By Jeff Cohen
Mainstream political pundits gain wealth and clout by speculating about elections – who’s up, who’s down, who’s raising the most campaign cash (but almost never from whom, of course). Now, they’re looking ahead to the congressional midterm elections three months away.
The liberal and centrist pundits at CNN, MSNBC, PBS, NPR, New York Times, Washington Post seem to agree on two obvious truths about the Nov. 8 elections.
- Republicans are very likely to win big – taking over the U.S. House, and probably the Senate.
- Republicans in Congress have never been as extreme as they are now – out-of-touch philosophically with most voters.
It’s not hard to see the contradiction in those two “truths”: If Republicans are so out of touch with voters, why will they be winning big among those same voters?
Something must be flawed in this scenario. If genuine progressives were more prominent among the pundit elite, they might point out the flaw by identifying the huge albatross around Democrats’ neck: Joe Biden.
If voters’ attention this November were focused not on Biden, but on Republican extremism, Democrats would likely win big. In recent months, the unpopular Republican ideology has been on full display — even to voters only half-paying attention — including GOP efforts:
- to end reproductive freedom nationwide.
- to block gun-safety legislation.
- to deny global warming (even as our country is literally burning up).
- to refuse criticism of President Trump’s attack on democracy and a peaceful transfer of power.
Admittedly, voters are also focused on other issues, according to polls, primarily the economy and inflation – which is a global problem and not really Biden’s fault (though he has failed to effectively challenge corporate profiteering and price-gouging, or even rising pharmaceutical prices).
In hopes of avoiding a disaster for Democrats this November, some progressives are joining the #DontRunJoe campaign that I helped initiate with RootsAction.org. Our hope is that Biden will announce – very soon – that he won’t be the 2024 Democratic standard bearer, which could shift voters’ focus in the upcoming elections to party vs. party, Ds vs. Rs. This argument was made last month in a guest Newsweek column by a former U.S. ambassador appointed by Obama, “President Biden: I’m Begging You – Don’t Run in 2024. Our Country Needs You to Stand Down.”
The regular pundits who dominate liberal corporate media (I include PBS and NPR) know full well that Biden is a weak president, that he’s a “gaffe-machine,” that he’s proven to be incapable of using the presidential bully pulpit to get legislation through even his own party. They worry about his age. But they’ve been tied to him and have protected him since early 2016, when he emerged as the only candidate capable of stopping Bernie Sanders’ rise. These pundits approve of Biden ideologically: he’s a go-slow, “moderate” incrementalist like they are.
If sanity is to come to the political process before a disaster occurs in November, it won’t come from Democratic leaders or pundits.
It will have to be progressives and activist Democrats urging Joe Biden to announce he won’t run again – while acknowledging that we’re grateful for his defeat of Trump in 2020 (and we worked hard in swing states for that to happen). Progressives also need to keep demanding more executive orders from Biden in the coming months that materially improve peoples’ lives, beginning with student debt cancellation.
Such actions could point to a brighter future for progressives and Democrats who understand that the party in power in Washington has to deliver for working people. And soon. It would especially energize “Democrats under 30”; a recent poll found that 94 percent of them want a Democratic presidential nominee other than Biden in 2024.
In the fast-approaching November elections, Republicans have various advantages thanks to their gerrymandering and voter suppression tactics, and the historical pattern in midterms that favors the party not in the White House — as well as an undemocratic Senate that grants excessive power to low-population conservative states.
A change of direction is needed quickly from Democrats. Bumbling onward with Biden might appeal to short-sighted liberal pundits who are afraid of serious progressive change. But it’s a recipe for disaster that could one day make Jan. 6, 2021 look like a garden party.
Jeff Cohen is co-founder of RootsAction.org, a retired journalism professor at Ithaca College, and author of “Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media.” In 1986, he founded the media watch group FAIR.