In November the voters of all 50 States will go to the polls — or will vote by mail, and that’s fine — to elect their State’s members of the next Congress.
Some who do not like him want this citizen action to be a referendum on President Biden. It would be that, if Biden were a person like his predecessor, hogging the news, making crazy moves or insulting this or that beloved group, bullying and trashing like one of those “very fine people” whose gutter bigotries he succored. Were Biden like that, the 2022 election would HAVE to be about him.
But Biden is NOT like that. He is a decent, soft-spoken man who respects his fellows, who works his office as the Constitution sets it forth, who rarely captures the news cycle and, in my opinion, prefers not to except when his appointed task requires it. As a result, the media doesn’t cover him much. He isn’t news. People don’t talk about him every waking minute.
This frustrates his opponents, who want the President to dominate everything, as we have all become accustomed to by way of the nation being almost constantly at war since 1941: because the Constitution makes the President commander in chief, giving him war powers he doesn’t have when there isn’t war. During war, therefore, the President IS the news; his every act is an order. That is NOT the case otherwise. Congress has pride of place in our system — Article One of the Constitution is about Congress, which makes all the laws — and the President comes second. His job is to execute those laws. It’s a Sisyphean task that challenges every person who has held the office since at least FDR’s day and taken its obligations seriously (as Biden’s predecessor did not).
Doing the job, and understanding that Congress creates the work, and letting Congress do that, is not a newsworthy mission. As the French essayist Michel de Montaigne wrote, the thing he was proudest of about his term as Mayor of Bordeaux, was that there was no news ; because, as he wrote, such news is usually a record of pestilence, wars, corruption, and disaster. (He might have added tyranny.) But such dispassion, though a boon to public life, is, in the media arena, like a sober man at a drunk party: who wants him ? So Biden is seen by many, including some Democrats, as “weak,” and thus his low approval level.
How perverted our current default view of the Presidency is ! We WANT, many of us, a President who makes news, any kind of news, destructive news and worse, as long as it’s something that will turn our heads and set us remarking, screaming, cheering, hating.
In other words, a President who is not what our Framers wanted of a President.
But Joe Biden is exactly what our Framers wanted of a President; and because he is that, this election will be not about him but about the offices actually being elected to.
The current Congress, up for judgement by the voters, has much to boast of. This term has been the most comprehensively productive since the Civil Rights Congress of 1965-1966. We have a new, vast, bipartisan infrastructure bill; the equally vast Covid Relief Act; a first stab at gun and ammo control, not big but at least something; massive, continuing suppor for Ukraine at war; a “CHIPS” act, which will surge money into our domestic manufacture of computer chips, so that we aren’t at the mercy of foreign suppliers; very likely an act (the “Inflation Reduction Act”) requiring competitive pricing of drugs used in ACA health plans, setting a corporate minimum tax, and investing serious Federal dollars in non-fossil energy businesses. In addition, the Senate has confirmed more Federal judicial nominees, so far, than in any previous session, including a first-rate new Supreme Court Justice who may well, one day, become Chief. And all of it with some Republican support, in many cases, a lot of Republican support.
That’s a mighty good record for a sitting Congress ember to seek re-election on.
No, this Congress didn’t accomplish some vital basics. The politics of religion stymied any attempt to reverse, by law, the Supreme Court’s terrible decision wiping out one of women’s basic Constitutional privacy right, or even to safeguard women’s right to travel to States where abortion is still legal.
Fixing this radical reversal may be beyond the power of any Congress.
Meanwhile (I’m going back to the election now) Republican primary voters, dominated in many cases by the whims of Mr. Biden’s predecessor, seem to have, in several crucial States, nominated candidates utterly negative and, in some cases, radical or even kooky. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose shrewd handling of his Senate Republicans has contributed significantky to this Congress’s success, deserves better candidates, but it is what it is..
Partly for the above-cited reason (and yes, partly because of the Supreme Court’s savage erasure of women’s most basic privacy right), I think the Democrats will gain at least four Senate seats and may well hold their majority in the House and might even extend it.
Which four ? I’d say Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, and North Carlina. Nor is Utah’s Mike Lee sure of winning another term, seriously challenged as he is by independent Evan McMullin. But this is grist for a next Here and Sphere column.
— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere