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Opinion Give Biden a break

President Biden in the East Room of the White House on July 5. (Sarah Silbiger for The Washington Post)
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Here’s the deal, Democrats: You need to give Joe Biden a break.

For weeks, Democrats have arrayed themselves in traditional circular firing formation, complaining about the president’s failure to channel outrage about mass shootings, the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade and MAGA Republicans’ assaults on democracy. This produced post-Independence Day fireworks in a trio of news outlets:

The Post reported that “some Democrats” think Biden “risks a dangerous failure to meet the moment” and quoted a Democratic consultant lamenting Biden’s “leadership vacuum.”

Politico reported that “Democrats have grown increasingly frustrated at what they perceive has been the White House’s lack of urgency” and “Biden’s seeming lack of fire.”

And CNN reported: “Top Democrats complain the president isn’t acting with … the urgency the moment demands.” Anonymous Democratic lawmakers called the White House “rudderless,” with “no fight.”

Accompanying this hat trick of own-goal scoring by Democrats were unfavorable comparisons between Biden and Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker (who after the July 4 mass shooting near Chicago told people to “be angry … I’m furious”) and California Gov. Gavin Newsom (who ran an ad in Florida condemning Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis for “banning books, making it harder to vote, restricting speech in classrooms, even criminalizing women and doctors”).

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There’s just one problem with the too-cool-Joe complaints: Biden has been saying — heatedly and repeatedly — exactly that which he is accused of avoiding.

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Biden has been hammering DeSantis, for example, for his “hateful” “don’t say gay” bill, for “book burnings” and “trying to ban books, even math books,” and for a “dangerous” abortion bill eroding “women’s constitutional rights.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) scolded Biden for failing to “come to terms” with the “crisis of our democracy,” and Politico reports Democrats criticizing Biden for lacking fire against “escalating threats to democracy.” But Biden, who frequently warns of the dire threats, was just a few months ago criticized for being too hot when he said of those restricting voting rights: “Do you want to be on the side of John Lewis or Bull Connor?” Then, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said that “perhaps the president went a little too far.” NBC’s Kristen Welker asked Biden about those “offended by your speech.” NBC’s Craig Melvin asked whether the speech was an example of “vindictiveness.”

As for lacking fervor on gun carnage, Biden said after the Uvalde, Tex., massacre, “What in God’s name do you need an assault weapon for except to kill someone?” and “Deer aren’t running through the forest with Kevlar vests on, for God’s sake. It’s just sick,” and “When in God’s name are we going to stand up to the gun lobby?” and “I am sick and tired of it. We have to act. And don’t tell me we can’t have an impact on this carnage.” After the Buffalo massacre, he denounced the “murderous, racist rampage” and “weapons of war” deployed by an “evil” shooter “who massacred innocent people in the name of hateful and perverse ideology.”

On the abortion ruling, he decried the “terrible, extreme decision,” the “destabilizing” effect of “the outrageous behavior of the Supreme Court,” and the “realization of an extreme ideology and a tragic error by the Supreme Court.” He shared “the public outrage at this extremist court that’s committed to moving America backwards.” He repeatedly called the decision “so extreme,” adding, “it just stuns me.” At other times he alleged that the Supreme Court “contradicts both common sense and the Constitution” with “devastating” effect.

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Those saying Biden has generally failed to attack Republican extremism overlook months of heat: saying “this MAGA crowd is really the most extreme political organization that’s existed in recent American history,” denouncing “the big lie being told by the former president and many Republicans who fear his wrath,” condemning the “unconscionable” obstruction by Senate Republicans, and lambasting Republicans’ “ultra-MAGA” agenda. (Then, Democrats complained Biden’s fierce rhetoric sounded “more like blame-shifting than problem-solving.”)

The fratricide is likely stoked by the press, which likes a “Dems-in-disarray” story and would love a presidential primary. Democrats are habitually more self-critical than their Republican counterparts (who remain silent as evidence of Donald Trump’s election crimes piles up). And there’s genuine frustration that more can’t get done.

But that’s the fault of Joe Manchin, not Joe Biden — and of a broken political system that protects minority rule. What’s depressing Biden’s (and therefore Democrats’) poll numbers isn’t alleged timidity (he won’t open pop-up abortion clinics in Yellowstone National Park!) but inflation and gas prices. That’s largely why the leaders of Britain, Germany, France and Canada are in rough shape, too — as any incumbent U.S. president would be, no matter how young or charismatic.

It’s fair for Democrats to ask whether in 2024 they should re-nominate a man in his 82nd year. But this Goldilocks tale about Biden’s too-hot and too-cold rhetoric needs to be put to bed.

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