, and there’s nobility in confronting issues head-on, but we don’t have the luxury of living at a time where Buttigieg’s comments will compel people to, say, pick up a Robert Moses biography. They simply see the headline “Dems say roads are racist” and tune out. 

Then there are the two Democrats who, much like your mom’s coworkers, have been invited to the wedding out of pure obligation. You’ve barely heard of them, but you consent to inviting them because, at the very least, you will get more gifts. These are the kinds of wedding guests who end up becoming the most problematic.

Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema have framed themselves as the moderate voices of the Democratic party. They single-handedly stalled Biden’s trillion-dollar infrastructure bill over concerns about not just the price tag, but how the money would be spent.

At face value, having different viewpoints within a political party is a good thing. Instant, total agreement without discussion has the potential to lead to blindsightedness. But Manchin and Sinema haggled about some of the most fundamental issues their party has been showcasing as centerpiece policies for more than a decade. 

Admirers of Manchin, the pro-life West Virginia senator with an A rating from the NRA, see his opposition to progressive ideas as a strength. Parties need balance, after all. But the sheer breadth of just how strongly and consistently Manchin disagrees with his party is jaw-dropping. 

Jaw-dropping for other reasons i
s Sinema, the senior senator from Arizona. Sinema’s political positions are confounding for just how at-odds they seem to be with themselves. She is a staunch advocate for liberal social causes, but she doesn’t support a $15 federal minimum wage and voted against both the Green New Deal and Pelosi herself in Pelosi’s 2015 and 2016 bids for speaker of the House.

Where Manchin is consistently problematic for the Democrats, Sinema is problematically inconsistent. At a wedding, Manchin would be hesitant to stand for the best man’s toast because he’s concerned about the cost of the champagne, while Sinema would refuse to stand on principle until someone tells her if it’s sourdough or rye.

 

The Republicans haven’t put out a single idea or plan since Donald Trump lost the election, but there is a certain allure to the controlled chaos of their rhetoric. When you give voters the impression that everyone is angry all the time, it’s easy to sway them with emotional claims about the suburbs.

 

The Democrats, on the other hand, have put out a hundred different plans, each with competing approaches and intended outcomes. And furthermore, the Democrats have been doing a poor job at showing a cohesive communication strategy – but it is worth noting that the left does not have the same reach and firepower as conservative TV and talk radio. There’s a disconnect between everything and everyone, a lack of coherence resulting in a lack of credibility, an uncontrolled chaos with nothing to show. When you give voters the impression that everyone is confused all the time, it’s easy to lose elections.

 

When I go to a bad wedding and try to figure out who’s responsible for the disaster, you know who I never think to blame? The wedding planner. Sure, they were the one in charge. It was their purpose, after all, to bring all the pieces together to result in something nice. I’ve blamed chefs, DJs, mothers-in-law, and the couple themselves. But never once have I said, “Man, that wedding planner did a terrible job.”

 

The same goes with Joe Biden, the de facto wedding planner of November 2. Biden famously ran on that simplest and least controversial of themes: unity. His unique selling proposition was “I’m not the other guy.” Too much is on the line for this to be an exciting election, he seemed to say. It just needs to be a win.

 

If you still weren’t convinced, Biden augured that he’d maybe probably possibly run for just a single term. Kamala Harris, who had eviscerated Biden in a debate confrontation, was now his VP and they shared an entirely aligned vision for the country.

 

Take your medicine, we were told.

 

Am I going to hold Joe Biden responsible for the way his party fumbled November 2? Not for a second. Joe Biden is a patriot. He’s held elected office for 51 years. He was a balanced, moderate voice when it was possible to be a moderate and still get elected. His career accomplishments are significant and varied, and almost no one on either side of the aisle thought any different until the mudslinging of the 2020 primary.

 

I also happen to think the first year of Joe Biden’s presidency has been a total catastrophe. But I can’t come up with a single, credible argument that demonstrates the failures are Joe Biden’s fault personally.

 

Conventional wisdom says the buck stops with the person in charge, but the past year has been anything but conventional.

 

Afghanistan was never going to be a clean exit. COVID changed the game to something no one could imagine. And after stumbling into the presidency as the default safe choice of his party, Biden never got a second to focus on the big game because his team was too focused on intramurals.

 

Had the president gotten his party in line, things would have turned out better for the Democrats on November 2nd. But until the party can get its act together and decide what it is, what it wants, and how it’s going to build back better, I refuse to put the blame on Joe Biden.

*This article was updated on 10:58 a.m. November 12, 2021




John Capo

John Capo is an Assistant Professor of Corporate Communication at Lycoming College. He can be reached at capo@lycoming.edu


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