September 6, 2022 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

A Democratic president who does not back down changes everything

After “The Speech,” bothsidesism may be a sign of hope.

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On Friday, I explained why I think the president’s prime-time address last week, in which he named the public’s enemy in the course of becoming the people’s partisan, was a BFD among BFDs. 

Apparently, I’m not alone. The press and pundit corps spent much of the holiday weekend struggling to balance Biden’s new aggressive posture with the former president’s old aggressive posture, concluding that they are flip sides of the same demagogic coin.

Journalist and podcaster Michael Hobbes said Sunday: “We had a presidential address about rising fascism in the United States and instead of debunking any of its actual claims, conservatives and reactionary centrists have spent days complaining about the tone and optics.”

I think it’s fair to criticize the press and pundit corps’ ridiculous search for the midpoint between the Democratic Party, which represents the gamut of legitimate politics, and “semi-fascism.” 

As long as the president and the Democrats stand firm, the news media will do one of two things. One, as I said, adjust to a center that no longer centers the Republicans. Two, don’t adjust – in which case these highly profitable media properties risk losing the audience attention that makes them highly profitable media properties. 

But I also think we can make too much of their influence on the minds of Democrats, independents and “mainstream Republicans,” the voters who constitute the coalition that Joe Biden is amassing.

In the last 50 years, no one has seen a Democratic president do what Biden did. That’s half a century of norms and expectations according to which Democratic presidents do not do what Biden did or else alienate “moderates” and “swing voters” (or as I like to call them, respectable white people.) It will take time for the news media to adjust to a political center that no longer centers the Republicans.

More important than the cable-news pearl clutchers, though, are the congressional Democrats behind Biden. He risked taking a position in Republican territory. He risked a reaction from a news media that tells itself that it represents the center. Would the reaction be so severe that the Democrats would leave him twisting in the wind? 

I don’t see it. I see the opposite. 

The president, meanwhile, isn’t gambling with their faith in him. When asked if he thinks Republicans are a threat to the country (a bad-faith question from a bad-faith journalist), he reiterated points made in last week’s speech. Not all Republicans, he said, just Maga Republicans, the kind of people who’d participate in a coup d’état. 

As long as the president and the Democrats stand firm, the news media will do one of two things. One, as I said, adjust to a center that no longer centers the Republicans. Two, don’t adjust – in which case these highly profitable media properties risk losing the audience attention that makes them highly profitable media properties. 

Remember that the press and pundits corps are sensitive to the feelings and views of the very obscenely rich people who own and operate the respective media outlets they work for. That’s why there has been so much coverage of inflation despite inflation having virtually no effect on consumer demand. Inflation lifts wages and inflates away debts. It makes money softer. The rich hate it.


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In turn, the very obscenely rich are sensitive to the feelings and views of rightwing politics, because the very obscenely rich ultimately believe that the government is theirs, not the people’s. (When people say the government should minimize suffering and maximize opportunity, the very obscenely rich call them socialists.)

Four days of tsk-tsking the president could suggest, once again, that the news media is unprepared and unwilling to face anti-democracy. On the other hand, four days of tsk-tsking could suggest that Biden’s decision to plant his feet on the side of democracy against insurrection is working – and that the president should do more.

What is it doing? For one thing, it’s giving Republicans a way out of their previous dedication to Donald Trump. As Biden said last week, not all Republicans, not even most, are pro-insurrection. That’s an exit. That’s a threat. That’s why the rightwing media insists Biden is accusing all Republicans, not just a pro-insurrectionist few. In doing this, the rightwing media hopes to stop Republicans from leaving. But the more Biden opens the door, the more Republicans may leave.

For another, Biden’s speech throws fascist thinking into chaos. The Democrats are supposed to be weak. Their liberal weakness is supposed to be why the redhats are strong – why victory is assured. But now that Biden has demonstrated strength, those assumptions are uncertain. Victory isn’t assured. Indeed, fighting looks kinda hard.

The most important thing is stopping those who are in denial from continuing to be in denial. Put another way, some Americans have always desired dictatorship – redhat fascism against democracy – but deny having desired it. Biden’s speech makes their balancing act impossible. That exposure naturally makes them very, very angry.

Who are these deniers? 


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Well, it seems to me that some of them include the very obscenely rich who own and operate highly profitable media properties that employ the press and pundit corps. They may believe that Republican authoritarianism is better than democracy (after all, the government is theirs, not the people’s), but they don’t want to be seen believing it. 

Neither do they want to be seen pushing back against a president who is himself pushing back against not all Republicans, just Maga Republicans. In that case, the very obscenely rich might encourage, or create conditions for the encouragement of, the balancing Biden’s new aggressive posture with Trump’s old aggressive posture, and thus conclude that they are flip sides of the same demagogic coin.

The press and pundit corps’ bothsidesism was insufferable before a Democratic president did something that no Democratic president has done in my lifetime. Afterward, though, bothsidesism may not be the bane of liberal democracy. It might instead be a sign of hope.


John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

3 Comments

  1. Susan on September 6, 2022 at 4:03 pm

    Very thought-provoking post, I think there’s no way that the MAGA crowd *won’t* be mad if we do do anything besides roll over and cave in to their unquestionable entitlement (in their own minds, mostly). The false equivalents that seem so popular need to be unmasked for what they are, it’s great that Biden (and you as well) are doing that!

  2. Dan Kloke on September 15, 2022 at 3:59 am

    I disagree with your analyses regularly but this was pretty good. Not that I’m more correct than you or that we need to agree closely about what and how things are.

    So let me observe in parallel with you that bothesidesism isn’t a *structurally* useless mode, it’s just easy to abuse with unbalanced and/or bad faith comparisons, and is regularly so abused by, uh, well, both sides. Perhaps you can nod that selective and disproportionate comparison is practically the FOX/Murdoch brand in a nutshell, and also observe that other center and lefty media aren’t adverse to playing there as well, just to different preferred conclusions.

    One of the here-noted elements of Biden’s speech is that instead of saying in effect: Ours is the party that will save you and no other will, he says: Our nation is beset by MAGA fascists, who have victimized our otherwise often-valued Republican counterparts. Biden embraces two sides by identifying a third, in this case fascist, element. Mechanically, this is also a bit of a flip on the “Beware The Communists (and also Socialists)” routine that, for example, the Clinton’s have taken up and applied with great success in previous cycles, to push back hard on much milder Dem-Soc positions than Sanders’, and of course on Sanders himself.

    And I’m pleased to join you in pointing out the the “obscenely rich” are all in on bad faith and self-service at the expense of the whole, abusing every zero-sum arena to their own benefit. The solution to the zero-sum conundrum is of course to hew closely towards the zero, which does the most necessary thing, keeping the game going so that all can continue to play, rather than killing off one side to reach a victorious, but also fatally terminal, economic end-state.

    Parasites depend for their lives on their hosts. Some small rate of parasitism is probably inevitable in any large economic practice. The canny parasite keeps their abuses modest enough to leave their host alive. Trump opened new territory with a much more aggressive predation that doesn’t hesitate to cripple and kill its civic host. As you’ve remarked in the context of Lindsey Graham’s national 15-week abortion initiative, there’s an implicit deus that will keep the civil machina going though a divine dispensation wholly without human effort or toil, so why toil, just take and take.

    Trump has taken quick claims of being cheated at every turn to new heights, and fundraising prodigiously from them, a very simple and effective model that’s easily accepted by his faithful. Biden’s invocation of a good faith that can appeal to every honorable self-regard beyond other ideological specifics is both firm and inviting, Kind of remarkable.

  3. Dan Kloke on September 15, 2022 at 10:05 am

    Small correction … to leave their host alive and at least relatively healthy, even still flourishing.

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