What Should Biden Do?

Joe Biden Had Better Watch It

As the election approaches Joe is getting advice from some rather unlikely sources. This comes from folks like Andrew Sullivan and Bret Stephens, whom I want to call liberalized (i.e., wimpy) conservatives. Each enjoys taking on the follies of the far right while advancing the cause of what might be called liberal centrism. Which forces them to take shots both from liberals and conservatives.

Stephens in particular caused a mighty flap when he was hired by the New York Times. The first occasion was his skepticism about climate change. Recently he’s been writing a weekly column with Gail Collins and calling himself a pro-Biden conservative. The guy writes well (he won a Pulitzer Prize) and has a disarming way of glossing over some of his more conservative views.

We can learn from people like this. In his most recent column, he and Gail discuss ways in which Biden should frame the campaign issues going forward. Stephens has a pretty good prescription (though he avoids mention of the pandemic, issue number one). Here is some of it. Biden, he says, should focus on “the Supreme Court, for starters.”

A second Trump term almost certainly means a third (Ruth Bader Ginsburg), fourth (Stephen Breyer) and possibly fifth (Clarence Thomas) Trump pick. Roe v. Wade doesn’t survive on that court. If I were Biden, I’d ask Kamala Harris to go on a swing through Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New Hampshire and Wisconsin to explain that if Trump wins, legal abortion will become a thing of the past for every woman living in a red state.

 . . . A second [issue] is ethics. Has the swamp ever been swampier than under Trump? Who elected Ivanka to rule over us? How did Jared get to lord it over us? Who turned the White House into a stage prop? Since when does the president use his office to blackmail foreign leaders into doing him political favors? Why is it that nearly everyone who has ever worked for Trump, people like John Bolton and John Kelly, finds him despicable? And did he get somebody to take his S.A.T.s for him? Biden should run a five-minute online spot titled “A Cheater From the Beginning.” Highlights would include bone spurs, (alleged!) cheating on the S.A.T.s and Marla Maples.

 . . . Third issue: Dictator suck-up. No president in history has ever had nicer things to say about America’s enemies than Trump, just as no president has ever had nastier things to say about America’s friends. I also can imagine the imagery for this: Trump at Helsinki with Vladimir Putin, Trump at Panmunjom with Kim Jong-un, Trump in Osaka with Xi Jinping, Trump in the White House with Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

The big recent issue of course is Trump’s flagrant promotion of violence in the cities. Which means Biden needs to hit hard on Trump’s history of division, racism and alt-right sympathies—“when the looting starts the shooting starts.” This could be Biden’s sharpest weapon, particularly if he links it to the pandemic, Trump’s violence against his own citizens.

The Fire Next Time

Australia Is Committing Climate Suicide

Don’t Let Australia’s Crisis Go to Waste

Public anger builds against Morrison

I borrow the title of James Baldwin’s 1963 best-seller that articulated his personal agonies in the civil rights movement. In our time what could galvanize people to stop the burning? I wish I had the skill and talent of Baldwin. A major part of Australia has already gone up in flames. The Amazon rainforest has just about reached a fiery tipping point. Will Africa be next?

Scott Morrison, Australia’s coal-fired prime minister, is leading his country to suicide, opines Richard Flanagan, a novelist whose recent piece caught the terror and the drama of what’s happening there.

The images of the fires are a cross between “Mad Max” and “On the Beach”: thousands driven onto beaches in a dull orange haze, crowded tableaux of people and animals almost medieval in their strange muteness—half-Bruegel, half-Bosch, ringed by fire, survivors’ faces hidden behind masks and swimming goggles. Day turns to night as smoke extinguishes all light in the horrifying minutes before the red glow announces the imminence of the inferno. Flames leaping 200 feet into the air. Fire tornadoes. Terrified children at the helm of dinghies, piloting away from the flames, refugees in their own country.

Bloomberg’s Daniel Moss puts the crisis in terms of statistics and money. But the problem is much more personal than that. And it’s the blindness of leadership that permitted the crisis come to its present head.

An area larger than Ireland has been destroyed, at least 25 people are dead, 2,000 homes have been razed, and 25 million acres of forest and bush have been wiped out. As many as a billion animals may have been incinerated since September, some species almost to extinction. Tourism, farming and consumer confidence have taken a hit. Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been lambasted for too little action, too late. His government announced a $1.4 billion recovery fund over the weekend; with more than 100 fires still tearing through the country’s most populous state, more is bound to be needed.

Morrison’s government still maintains there is “no direct link between climate change and the country’s devastating bushfires, despite public anger, the anguish of victims and warnings from scientists.” This is more than ignorance; it’s murder. Morrison is captive to the coal industry and takes his stance from other climate criminals like Trump and Bolsonaro.

Finally, the activists are on the march in nine Australian cities. Led by student organizations, “tens of thousands” are expected to march this weekend. Melbourne will host the biggest protest. Yet it will take more than activism to displace Morrison & Company. It will take political power.

In 1963 Baldwin asked, “Do I really want to be integrated into a burning house?” Now, it seems, some Australians have no choice except to flee to the sea shore, as in a bad apocalyptic movie. The leadership of climate deniers may not yet go up in smoke but we can hope for their eviction, and soon.

Trump on Climate Change

It’s possible that Trump doesn’t actually know what climate change is

Donald Trump’s New York Times Interview: Full Transcript

Trump says climate change not a hoax, not sure of its source

If we had better criteria for impeachment, the president’s remarks on climate would form Article One. Yet, after pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement, he’s babbled and hedged so many times on this that, as Philip Bump wrote, maybe he doesn’t know what climate change is. More probably, he knows but must defend the energy interests that support him. And so he waffles to smoke out his critics.

As in his response to Philip Rucker of the Washington Post:

“I think about it all the time, Phil. And, honestly, climate change is very important to me,” Trump replied. “And, you know, I’ve done many environmental impact statements over my life, and I believe very strongly in very, very crystal clear, clean water and clean air. That’s a big part of climate change.”

In 2016, his climate comments were a way to disparage Obama:

“So he talks about the carbon footprint, okay, and how important the carbon footprint is, I’m not supposed to use hair spray in my hair because it affects the ozone,” Trump said. “Now it fits in an apartment that is totally sealed, but it goes up and it affects the ozone. I don’t think so, personally. But you know, there’s a lot of money being laid on this in that sense.”

Later in 2019, it was the carbon footprint again in a sarcastic tweet:

I think it is very important for the Democrats to press forward with their Green New Deal. It would be great for the so-called “Carbon Footprint” to permanently eliminate all Planes, Cars, Cows, Oil, Gas & the Military – even if no other country would do the same. Brilliant!

Then came this canard about wind turbines, which he had campaigned against because they would destroy views from his golf course:

“They’re all made in China and Germany, by the way, just in case you—we don’t make them here, essentially. We don’t make them here.” [This is not true.]

In October of this year, he backtracked on his earlier claim that climate change was a hoax. “I’m not denying climate change,” he said in the [60 Minutes] interview. “But it could very well go back. You know, we’re talking about over a … millions of years.” Earlier in 2012,

he sent a tweet stating, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” He later said he was joking about the Chinese connection, but in years since has continued to call global warming a hoax.

Shortly after the election Trump sat for an extended interview with New York Times staff. There was a lengthy, very smoky discussion about climate change. Publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. asked Trump in a puffball question whether he had an open mind about it. The response was classic Trump. Is it obfuscation or a reflection of his disordered state of mind?

My uncle was for 35 years a professor at M.I.T. He was a great engineer, scientist. He was a great guy. And he was . . . a long time ago, he had feelings—this was a long time ago—he had feelings on this subject. It’s a very complex subject. I’m not sure anybody is ever going to really know. I know we have, they say they have science on one side but then they also have those horrible emails that were sent between the scientists. Where was that, in Geneva or wherever five years ago? Terrible. Where they got caught, you know, so you see that and you say, what’s this all about. I absolutely have an open mind. I will tell you this: Clean air is vitally important. Clean water, crystal clean water is vitally important. Safety is vitally important.

And you know, you mentioned a lot of the courses. I have some great, great, very successful golf courses. I’ve received so many environmental awards for the way I’ve done, you know. I’ve done a tremendous amount of work where I’ve received tremendous numbers. Sometimes I’ll say I’m actually an environmentalist and people will smile in some cases and other people that know me understand that’s true. Open mind.