In the guise of political reporting, Newsweek has produced a quasi-evangelical account of the new Democratic messiah, a man named Joseph, descended from the tribe of the Bidens. The author, Steve Friess, narrates the story of a man with an inspired vocation. The story begins as the soon-to-be-anointed prophet labors at bringing together his 12 (or so) apostles to transform a political faith previously based on laws into a faith based on love, just as St. Paul described the advent of Christianity two millennia ago.
This latter-day new testament imitates the text of the original New Testament, which built its theology on parallels between the Christian Gospel — the story of Jesus — and the text recounting the story of Hebrew kings and prophets. To Jesus’ 40-day retreat to the desert, we can compare this episode in Joseph’s story: “Being stuck running for the presidency from the basement of his home in Wilmington, Delaware, had given the former vice president a lot of time to think, he told them, and he wanted bigger ideas,” Friess writes. Whether Satan (his donors) came to tempt him three times or not the author leaves unsaid.
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Then with a new biblical flourish, Friess recounts the manner in which the messiah gives instructions to his apostles: “Go forth, he urged his financial brain trust, and bring back the boldest, most ambitious proposals they’d ever dreamed of to reshape the U.S. economy, with an eye toward making it more fair for all Americans and less easily unhinged by a future crisis like the coronavirus pandemic.”
Borrowing from the story of Saul who on the road to Damascus became St. Paul, Friess then describes Biden’s conversion from the skeptical candidate to the visionary reformer. In Friess’ words, the former vice president has gone from asking, “How are you going to pay for all that?” to now saying, “Yes to trillions in new spending, yes to new regulations on banks and industry, yes to devil-may-care deficits” as he readies himself for the unveiling of “an even more transformative economic plan this summer.” Friess wants to impress his audience with the audacity of Biden’s new dispensation, which will include such spiritually and existentially transformative ideas as “lowering the qualifying age for Medicare from 65 to 60.” That’s how daring Joe has become.
But before we move on to the final book of the novel new testament, the one that delineates its vision of the four horsemen of the apocalypse, we must be patient. We are told that “Biden’s expansive new economic vision is still coming into focus.” It isn’t even Palm Sunday yet, let alone the moment for Jesus nailed to the cross to cry, “Eli, Eli, Lama Sabachtani,” (Matthew 27:46), that poignant moment when Jesus himself seemed to have lost his focus. Biden, we learn, “is recognizing the moment, one in which bold action, not change around the edges, is required.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
In real politics as practiced by members of the Democratic Party in the US, a timid proposal of reform affirmed with a rising tone of voice that, once proposed, need be repeated and defended only until the moment when the opposition effectively squelches it in Congress
In contrast with his abundant allusions to biblical imagery, Friess cites the purely secular New Deal as the most pertinent historical reference. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) is to Biden what Moses was to Jesus. Friess sees in Joseph “the kind of empathetic, uplifting leadership tone associated with Roosevelt during the 1930s.” (If he listened to some of FDR’s recorded speeches, he might change his mind.)
Friess then asks the real question: “Can Biden convince voters and the progressive wing of his own party that he will deliver?” He quotes the newly converted Biden: “We need some revolutionary institutional changes.” This contrasts with his statement in February, when, opposing Senator Bernie Sanders, he said, “Look, the idea that there’s going to be this revolution — Americans aren’t looking for revolution.” Compare that to Roosevelt who said, “We know now that government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mobs.” If Biden were looking for an FDR quote appropriate to today’s events, he couldn’t have found one more appropriate. But, of course, Biden has learned to depend on “organized money.”
The Daily Devil’s Dictionary has already pointed out that if Biden were to unequivocally embrace a single real issue that a majority of Americans are clamoring for, universal health care, the progressive wing of the Democratic Party would get behind him and he could coast to victory in the November election. On the other hand, President Donald Trump’s current provocative behavior as he seeks to turn the US into a war zone means that the 15% of progressive voters who just two months ago indicated they might be tempted to vote for Trump will probably have no difficulty overcoming that temptation. So maybe Biden won’t need the progressives after all.
People increasingly realize that this is a very special moment not just in US history but also in human history. The combined effect of the coronavirus pandemic and the generalized uprising inside American cities — that has begun spreading abroad — point to something at least on the scale of May 68 in Paris, which did leave some lasting effects in France. Because for the better part of a century, the US has projected itself globally not just as the economic leader but as a model of civilization, the revelation that the model has not only failed but is radically different from its official image has changed the world’s perception of the United States.
Americans would be wise to adjust their own perception. Those who are now in the streets show that the process has begun. But even as Joe Biden prepares to become the new Franklin D. Roosevelt, he clings to the old, discredited perception. In what most commentators agree was an effective, presidential sounding speech in Philadelphia, Biden couldn’t resist offering some of his favorite platitudes, many of which have deviated as much from obvious truth as Donald Trump’s.
Here is how Biden sees American exceptionalism: “We’re the only nation in the world that goes through [a] crisis and comes out better.” In its simple ignorance, it insults every other nation in the world. Some may not have noticed that it implicitly expresses xenophobic hubris. Does Biden want his audience to believe that no other nation is capable of successfully weathering a crisis? That is either a lie or a hallucination.
But that should logically lead to other questions. Does Biden think the US came out better from the crisis around the war in Vietnam, or again from the war in Iraq, which he so enthusiastically supported? And what about the 2008 financial crisis, which accelerated the growing income inequality gap, left millions homeless (especially black Americans) and created the perfect conditions for Trump’s election in 2016?
Passing from hubris to humility, the new FDR offers an apology for his predictable future failures: “We may come up short but at our best we try.” The logical problem here is that the sentence’s corollary is also true: At our worst, we don’t bother. And that probably describes what happens most of the time in a dysfunctional political system.
As he did in the Democratic primary debates, Biden repeats his formulaic conclusion: “This is the United States of America. There’s never been anything we’ve been unable to do when we set our mind to do it and we’ve done it together.”
Really? How about this? Since World War II, the US hasn’t achieved the goals of any of the murderous, undeclared wars it has waged. Since the civil rights movement, racism remains as ingrained as ever and built into institutional behaviors. Since every one of America’s nation-building interventions, the nations it sought to build have ended up in utter chaos. How much more truthful must we think Biden’s statements are compared to Trump’s?
Biden concludes his speech with the invocation political leaders consider obligatory since the beginning of the wars led by George W. Bush: “May God bless you all and may God protect our troops.” This at the very moment when many of those troops have been deployed in the streets of American cities to aggressively assault American citizens.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news. Click here to read more of The Daily Devil’s Dictionary.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.
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