August 31, 2022 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
There’s no way Biden would use the term ‘semi-fascist’ if he did not believe that most Americans are behind the Democrats
He doesn’t risk alienating voters. He risks missing an opportunity.
The president said the other day that “MAGA Republicans” are “semi-fascist.” The punditariat has since tied itself into knots trying to look fair. Rightwingers say it’s worse than anything Donald Trump said. (Ha!) Liberals say it’s unbefitting for the office of the president. Anti-Trump conservatives say Joe Biden has to give captive Trump supporters a way out.
I suppose there’s utility to this cramped debate. I don’t see it. What I do see is a veteran politician who has always searched for and found the ideological center of American politics in order to plant himself there. What I do see is a president who believes that it’s useful to do more than brag about his and his party’s considerable accomplishments.
It’s useful to identify an enemy.
If the president says some of the Republicans are fascist, and that the soul of democracy is at stake in the coming midterms, that probably indicates that he believes a majority of Americans is behind him. (It indicates, especially, that respectable white people are behind him.) I can’t imagine him using the “f-word” if he thought for a millisecond that using it jeopardized the Democrats’ majorities in the Congress.
Pundits speak in the past tense. Whatever has happened will happen. Politicians, especially old hands like the president, speak in future tense. They anticipate where the political winds are going to blow and position themselves accordingly. If the center of politics is moving leftward (or rightward, as it did after the civil rights achievements of the 1960s), that’s where they want to be.
Some pundits compared Biden’s “semi-fascist” to Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables,” as if Biden would experience the backlash Clinton experienced in 2016. The comparison is akimbo. The context then was a presidential election. The context now is a midterm election. But if the comparison were true, do you think a president as cautious as Biden would willingly follow Clinton’s footsteps? Of course not.
Yet here we are. Biden is pressing ahead.
Per the Post’s Matt Viser:
Throughout his presidency, Joe Biden has been cautious with his rhetoric, often avoiding any deep discussion of his predecessor — whom he initially would not even call by name, referring to him as “the former guy” — and generally skirting around the kinds of broad denunciations of the Republican Party that other Democrats gladly participated in.
But that Joe Biden has faded.
That tells us something.
Three things, actually. One, that the center of American politics has moved left. Two, that the punditariat does not appear to know it. And three, that the president seems to believe his party has the advantage as a consequence of seeking and finding this new ideological center.
That makes sense to me. Pundits speak in the past tense. Whatever has happened will happen. Politicians, especially old hands like the president, speak in future tense. They anticipate where the political winds are going to blow and position themselves accordingly. If the center of politics is moving leftward (or rightward, as it did after the civil rights achievements of the 1960s), that’s where they want to be.
It’s not that the pundits are wrong to believe the center of politics is somewhere between the two parties. It’s that they can’t or refuse to recognize that the Republicans have become what Biden said they have become. (The conventional wisdom appears to believe Trump does not mean what he says even after he led an attempt to take down the government.) What’s the midpoint between “semi-fascist” and the Democrats, who range from conservative to progressive?
It’s Joe Biden.
CNN’s John Avlon suggested Tuesday that the president risks alienating voters by using the term “semi-fascist.” That risk might have been true during the Bill Clinton era. It might have been true in 2016 when Hillary Clinton used “deplorables.” But if the ideological center has moved left, Biden is risking no such thing. Indeed, if the ideological center has shifted, he risks missing an opportunity.
To nudge voters where they’re already heading.
“Let me say this to my MAGA Republican friends in Congress,” the president said last night during a rally in Pennsylvania. “Don’t tell me you support law enforcement if you won’t condemn what happened Jan. 6. Can’t do it. For God’s sake, whose side are you on?”
The pundit corps is used to the Republicans naming their enemies. They’re not used to the Democrats doing the same. That’s because the Democrats have, for decades, avoided taking sides, because there was more utility in being seen by the public as ideologically neutral. The Democrats’ every word and deed was seen from the GOP view.
There’s a long list of reasons why that’s changed, including the J6 insurrection. But it’s no coincidence that Biden’s aggressive rhetoric began after the FBI searched Trump’s home for secret government documents. It seems to me that these two things are proportional. The more is known about Trump’s treasonable crimes, the more aggressive Biden will be in demanding that patriots pick a side.
The side of democracy against a “semi-fascist” enemy.
Again, the Post’s Viser:
[Biden] used newly ramped-up rhetoric in ways that the White House and Biden’s political advisers are signaling will be part of a no-holds-barred strategy for the midterms. The president accused the GOP of “semi-fascism” and said he doesn’t respect, and can’t work with, “MAGA Republicans” who he said “embrace political violence.” He hardened his assertion that democracy is under threat, and said the country could be facing the sort of test that comes every few generations, “one of the moments that changes everything.”
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.