Calls to replace Biden are cynical and antidemocratic

July 9, 2024

When I was at City Hall last Friday, a Chron reporter tried to interest me in a person-on-the-street interview about whether Biden should drop out and what I thought about Kamala Harris. I declined to answer, and not only because I was there in connection with an unrelated campaign. I’ve been trying to avoid thinking about the subject. It doesn’t matter if I have a smart answer. I’m not influential or rich, so the people who will make the decision don’t care what I think.

Well, maybe that’s exactly the problem. If the “pundit class,” as Rebecca Solnit calls it, gets its way and pressures Biden into dropping out, it would be a completely undemocratic decision.

In theory, we’re supposed to vote on who the candidate is. In theory, that’s what the primary we just had, was. But we didn’t have a real choice. Biden had no real competition. With majorities of Americans agreeing the U.S. should halt arms shipments to Israel, no credible candidate on the ballot for either party supported that position. Registered Democrats, who disapprove 4 to 1 of Israel’s attacks on Gaza, were limited to sending a message with a protest vote rather than voting for a pro-peace candidate.

At risk of stating the obvious, this would have been a far better reason to replace Biden than Biden flubbing a single debate. But the pundit class doesn’t agree. Solnit cites a count of 192 articles, including 50 editorials, published in the New York Times since the debate about Biden’s supposed weakness because he sounded tired. How much coverage do you remember seeing about the failure to have a competitive primary? About the lack of candidates aligned with voters on a key foreign policy issue? I’m going to estimate that the number of New York Times articles about that has been approximately zero.

Establishment media, it seems, were perfectly happy having an uncontested primary. It meant no surprises where Biden could end up being challenged from the left by someone like Sanders, Warren, or AOC. Now that they’re clamoring to replace Biden, the fact that it’s too late to do so democratically is a feature, not a bug. They know any replacement chosen by a backroom deal at the convention would have to be acceptable to the establishment, i.e., them. In short, the centrist elites writing all these articles and op-eds don’t believe in democracy in all its messiness. We the people might choose wrong—it should be left to smart politics knowers like them. They’re thrilled that a bad debate performance provides the perfect crisis to give them that power.

But it seems to be a manufactured crisis. In polling since the debate, Biden’s numbers in swing states actually improved. Over two-thirds of Democrats say Biden should stay in (and presumably might be pissed if he’s forced out!). When the New York Times, Washington Post, and New Yorker publish these breathless calls to drop out, they’re not reporting what voters think; they’re trying to tell us what we should think.

Of course people view a struggling candidate as a crisis. If Biden loses, he loses not to a Mitt Romney, but to Trump, who—now more than ever with the Supreme Court’s help—is an existential threat to democracy. This is true. It’s also true that if these high stakes are going to be used as an excuse to engineer a donor- and pundit-selected, rather than elected, candidate, then we have more than one threat to democracy.

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