Members Only | January 24, 2023 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
With maximal transparency, Joe Biden goes on offense
No regrets needed in the center.
Update: CNN reported inside the present hour that Mike Pence’s attorneys found classified documents in his Indiana home. They have turned them over to the FBI. Expect more to come. –JS
The Post’s editorial board (not to be confused with the Editorial Board) does not know, or pretends not to know, the difference between transparency and defensiveness. This group of highly educated, highly experienced and highly connected public intellectuals thinks you can’t have both.
I don’t know about you.
To me, that’s naivete verging on pandering.
No-no, even so
In yesterday’s edition, the Post’s unsigned editorial said the president really ought to have demonstrated more “regrets” last week after a new cache of government documents was discovered in his Delaware home. (The FBI conducted a 13-hour search at the behest of his attorneys.)
Joe Biden said he has “no regrets” about when he chose to inform the public about the initial batch in which some documents were marked classified. Before this year’s congressional elections, they were found, locked and secured, in a think-tank office that Biden used after leaving the White House. CBS News broke the story in early January. There’s been five rounds of discovery so far, a couple dozen documents in total. All date to Biden’s time as a senator or the vice president.
Even so, that’s a no-no, the Post editorial said.
Authority figures, it said, should “try to follow the rules and own up to their mistakes when they make them … Maximum allowable transparency is vital. Mr. Biden needs to ditch the defensiveness. Acknowledging that he has grounds for regret would be a good start.”
The president must pay
Such admonitions would carry more weight had the president done the things the Post editorial admonishes him for doing – had Biden refused to try to follow the rules (“there is no evidence of intentional wrongdoing”), refused to own up to his mistakes, and refused to be transparent, legally and politically. Biden has done all three.
Yes, he’s been defensive, too. Why the hell not?
From the beginning, this country’s most lucrative media properties have equated the “Biden document scandal” with the potential crimes of Donald Trump, making Biden’s mistakes seem more criminal than they are and Trump’s unlawful actions less criminal than they are.
What incentive does Biden have for showing regret?
If there is one, it doesn’t stem from the need for accountability to the American people. If there is one, instead, it stems from the “need” for “accountability” to this country’s most lucrative media properties.
Biden’s attorneys alerted the National Archives, returned the documents fast, and collaborated, not just cooperated, with authorities. But the White House didn’t tell this country’s most lucrative media properties until it confirmed reporting on the first discovery.
For that, the president must pay.
He won’t pay
If “accountability” to this country’s most lucrative media properties is the incentive Biden to show regret, that’s no incentive at all, given the radical political ideology of this country’s most lucrative media properties. “There’s no there there,” the Biden sniffed, and he’s right.
The only there was put there.
With respect to government secrets, Trump has never been transparent. He has always been defensive. Biden has always been transparent. He has rarely been defensive, until now. Yet his country’s most lucrative media properties make both men’s actions look equal.
False equivalence minimizes the president’s integrity as well as the criminal former president’s total lack of it. Biden’s “defensiveness has chipped away at the credibility of his claim that ‘people know I take classified documents and classified material seriously,’” the Post said.
“Bullshit” is what I imagine Biden saying.
Why didn’t he tell us?
Though defensive, the president has done things right.
The White House says that was the plan all along.
“With his actions,” the AP reported, “Biden is doing more than simply complying with federal investigators assigned to look into the discovery of the records. The president is aiming to show that, unlike Trump, he never intended to retain classified materials — a key distinction that experts say diminishes the risks of criminal liability.”
I don’t know if that was the plan all along, or if it became the plan after the documents were discovered, but the gambit appears to be working.
With maximal transparency, the president’s team takes the focus off the timing of the “document scandal” and puts it on how he’s “handling it.” The AP report: “They didn’t acknowledge the first discovery before the elections, though they swiftly notified the National Archives, returned the documents the day after they were found and coordinated subsequent searches and discoveries with the Department of Justice.”
Maximal transparency achieves something else.
It makes politics acceptable.
Why didn’t Biden reveal, before the midterms, the initial discovery of classified documents? Well, probably because Biden is a politician.
His attorneys did what they were morally and legally obligated to do. They did not do what they were not morally and legally obligated to do, namely sabotage the Democrats by revealing the news beforehand.
That was a political decision.
One that any president is entitled to.
No need for regrets
The White House says maximal transparency was the plan all along.
I doubt it.
I suspect these documents were discovered in the process of doing something else. What that something is, however, we may never know.
But with their discovery certainly came memories of 2016 when Donald Trump and the Republicans collaborated, knowingly and not, with Russian saboteurs to destroy the candidacy of Hillary Clinton.
Biden’s plan was probably not maximal transparency so much as maximal strategy — find all the documents that Biden misplaced during his time as vice president, get them out there, and mount a dog-and-pony performance about working with the special counsel.
That does more than neutralize their liability.
That allows Biden to defend himself against the radical political ideology of this country’s most lucrative media properties. They want to be in “the center.” So they put Biden and Trump on even ground. There is no there there, Biden said. So a there was put there.
By saying that he has no regrets, however, he’s saying to this country’s most lucrative media properties, move over. I am the center, not you.
In the center, he can be transparent and defensive.
No need for regrets.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.