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Biden Is a Study in Failed Centrism

The voters aren’t convinced by the president’s triangulation.

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Credit: Getty Images

Recently in this space, we considered the political economy of MAGA, observing that the upside of Trump-style polarization is an increase in state-based experimentation. Now, for the sake of fairness and balance, let’s ponder the political economy of Bidenism

What is Bidenism, exactly? Well, that’s a question, because the answer is as faded as the man himself. Once upon a time, Joe Biden stood for, or straddled, a calculating center-leftism—punctuated by occasional conservative gestures and neoconservative votes—wrapped in a talkative persona. That’s how he won six terms in the U.S. Senate and was deemed attractive enough to be tapped for the vice presidency. 


But now Biden is, well, old. Let’s just say it, even if his friends in the media won’t. His once-nimble ability to step carefully has become as slushy as the oversized shoes he wears to keep from slipping or tripping. 

This muddle is reflected in the unsteady gait of his policies, where Biden pleases neither doves nor hawks. For instance, on June 14, the Washington Post reported of the Gaza War, “The Biden administration has forbidden Israel from using any U.S.-supplied intelligence to target regular Hamas fighters in military operations. The intelligence is only to be used for locating the hostages.” Reading this, doves will wonder why the U.S. is still supporting a war that many label “genocide,” while hawks will wonder why the U.S. isn’t helping Israel actually to extinguish Hamas. 

A more dynamic figure might be able to build for himself a Truman-esque vital center. The hapless Biden, however, doesn’t persuade anyone and so can’t build anything; he has been looking to fill a space that’s really a bottomless void. 

So the combatants in the Middle East aren’t impressed by Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s eight “shuttle diplomacy” trips to the region. Meanwhile, here at home, the Democratic base in Michigan is less than impressed. Earlier this month, a top Arab-American leader in the Wolverine State spoke of applying “Trump chemotherapy” to Biden. 

Similarly, on Ukraine, the Biden apparat is providing aid, but not too much. According to POLITICO, “Allies are frustrated with his administration’s ‘no, no, no, yes’ approach to equipping Ukraine with ever-bigger and more effective weaponry.” 


The meta-problem for Biden is that he’s become Grampa Simpson, a figure of fun. He’s not the man in the arena; he’s the man in the mush. Amidst such sogginess, everything sinks. And so Biden’s trip to Normandy, where he sought to claim the Atlanticist mantle of Ronald Reagan, fell like a soufflé when The New York Times recalled that back in the 80s, then-Sen. Biden had been a fierce critic of Reagan’s foreign policy. 

It got worse: The 46th president visited the Pointe Du Hoc battle site, as did the 40th president so memorably. Then critics pounced on the, uh, amazing similarities between the two speech texts. The problem being, of course, that Reagan said it all first, four decades ago, and that Biden has had a notorious problem, rhetorically, of sloppy seconds

In that same Reagan-wannabe vein, Biden’s new TV advertisement echoes the Gipper’s classic “Morning in America.” Were Biden with it, he could have winked and called it an homage. But instead, he just seems empty and derivative. As Reagan might say in gentlemanly derision, Biden is pale pastels, not bold colors. 

Meanwhile, it seems to have slipped Biden’s mind that effective triangulation means splitting the difference between the two parties, not within one party, namely, his own Democratic Party. The younger Biden was happy to reach across the aisle, honoring Republicans. But today, Biden is trapped in the bubble of his own base. HIs failure to reach out to anti-Trump Republicans will one day be its own poly sci case study, of base-minded insularity blocking bipartisan opportunity. 

This blue-only mindset might explain Biden’s meandering on the border. In 2021 he opened it, pleasing Great Replacement advocates, but this year, under polling pressure, he sort of closed it--and then, yielding to noisy activists within his own coalition, he’s been Swiss-cheesing his supposed closure. Is anyone happy now?

Biden is having similar problems on green energy, where he has failed to rouse the federal bureaucracy out of its normal torpor. Mickey Kaus tweeted, “If Biden loses the election, this story—how Dems' ‘equity’ bureaucratic BS has slowed the building of [electric vehicle] chargers— will be a good example of how he let the left undermine his presidency. (Also happened on the border.) 7 chargers for $7.5 B.” Not good numbers! 

Despite Biden’s best early efforts to please John Kerry–type donors who want the peons taking mass transit, the hot reality of energy hunger has meant that carbon-fuel production has risen to record levels. Yet when Biden is about to do a big fundraiser on the West Coast, he remembers that he’s supposed to be doing something, and so he throws a wet blanket on natural gas. Such a move infuriates Texas, which is fine by him, but it also thwarts his stated strategy of defunding Russia by displacing its carbon-energy exports. 

Here we see a hazard of centrism: Without careful tillering, it has a way of drifting from bland middling into...leftward stormy weather. 

To further illustrate the hazards of absent-mindedness, we might factor in some comparative international politics. “Germany is descending into chaos”—that’s from a June 12 headline atop the Telegraph. In the warning words of Matthew Lynn: 

“After a series of catastrophic policy mistakes by centrist leaders, there is no way back for Germany—and its decline is only going to accelerate from here.”

According to Lynn, consensus-minded pols talked themselves into thinking they could power a modern economy with solar and wind. So the Germans shut down their nuclear plants, even as their access to Russian natural gas was shut off. Now the country suffers from disastrously high electricity prices, which is bad news for industrial competitiveness—and for the national standard of living. 

It’s worth keeping in mind that these impoverishing policy decisions reach back decades, implicating the center-right as much as the center-left. During that time, smelly orthodoxies accumulated, and now the German economy rots, and the center-left Chancellor Olaf Scholz is holding the rancid bag. 

POLITICO Europe’s Berlin Bulletin notes that the recent European parliamentary elections saw the Social Democrats sink to their lowest level since the age of Bismarck. As a result, “Scholz’s government has lost all legitimacy and is running on fumes.”

There’s a lesson here, for politicos on both sides of the Pond: Sometimes, centrism is a trap. To be sure, personal decency and collegiality are virtues, but a herd-like search for safety in the middle can lead, paradoxically, to danger. As the economist Marvin Minsky demonstrated, amidst churning variables, stability is destabilizing.

In fact, consensus can lead to a sort of negative Nash Equilibrium, in which all the players accept suboptimal outcomes, and those suboptimalities then compound themselves into huge negativity. 

Moreover, there’s an opportunity cost in accepting a less good thing—those who settle for less are busy settling while others are reaching for more. That’s a formula for being left behind. 

While the Germans, on the right as well as the left, were preening their green-ness, the Chinese were firing up coal plants and mass-producing cheaply. Thus did the PRC beat out German products and overwhelm the country’s meager CO2 reductions. 

Okay, back to the USA. America’s economic challenges pale next to Germany’s, and yet Biden’s political problems are right up there with Scholz’s—letting obsolete conventional wisdom guide your presidency is not wise. According to the FiveThirtyEight compendium of approval ratings, Biden is minus 19. That puts him in the same downzone as Jimmy Carter in 1980, George H.W. Bush in 1992, and Donald Trump in 2020, all defeated for re-election. 

If we permit ourselves to mix the vulgar in with the sacred, we might think on Scripture, in which Jesus sayeth unto the tepid flock of Laodiceans, “You are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”

Speaking of distaste, the Los Angeles Times reports that even in Pacific-blue California, Trump is gathering visible fans on the roadsides, while Biden is getting only noisy protestors. Progressives know that they risk nothing by crossing Biden; this White House hath not the mojo to punish anyone. Indeed, avant-garde activists, recalling their salad days—green financially—are already prepping for when 45 becomes 47

If Trump does win, the country will once again be abuzz, not just with angry tweets, but with a new burst of energetic freedom. Blue states will chart out their new #resistance destinies—including, possibly, legal rebellion against federal regulation—while red states are further emboldened to blaze new trails on, for instance, school choice (a trillion-dollar pathway). You see, MAGAnomics is about more than tax cuts or tariffs—it’s about disruption. Through the resulting clefts in stale consensus, the transformational animal spirits of capitalism will rise.

By contrast, Bidenism is about zero-sum political maneuvering. If the Biden family gets an influence-peddling gig, some Republican is thereby deprived. 

Yes, the Beltway business-as-usual consensus can be calming, in terms of everyone waiting their turn to get a crumb from Uncle Sam’s table, but Biden proves that failed consensus is enervating, as the lowest common denominator trends lower. 

So those eager for some creative destruction are better off with Trump. He has proved, yet again, that fission is energizing. To say the least.