The Daily Parker

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Historical parallels, anyone?

We've had stories of people clinging to power long past their ability to wield it for as long as we've had stories. Today, though, I want to take note of three people who held on so long, they wound up undoing much of what they'd accomplished in their lifetimes: Paul von Hindenburg, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and now possibly Joe Biden.

Germans largely loved and respected Hindenburg, in part because he came very close to winning the First World War as supreme commander of the Central Powers. The loss of that war, plus the humiliating terms of the November 1919 armistice, led bit by bit to Hindenburg's disastrous second term as President of Germany. After a tumultuous first term, and by this time 84 years old, he won re-election in 1932. It turned out that Hindenburg didn't have all his youthful mojo, so within a year he had handed the keys to Germany to a pathologically narcissistic convicted criminal from Austria. We all know how that went.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote some of the most progressive opinions in her time on the US Supreme Court, and fought her whole life for women's rights, abortion rights, and basically everything that progressives hold dear. She got her first diagnosis with colon cancer in 1999, with pancreatic cancer in 2009, and with heart disease severe enough to require a stent in late 2014. When John Paul Stevens retired in 2010, she became the oldest person on the Court. By this point progressives, including President Obama, really wanted her to retire to ensure that another like-minded judge took her place. She didn't; and when she died in September 2020, just two months before we finally got the not-yet-convicted felon out of the Oval Office, the Republican-controlled Senate fast-tracked the anti-Ginsburg, militant Christianist Amy Comey Barrett (R) into her seat. Since Ginsburg's death, the Republican supermajority on the Court has whittled away at everything she accomplished, up to and including reversing Roe v Wade. Fitting that the last two days have seen some of the most reactionary rulings from the Court since Plessy v Ferguson. (I expect a ruling as egregious as Dred Scott to hit next June.)

And now we come to President Biden, whose performance last night brought both Hindenburg and Ginsburg to mind immediately. Never mind that the convicted-felon XPOTUS couldn't utter three consecutive syllables without lying, it was excruciating to watch. Great time to have Covid; I really would have liked a stiff drink when it ended. (I'm especially sad that I couldn't commiserate with a dear friend who died on the 11th. He would have brought the bourbon.)

Let's review the reviews, shall we?

James Fallows: Thirty minutes in, he Tweeted: "Trump is lying nonstop but has been at the high end of his 'sounding coherent' range. Biden has too much info and has been at the low end of his 'revving up for big events' range." "So that is why his labored, halting, raspy, fact-clogged, uneasy sounding first set of answers was so startling. Without consciously realizing it, I had gotten used to the idea that in a crunch he could sound younger than he looks. This time he sounded very old. That’s what I meant by the bottom of his range."

Dana Milbank: "The first and probably last meeting between Donald Trump and President Biden wasn’t a debate. It was a 90-minute disinfomercial promoting the former president, who uttered one egregious fabrication after the other, with barely a pause for breath between his inventions. The truth never had a chance. The truth needed a standard-bearer on that stage in Atlanta on Thursday night. Biden plainly was not up to the job. If the country is 'failing,' it’s because it is experiencing a relentless, disciplined and coordinated attack on everything that is true — and because the one person the reality-based community was counting on to save us has just shown himself to be unequal to the task."

David Corn: President Biden "tumbled through 90 minutes, muffing answers, often looking uncertain, speaking in a low, gravelly voice that did not convey strength. This was not only a missed chance. It was a disaster. Bill Clinton used to say that strong-and-wrong beats weak-and-right. With his performance on Thursday night, Biden created a perfect test case for that proposition."

Alex Shephard: "Again and again, with no prompting, he made his opponent’s case for him. He was often incoherent, frequently appeared to forget the question he was responding to, and consistently failed to make the very easy and simple case for his reelection. He allowed Donald Trump—a man who was terrible in every Republican primary debate in 2016 and who decisively lost every presidential debate in 2016 and 2020—not only to appear competent in comparison, but to seem normal."

Andrew Sullivan: "For god's sake, withdraw. [L]ast night’s debate performance by Joe Biden is the end of his campaign. It’s over. Done. No sane person can possibly believe that this man is capable of being president now, let alone for another four years."

David Graham: "Watching the president at the first debate was at times almost physically uncomfortable. If the purpose of debates such as this one is to show voters something new about the candidates, then it didn’t work. And how could it? Both men are very well known, and very little liked, by the entire American public. Nor was there much to learn about policy: Trump doesn’t care about it, and Biden kept getting mixed up in details about it."

Peter Hamby: "What’s striking is the level of anger coming from normal Democrats, not professional Democrats, people who just want to vote against Trump and get this over with, even if they’re not in love with Biden, who are texting me their anger. It’s because so much feels at stake. Biden, by the way, never said, “I will be a transitional president.” He hinted at it. A lot of people took that to heart, and after the midterms he could have walked away like Michael Jordan after hitting that shot against the Jazz and been a hero forever to Democrats. After the midterms, Jill and Valerie Biden, and Ron Klain and Mike Donilon and Ted Kaufman should have been like, Hey man, you did your duty. You’re a historic figure. Time to pass the torch."

And those are the people on our side!

Mene, mene, tekel, upharsin.

When, years from now, historians try to make sense of how the United States collapsed in the late 21st century, they may clock last night as one of the nails in its coffin. Forget modern infrastructure and universal health care; we'll be lucky to have civil liberties in 20 years.

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