Weekend Jolt: The Case for Biden Is Not Self-Evident

Dear Weekend Jolter,

Two of the most morally flawed figures in American politics — ...

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WITH JUDSON BERGER September 23 2023
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WITH JUDSON BERGER September 23 2023

The Case for Biden Is Not Self-Evident

Dear Weekend Jolter,

Two of the most morally flawed figures in American politics — and this is an arena that includes Lauren Boebert, mind you — continue to be the top contenders in their respective parties for leader of the free world, a job they've each had once already. Tens of millions of voters appear willing to hit replay on one of these two terms, even if they are not enthusiastic about it, attesting to the power of brand loyalty.

But the once-sturdy assumption that President Biden ultimately beats Donald Trump in a rematch looks shakier as summer escapes and the sidewalks start to crackle with brittle reminders that actual voting is just a few months away. The RCP polling average shows Trump once more (barely) overtaking Biden, and the men are tied in several new head-to-head surveys. This will continue to fluctuate, as polls do, but there is little evidence Biden can build a decisive lead — and that's to say nothing of the impact a third-party run could have if voters face the most miserable binary choice since Kang vs. Kodos. Jim Geraghty observed a few weeks back that Biden and Trump need each other, "or at least the threat of another four years of the other guy to make themselves look good by comparison." Each man could only win against the other, it can reasonably be argued — meaning either could lose.

So: Why is it that this incumbent struggles so against his historically unpopular predecessor? Where to begin? Start with Noah Rothman, who takes a look at the latest CBS poll showing Trump one point ahead. The findings, he writes, "suggest that the president and his party took a variety of calculated risks in Biden's first two years in office that will haunt them through the remainder of his term."

Noah highlights those voters who report being "worse off" financially than they were before the pandemic, and who are largely backing Trump. He argues that Biden is facing a reckoning for not delivering the kind of pandemic recovery he promised, and lists a number of other policy fronts — student loans, guns, prescription-drug prices — where the administration has struggled to make a case for itself. In short: "The case against the former president is self-evident. But a positive argument for Biden's continued occupancy of the Oval Office remains elusive."

Then there are the matters of Biden's possible corruption (highlighted by the newly launched impeachment inquiry), his son's multifarious misdeeds (highlighted by the recent DOJ indictment), his age, and his incessant lying and fabulizing. The latter habit has gotten so bad that fact-checkers have been forced to break out their instruments, as seen in a particularly brutal CNN segment. Rich Lowry offers a theory here on why Biden continues to exaggerate and worse about his own past. Regardless of motive, Biden's disregard for plain truth has evidently dented his trustworthiness in the eyes of the public. His age and its effects, too, have become increasingly difficult to ignore and to not view as a liability in the job he seeks to keep. An overwhelming majority of voters, including among Democrats, think he's too old to seek a second term. Perhaps more startling, an underwhelming minority think he'd actually finish a second term. Charles C. W. Cooke writes:

That's an astonishing statistic. It's also unprecedented in the modern era. To put it more bluntly than CBS does: In the opinion of a supermajority of the American public, the Democratic Party is on the verge of asking the country to vote for a president who will either die in office or be so infirm that he is obliged to resign. I honestly have no idea how voters will react to this. It represents uncharted territory.

As for Speaker Kevin McCarthy's politically risky impeachment inquiry, Noah cautions Democrats not to be so confident Biden emerges from this unscathed. Jim makes a convincing case here for why Democrats would be better off running "Generic Governor" than the Biden-Harris ticket. Biden's got his incumbency — and little else. As Noah said, the case against Trump is self-evident. But the case for Biden is not.



The alternative is far worse: U.S. Can't Afford to Abandon Ukraine

A mess years in the making: The UAW Labor-Strike Debacle

Politics are at play here: D.C.'s Lawfare against Leonard Leo


Yuval Levin: Marching toward a Shutdown

Rich Lowry: John Fetterman Makes the U.S. Senate Safe for Disgraceful Slobs

Jay Nordlinger: The Struggle of Jimmy Lai

Ryan Mills: California EV Rules 'Totally Impractical,' Truckers Say; May as Well 'Build a Spaceship and Go to Mars'

Jeffrey Blehar: Mitt Romney Does Not Get to Write His Own Happy Ending

Madeleine Kearns: Where the 2024 GOP Candidates Stand on Trans

John McCormack: Trump Attacks One of the Most Important Pro-Life Laws in the Country

Haley Strack: There's No Defending Lauren Boebert's Behavior

Ryan Ellis: Joe Biden's 95 Percent Drug Tax That You Didn't Know About

Michael Brendan Dougherty: The Pope's Reign and Ruin

Christian Schneider: When Demand for Victims Outpaces the Supply

James K. J. Lee: It's Time to End China's Exclusion of Taiwan at the U.N.

Abigail Anthony: Betraying Anne Frank

Jimmy Quinn: WHO Chief Denies He Sided with China at Start of Covid: 'Outright Lie'


Dominic Pino explains it all: Organized Labor Is Progressivism and Progressivism Is Organized Labor


Armond White weighs in on Wenner-gate: Jann Wenner vs. Tokenism

Brian Allen's got more from Madrid, this time to assess an impressive new gallery nearly a century in the making: Ferdinand, Isabella, and All the Philips and Charleses Would Feel Right at Home

Abigail Anthony steps on a cultural land mine, for the greater good: The Averageness of Taylor Swift


A government shutdown looms once more amid difficult budget negotiations. Yuval Levin explains what is happening, and why:

The budget-process contortions in both houses of Congress just now can be a little hard to parse. A lot of them have taken the form of battles over procedure, which can get mind-numbing pretty quickly. At various times, the House has been intensely focused on rules votes and the Senate has been mired in arguments about suspending the prohibition on non-germane amendments on appropriations bills. These procedural squabbles matter, but they are ultimately proxy fights. The real battle is a dispute about how to exercise leverage in the modern Congress. It's now happening mostly among Republicans, and it divides Republicans more starkly than Democrats in Congress, but it's a disagreement that has been evident in both parties when they've had to make governing decisions in recent years.

The best way to grasp that dispute might be to break down what we're seeing into three distinct dynamics.

The first important dynamic to understand about Congress in an age of narrow majorities is that the chamber that is harder for its majority party to manage sets the tone for the institution. In the last Congress, that was the Senate. Democrats had a narrow majority there, as they did in the House, but because of the filibuster, and of the nature of the Democratic caucus, the Senate was much harder to wrangle. Speaker Pelosi's Democratic House majority didn't want to do anything until the Senate acted, since whatever they did would likely be for naught. And so the House became a rubber stamp on bills that had passed the Senate, and the substantive work of Congress mostly happened in the upper chamber.

In this Congress, it is the Republican House that has the greatest trouble getting anything done, and therefore it's the House that sets the tone. The Senate has certainly tried to assert itself some, but the demands of getting things through the House have dictated a lot.

That is really key to what is happening in the Senate this week. Senators from both parties had agreed last week (by an 85–12 vote) to get the budget process moving with a so-called "minibus," which would combine three appropriations bills into one. The idea was to force the hand of the House a bit on spending levels. But precisely for that reason, a number of Republican senators, led by Wisconsin's Ron Johnson, refused to provide the unanimous consent required to bundle those bills. Senate Democrats tried to suspend the relevant rule (which prevents that bundling because it restricts the kinds of amendments that can be made to appropriations bills), but didn't have the Republican support they needed to do that.

Johnson's opposition to bundling those bills is rooted in part in a desire to appropriate through individual bills, which would give Republicans more chances to propose amendments. But it is also very much a function of his and some other Republican senators' desire to avoid jamming the House — on spending levels, on Ukraine funding, and on the sort of bill they end up voting on. Those senators are particularly sensitive to the needs of the House Freedom Caucus members. They don't want to be seen to undercut those members, since the HFC is at the center of the drama that the party's populist activists are focused on right now — a drama that has everything to do with how leverage works in Congress.

The Senate will surely try to assert itself again — whether on this bill, on Ukraine, or in general. And in a divided Congress, one house isn't going to be a rubber stamp for the other. But it's clear that much more can get through the Senate than the House, and that gives the House some added power and initiative. Eventually, whether in this process or in the year-end appropriations process that will likely follow, there is probably going to be some negotiation between the White House and House Republicans, and the Senate will basically need to accept what emerges. We're very far from that now, and it may take a government shutdown and further drama to get from here to there, but that seems the likely destination.

Ryan Mills speaks to those actually affected by sweeping EV trucking rules in California:

In early April, David Gurrola Jr. got behind the wheel of an electric semi and took it for a spin.

The southern San Diego–based trucker liked the way it looked and he liked the way it drove — the hulking vehicle accelerated smoothly like a car, he said. He was impressed.

But at this point, buying an electric truck makes no sense for Gurrola, a driver and small-business owner with two trucks and one employee. The cost of an electric truck, even with federal tax incentives, is out of reach, he said.

Even if he could afford one, there are few places for a driver like him to charge an electric truck, and the limited range he can drive on a single charge — maybe a couple of hundred miles — wouldn't work for his daily trips to the Port of Long Beach. "Round trip from San Diego for me, it's 234 miles," he said. "That means on one trip, somewhere coming back south to San Diego, I have to find a charging station just to get enough power to get back home."

And the two loads he's currently running per day? "That becomes absolutely impossible with an electric truck," he said. "That would make a huge impact on my business. In fact, it wouldn't even be a business for me anymore. It would literally cut my revenue in half."

Whether or not they make business sense for truckers like Gurrola, new California Air Resources Board, or CARB, regulations will begin forcing Golden State trucking companies big and small to add only electric trucks to their fleets starting in January, all part of a statewide mandate to slash greenhouse gases and to fight climate change.

The regulations are targeted at larger fleets — those with 50 or more trucks or that have $50 million or more in gross annual revenues — as well as at any firms or independent truckers who do drayage work in the state's major seaports and rail yards. Starting January 1, those businesses will only be allowed to add zero-emission trucks to their fleets. Diesel trucks registered with the state by December 31 can be grandfathered in for a while.

By 2035, all trucks entering the California seaports and intermodal rail yards must be zero-emission vehicles, according to the regulations.

You may have heard of the story of Jimmy Lai, the businessman who is now a political prisoner in Hong Kong. Jay Nordlinger, in an expansion of his magazine piece, speaks to Lai's son, Sebastien, about his dad's life story and struggles. Here's the part about his early life, "a Horatio Alger story, with Chinese characteristics":

Lai Chee-ying, or Chee-ying Lai — later "Jimmy" — was born on the mainland — Canton, or Guangzhou — in 1948. Or was it '47? No one can be sure, says Sebastien Lai. Records are spotty from that convulsive time. In any event, the Communist revolution soon triumphed. Jimmy's mother would sometimes joke, "He brought the Communists with him."

Jimmy's father had been very rich — a shipping tycoon, by some accounts. The family lost everything in the revolution. The father left the country. The mother was put into a reeducation camp. When he was only six or seven, Jimmy was left to take care of his two sisters.

These are "crazy things to think about," says Sebastien, with understatement.

Jimmy worked on the streets. When he was eight or nine, he got a job at a railway station, carrying people's bags. That gave him a taste of the outside world: People from far away were coming in. They had different manners, Jimmy noticed. They dressed better. They spoke differently.

One day, a man tipped him, then handed him a chocolate bar. Hungry, as he perpetually was, Jimmy bit into it, immediately. He could not believe how good it was.

"Hey," he called to the man, "where are you from?" "Hong Kong," said the man. That made Jimmy think that this Hong Kong must be a kind of heaven.

At twelve, he escaped to Hong Kong. He was smuggled in the hold of a fishing boat. The voyage was rough and dangerous. People vomited all the way. But when Jimmy arrived in Hong Kong, he had really . . . arrived.

That very night, he went to work in a garment factory. He had to pay off the smuggler. He worked twelve-hour days. "He still has some physical reminders of those days," says Sebastien. Jimmy can't hear out of one ear; one of his fingers got caught in a machine.

But, oh, Jimmy loved it. For one thing, there was so much food. The workers ate and slept in the factory. On his first morning there, when he saw the breakfast — the abundance of it — Jimmy cried. More broadly, he sensed that he had a future.

How did he acquire that English name, "Jimmy"? Sebastien doesn't know. Maybe we can ask him someday. Sebastien knows how he learned English, however. An accountant at the factory took a liking to him and taught him the language after hours.

Sebastien recalls an interview that his father once gave to the BBC. The interviewer asked him why he wanted to learn English. Jimmy thought about it for a second, then answered, "I noticed that everyone who was pointing at me, telling me what to do, also spoke English." It was the language of the managers and bosses.

In due course, Jimmy Lai got a job in sales. This had him traveling between Hong Kong and New York, which opened up yet other worlds for him.

One evening, he was invited to dinner at the home of "a retired Jewish lawyer," as he once put it. (Lai is a thoroughgoing philosemite.) At some point, his host went to a bookshelf and took down a book. He gave it to Jimmy, recommending that he read it. The book: The Road to Serfdom, by Friedrich Hayek — that canonical volume of classical-liberal thought.

"This book changed my life," Jimmy Lai has said, with considerable emotion. It provided new understandings and planted new dreams.

Shifting gears, here's Abigail Anthony trying to make sense of Taylor Swift's massive and enduring popularity (Taylor Swift fans might want to stop reading here):

Finishing a Taylor Swift album leaves me wondering, "That's it?" It's reminiscent of going trick-or-treating in the wealthy neighborhood but finding that all the lights are out; you expect something, but there's nothing — yet you know there must be someone home. I want to give Swift a poke and nudge her, Do something. But all she can muster is variations of "he didn't like me back" or "I broke up with him," like a child's stuffed animal with a push-activated voice box that repeats a few anodyne phrases.

Sometimes performers with merely decent talent are hailed as superstars because they are stunningly good-looking or have a captivating presence onstage. Taylor is certainly attractive, and she knows her way around a spotlight. But it's not enough to explain her stardom.

And there are plenty of famous performers whose music is subpar but at least put on a good production, with great dancing and a groovy light show. But Taylor's dancing skills are nonexistent. She could be replaced onstage with one of those inflatable tube men waving outside a car dealership. Why would anyone see her in concert, let alone pay $11,000 for a ticket?

Taylor Swift is completely unremarkable, and that's precisely her appeal. She's the avatar of boringness, and girls find refuge in her averageness. The message of her music is clear: "Embrace mediocrity." She's the opposite of aspirational. Despite her success and massive fortune, she is not a "girlboss"; Swift is a de-motivational speaker who encourages self-acceptance rather than self-improvement. Concert attendees leave feeling consoled rather than exhilarated. Girls don't want to be Taylor Swift, they want Taylor Swift to be like them.


Joanna Williams, at City Journal: The Censorship Bureaucracy

Ross Andersen, at the Atlantic: Does Sam Altman Know What He’s Creating?

Joe Simonson, at the Washington Free Beacon: Ibram Kendi's Center for Antiracist Research Hasn’t Produced Any Research


Because this is playing in ads for a new Exorcist movie and because, to reference another horror classic, I must pass on this earworm to others as would a character in The Ring — ladies and fells, here's "Tubular Bells."

Have a great weekend.


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