Democrats are getting the ‘law and order’ Biden they voted for — whether they like it or not

The president disappointed a lot of left-wingers with his speech on Gaza campus protesters. But the writing was always on the wall

Eric Garcia
Washington DC
Friday 03 May 2024 17:44 BST
Biden insists 'order must prevail' as police shut down college Gaza protests

The day that the 2020 presidential election was called for Joe Biden, I mosied on over to Pennsylvania Avenue to catch liberals and progressives celebrating. In the midst of the jubilation, I caught a young man who wore a Covid mask saying “Green New Deal.”

That puzzled me. Unlike Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris or even more middle-ground Democrats like Amy Klobuchar, Biden did not support a Green New Deal. The environmental plan drawn up by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts had not been seen anywhere in his campaign materials.

But the young progressive man celebrating that day in November told me that Franklin D Roosevelt did not initially support many parts of the New Deal, either — and that Lyndon Johnson initially opposed civil rights before he became their biggest champion of them as president.

At the time I thought the young man was a little delusional. Biden won not because he had promised bold, progressive policy. The most consistent bloc of Democratic primary voters — which is to say: Black voters in the South — picked him because they believed he would be the most palatable candidate for white voters to vote for instead of Donald Trump. The suburbs of Arizona, Atlanta and Philadelphia swung to Biden in the general election because they were tired of the chaos of the Trump years.

While some Democratic candidates sought to appeal to the loudest progressive voices, Biden banked that most people wanted to return to “normal”. His rhetoric leaned heavily on nostalgia. Frankly, the results in 2020 proved him right and proved left-wing activists wrong.

At the same time, Biden proved himself to be a malleable party leader. He passed a massive government spending package to fight Covid that included stimulus checks and an expanded child tax credit, and he expanded unemployment insurance. Despite being a Roman Catholic who once thought women should not have “the sole right to say what should happen” with a pregnancy, he’s since said that Republicans are about to see the power of women’s anger after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade.

The Senator who represented Delaware and was seen as in bed with the credit card industry became the president who canceled millions of dollars in student debt. And Biden is comfortable appearing at events alongside AOC to celebrate the fact he passed the biggest piece of climate legislation in history.

But in the end, Biden is still an old-school Democrat who believes — like Richard Nixon before him — that a “silent majority” supports normalcy. That is ultimately why, in response to the unrest on college campuses this week, he called for law and order rather than adding to the rallying cry of protesters.

When he said, “We’re a civil society, and order must prevail,” some were disappointed. But they shouldn’t be surprised.

The remarks — and Biden’s lack of willingness to defend campus activists — has certainly angered some. But in truth, Biden’s remarks are actually a snap-back to his initial temperament. The president’s approach toward student demonstrators, as well as his approach to Israel and Gaza, shows that for all of his pliability, he was never going to be a politician who would offer transformative change.

Biden won his first Senate race in 1972, despite being too young to be sworn in. But despite his age, he decidedly separated himself from the hippies opposing the Vietnam War. He was a law student at the time and summarized his position thus: “I wore sport coats... I’m not big on flak jackets and tie-dye shirts.”

It was his way to convince people that his youth did not mean he was radical. Now, as the oldest person ever to assume the presidency, he has taken a similar tack. He has been careful to allow for some demonstration — even for those who curse his name — but has also been clear to say that he does not want to see escalation.

That may be partially why young voters are now so disenchanted with him. They are one of the few blocs within the Democratic coalition that did not rally around Biden in the 2020 Democratic primary. It’s no secret that they only grudgingly supported him to beat Trump in 2020.

Many hoped Biden would be like Johnson or Roosevelt, just like the young man I saw. But he never lived up to that. Indeed, Biden’s approval among young people was dismally low as late as July 2022, long before the war in Gaza, according to an New York Times/Siena College poll.

That came before Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act and began his aggressive campaign to forgive student loans. Similarly, as I wrote earlier this week, the data now shows young voters appear to be moved more by the economy than Gaza. Biden’s actions on Gaza and Israel just seem to have solidified their dissatisfaction.

Now, progressives are simply seeing Biden return to where he always was. They have reaped the benefits of him being willing to move to the mean of wherever the Democratic Party is. Now they are having to swallow the fact that the Democratic Party picked someone who campaigned mostly on normalcy and order.

And they, including that one young activist, aren’t liking it much.

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