This Sept. 11, a diminished president will preside over a diminished nation.
We are a country that could not keep a demagogue from the White House; could not stop an insurrectionist mob from storming the Capitol; could not win (or at least avoid losing) a war against a morally and technologically retrograde enemy; cannot conquer a disease for which there are safe and effective vaccines; and cannot bring itself to trust the government, the news media, the scientific establishment, the police or any other institution meant to operate for the common good.
A civilization “is born stoic and dies epicurean,” wrote historian Will Durant about the Babylonians. Our civilization was born optimistic and enlightened, at least by the standards of the day. Now it feels as if it’s fading into paranoid senility.
Joe Biden was supposed to be the man of the hour: a calming presence exuding decency, moderation and trust. As a candidate, he sold himself as a transitional president, a fatherly figure in the mold of George H.W. Bush who would restore dignity and prudence to the Oval Office after the mendacity and chaos that came before. It’s why I voted for him, as did so many others who once tipped red.
乔·拜登(Joe Biden)本应是这个时刻的主角：从容出场，散发着正派、温和和值得信任的气质。作为候选人，他标榜自己是转型总统，一个像乔治·H·W·布什(George H.W. Bush)一样的父亲般的人物，在椭圆形办公室经历了先前的谎言和混乱之后，他将恢复其尊严和审慎。这就是我投票给他的原因，就像许多其他曾经倾向共和党的人一样。
Instead, Biden has become the emblem of the hour: headstrong but shaky, ambitious but inept. He seems to be the last person in America to realize that, whatever the theoretical merits of the decision to withdraw our remaining troops from Afghanistan, the military and intelligence assumptions on which it was built were deeply flawed, the manner in which it was executed was a national humiliation and a moral betrayal, and the timing was catastrophic.
We find ourselves commemorating the first great jihadist victory over America, in 2001, right after delivering the second great jihadist victory over America, in 2021. The 9/11 memorial at the World Trade Center — water cascading into one void, and then trickling, out of sight, into another — has never felt more fitting.
Now Biden proposes to follow this up with his $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill, which The Times’s Jonathan Weisman describes as “the most significant expansion of the nation’s safety net since the war on poverty in the 1960s.”
When Lyndon Johnson launched his war on poverty, its associated legislation — from food stamps to Medicare — passed with bipartisan majorities in a lopsidedly Democratic Congress. Biden has similar ambitions without the same political means. This is not going to turn out well.
Last week, Joe Manchin, Democrat from West Virginia, published an essay in The Wall Street Journal in which he said, “I, for one, won’t support a $3.5 trillion bill, or anywhere near that level of additional spending, without greater clarity about why Congress chooses to ignore the serious effects inflation and debt have on existing government programs.”
上周，来自西弗吉尼亚州的民主党人乔·曼钦(Joe Manchin)在《华尔街日报》(The Wall Street Journal)上发表了一篇文章，他说：“国会选择忽视通胀和债务对现有政府项目的严重影响，如果国会对此不做更多澄清，我个人不会支持3.5万亿美元的法案，或者任何接近该水平的额外支出。”
Is the White House paying any more attention to Manchin’s message than it did to classified intelligence briefs over the summer warning of the prospect of a swift Taliban victory?
Maybe Biden supposes that the legislation, if passed, will prove increasingly popular over time, like Obamacare. That’s the optimistic scenario. Alternatively, he could suffer a legislative calamity like Hillary Clinton’s health care reform in 1994, which would have ended Bill Clinton’s presidency save for his sharp swing to the center, including ending “welfare as we know it” two years later.
也许拜登认为该立法如果通过，随着时间的推移会越来越受欢迎，就像奥巴马医改一样。这是乐观的情况。或者，他可能会遭受像1994年希拉里·克林顿(Hillary Clinton)的医疗改革那样的立法灾难，好在比尔·克林顿(Bill Clinton)急剧转向中间派，包括在两年后结束“我们所熟悉的那种福利”，否则这将终结他的总统任期。
Even the optimistic precedent was followed by a Democratic rout in 2010, when the party lost 63 House seats. If history repeats itself at the 2022 midterms, I doubt that even Joe Biden’s closest aides think he has the stamina to fight his way back in 2024. Has Kamala Harris shown the political talent to pick up the pieces?
Perhaps what will save the Democrats is that Biden’s weakness will tempt Donald Trump to seek (and almost certainly gain) the Republican nomination. But then there’s the chance he’d win the election.
There’s a way back from this cliff’s edge. It begins with Biden finding a way to acknowledge publicly the gravity of his administration’s blunders. The most shameful aspect of the Afghanistan withdrawal was the incompetence of the State Department when it came to expediting visas for thousands of people eligible to come to the United States. Accountability could start with Antony Blinken’s resignation.
The president might also seize the “strategic pause” Manchin has proposed and push House Democrats to pass the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill without holding it hostage to the $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill. Infrastructure is far more popular with middle-of-the-road voters than the Great Society reprise that was never supposed to be a part of the Biden brand.
My sense is that Biden will do neither. The last few months have told us something worrying about this president: He’s proud, inflexible, and thinks he’s much smarter than he really is. That’s bad news for the administration. It’s worse news for a country that desperately needs to avoid another failed presidency.