Tet For Tat?

In the last week, two iconic figures emerged from tunnels.  Punxstawney Phil began the week by groggily peering out into the Pennsylvania winter and saying “this will be over in six weeks”.  At week’s end, Scranton Joe hurriedly called one of the few press conferences he’s held in recent months to declare that our political winter is going to continue a lot longer if he has anything to say about it.

The surprising swiftness of J. Robinette to personally address the reports that had emerged earlier that day that classified him as an “sympathetic, well-meaning elderly man with a poor memory” , unsolicited observations from a Justice Department report on how he had mishandled, sloppily and haphazardly stowed classified documents, was newsworthy enough, given his apparent reluctance to even show his face at anything other than fundraisers in California, or an occasional photo op such at what he delivered on January 6th in Valley Forge.  But in watching exactly how and what he chose to get emotional and excited about during that 12 minute entry into Thursday night prime time, it was evident that this was, to him, a personal attack that he felt warranted immediate attention.

And let’s just say the reviews were anything but exemplary, and they weren’t just limited to the obvious critics.  Take, for example, NEWSWEEK’s Andrew Stanton’s recap:

President Joe Biden‘s press conference responding to Special Counsel Robert Hur’s report detailing his classified documents probe “didn’t go well,” Representative Adam Smith admitted. 

Following the report, Biden held a press conference hitting out at Hur’s report Thursday night, telling reporters, “I know what the hell I’m doing.” Also during the press conference, Biden mixed up the presidents of Mexico and Egypt.

Smith, a Washington Democrat, said that press conference went poorly for the president. 

“Clearly, yesterday’s press conference, as you said, I’m a senior Democratic politician, I’ve been doing this for a long time, that’s not the way you want to do it,” Smith said.

“He was angry, he was frustrated by what came out. There was not a prepared clear agenda of, ‘Here’s my explanation, here’s what I’m doing.’ It didn’t go well. OK, there’s no doubt about that.”

Earlier in the week, Biden had turned down CBS’ request to speak to the nation during the Super Bowl pregame show, a slot they have not filled with a comparable guest.  As a sitting president, it could have been a unique opportunity to put forth a narrative and a vision, let alone a defense before tens of millions of people, waaaaay more than will ever see the 12:26 presser from Thursday night where he provided sound bites like the gaffe Smith referenced, as further chum for the sharks that have convinced a plurarity of America that no matter what his track record is, no matter how good and well-meaning a man he is, they simply don’t want him to continue to be the President of the United States.  Instead, he reacted in the moment, impulsively, pugnasciously, and not all that convincingly, without using the tools of power at his disposal to offer a more nuanced and declarative rebuttal.

Even the normally sympathetic ALL THINGS CONSIDERED of NPR had difficulty resolving this, as its chief poltical correspondent Mara Liasson opined yesterday morning:

The president’s political opponents… are saying that he’s senile. He’s incapable of being held accountable for mishandling classified information. He’s clearly unfit for office. This is a problem.

Especially since Biden continues to show that aside from perhaps less of a penchant for loving bronzer and Big Macs, he’s not all that different from his competitor.

Over 75?  Check.  Slurs words?  Check.  Surrounded by syncophants ready to jump to his defense even when he can’t quite form the words to do so himself?  Check and double check.  And in both cases, much more motivated to find a way to speak up when they are under personal attack than when their policies or their party is.

And all this in the wake of new polling from an undeniably fair source that sent chills through Democratic camps earlier in the week which the BOSTON HERALD’s Joe Dwinnell recapped:

A surging Donald Trump would beat President Biden if the election were held today, a new NBC News poll states.

The weekend tally shows Trump up 47% to 42%, still within the margin of error but with two key factors that do not bode well for Biden.

The NBC poll shows Biden losing ground on the economy and immigration, where he comes in second to Trump 20 points and 30 points down, respectively.

Trump was all over the news as he appeared on Fox and all the political shows ran with the stunning jump he just made in a head-to-head survey.

“This is the biggest lead NBC has ever had in 16 polls for Donald Trump over Joe Biden,” NBC’s political correspondent Steve Kornacki told “Meet the Press” on Sunday.

Biden, the poll also shows, has dropped like a rock in his approval rating that now stands at an anemic 37%.

And a lot was also made this week of the fact that Nikki Haley lost out to “none of the above” in the Nevada Republican primary.  But somehow glossed over was the fact that in South Carolina, a state Biden and the Democratic party had given disproportionate favor and attention to, somehow, 11  per cent of registered Democrats made the same choice over Biden.  In an election that portends to be as razor-thin and white-hot as any in history, every single vote matters.  Will every one of those 11 per cent not choose to cast a vote for Trump?

Yes, Biden is continuing to get attacked from all sides.  We’ve seen that happen to an incumbent Democratic president before.  Well, at least I have.  Sure, I was in fourth grade, but I had a very politically astute teacher and a very news-obsessed father.  So I remember the winter of 1968 and the problems that arose for Lyndon Baines Johnson from the Tet offensive.  So does Wikipedia.

THE NEW YORK TIMES had broken a story in mid-March where it was learned that in the wake of that incident, the Johnson administration had asked for an escalation in troops and a stronger presence in Vietnam.  The platform picks up the narrative:

A great deal has been said by historians concerning how the news media made Tet the “turning point” in the public’s perception of the war. Popular CBS anchor Walter Cronkite stated during a news broadcast on February 27, “We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds” and added that, “we are mired in a stalemate that could only be ended by negotiation, not victory.”[240 Johnson, however, made few comments to the press during or immediately after the offensive, leaving an impression of indecision on the public. It was this lack of communication that caused a rising disapproval rating for his conduct in the war. By the end of February, his approval rating had fallen from 63 per cent to 47 per cent. By the end of March, the percentage of Americans that expressed confidence in U.S. military policies in Southeast Asia had fallen from 74 to 54 per cent.[24

Yes, disapproving polls existed even back then, kids.  They just weren’t all that easy to turn around in a matter of hours.  Wikipedia reminds what happened next and how it determined history:

Johnson was depressed and despondent in the course of recent events. The New York Times article had been released just two days before the Democratic Party‘s New Hampshire primary, where the President suffered an unexpected setback in the election, finishing barely ahead of Senator Eugene McCarthy. Soon afterwards, Senator Robert F. Kennedy announced he would join the contest for the Democratic nomination, further emphasizing the plummeting support for Johnson’s administration in the wake of Tet.  The President was to make a televised address to the nation on Vietnam policy on 31 March and was deliberating on both the troop request and his response to the military situation.   On 31 March, President Johnson announced the unilateral (although still partial) bombing halt during his television address. He then stunned the nation by declining to run for a second term in office.

Disappointing primary results and the looming challenge of someone named Robert F. Kennedy?  Check and double check.

Last night’s REAL TIME WITH BILL MAHER featured a spirited debate about the options that are still available for the Democratic party.  None other than Bob Costas, who knows a thing or two about ballgames where the pitcher is tiring, reminded viewers of the Tet incident and the timing involved in a change of course.  Bob was around for Tet, too.  The normally reserved Costas then took the floor, as DEADLINE’s Bruce Haring reported:

“(T)he truth that nobody wants to say out loud,” saying that Biden should have run as a one-term president, and that “the only reason he won is he’s not Trump.” He added, “If he doesn’t understand that, he has to be shown the door.”

Costas said that if Trump is a threat to democracy, “so, too, are the Democrats” if they have Biden as their champion. “If Trump is a monster, you’re going to send this guy out to slay the dragon?” Costas said.

Not since he eulogized Mickey Mantle in tears has Costas offered a more compelling argument.

Johnson, hardly the most unselfish man to ever hold the office of President, was self-aware enough to realize that is enough people are telling you to step aside, you might want to consider doing so.

Polls surrounding candidates on the state level continue to show that Democrats aren’t completely rejected.  Contrary to the desires of that other candidate, Democracy still seems to have a chance.  They just don’t want Joe Biden to be the face of it.  Any more than they wanted LBJ to be back in ’68.

We know how that summer played out. MLK.  RFK.  The Chicago convention.  Deja vu, 2024?  Punxstawney Phil was smart to go back into his tunnel. if for no other reason than to avoid what lies ahead.

At the very least. Scranton Joe, maybe try a slightly different tactic than the exact same playbook Fat Orange Jesus spews?  Maybe instead of lashing out like a cornered cat you could have said something to the effect of “Look, I’m actually being tasked with trying to run this country while Congress makes a mockery of actual governing.  When I had to sit down and answer Mr. Hur’s questions, I was tired.  I do more than sit on my fat ass in my bathroom and rage-tweet.  Sorry, not sorry.  Not worth my time or effort to even address this.  Where I come from, two wrongs don’t make a right.  Next question.”

Look, I’m younger than both of them, and I occasionally forget where I park my car.  Doesn’t make me senile.

Maybe something like THAT might make me somewhat less despondent and resentful of what “binary” choice we’re being forced to accept?

At least Costas and I can be distracted by pitchers and catchers reporting this week.  What do you plan to do?

Maybe read up on the Tet offensive.  And tell me how wrong you think I am.

Better than listening to two slurring older men in a catfight.

Until next time…

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