It’s an oft-told tale that, given Friday’s developments in Washington, bears repeating.
As Joe Califano describes it in "Triumph and Tragedy," his revealing memoir of his time in Lyndon Johnson’s White House, the president summoned civil rights leaders during racial unrest in the explosive summer of 1967.
Detroit and Newark were burning and Democrats were sharply divided over several issues, including how to respond to the rioters. LBJ was using his famous arm-twisting methods with NAACP leader Roy Wilkins and Urban League executive director Whitney Young, but without much success.
Frustrated, he launched an attack on the left-wing of his party, declaring, "A liberal is intolerant of other views. He wants to control your thoughts and actions."
As Califano writes, Johnson then moved closer to his guests to deliver the final punch: "You know the difference between cannibals and liberals? Cannibals eat only their enemies."
Joe Biden knows the feeling. More than five decades later, he, too, is being eaten alive by the Dems’ left, which is now called progressive instead of liberal.
No matter the name, the appetite is the same.
But that’s where the similarities end. LBJ was a fighter and brilliant tactician, but Biden is neither. Johnson honed his leadership instincts in the Senate, but Biden spent nearly 40 years there and learned only how to talk the talk.
The contrast was on display Friday as Biden surrendered to his party’s most radical element without a fight. His visit to Capitol Hill was billed as a bid to forge a solution to the Dems’ split, but instead Biden blinked and waved a white flag.
By giving his blessing to the radicals’ refusal to vote on the bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure deal until they get a vote on the $3.5 trillion grab bag of socialist trash, he turned his back on the central promise of his election and guaranteed his presidency will continue to hemorrhage public support.
Biden’s comments after the meeting revealed his capitulation, saying first that "we’re going to get this done." But that bravado was instantly neutered when he added: "It doesn’t matter when. It doesn’t matter whether it’s in six minutes, six days or six weeks. We’re going to get it done."
Try to imagine LBJ saying he was fine with a minority of his party sidelining his agenda until they felt like addressing it. In fact, try to imagine any president folding like Biden did.
His flop is especially odd in that passing the infrastructure bill would give him something he desperately needs: a victory.
So far, he hasn’t delivered much of anything except trouble and failure and his poll numbers continue to slide downhill. The Afghanistan debacle, the border mess, the still-raging coronavirus and rising inflation are taking their toll on his presidency, and getting passage of the infrastructure deal, which garnered nearly a score of GOP votes in the Senate, would give him bragging rights on a popular issue.
That should make it a no-brainer for all Dems. After all, a failing, unpopular president is likely to cost the party control of Congress next year given the party’s narrow margins.
But rejection of common sense is a key trait of the irredeemable nature of the left. Johnson, by the time he made his cannibal comparison, already had delivered the Great Society agenda, from voting rights to civil rights to Medicare and Medicaid, but it wasn’t enough for the left.
For his part, Biden has backed nearly every far-left piece of nonsense in the wind, including a voting rights bill that would put Washington in full charge of federal elections. He talked about making Puerto Rico a state, packing the Supreme Court and ending the Senate filibuster.
He’s also showed himself to be an open-borders president and adopted the language of the worst race-baiters by insisting the nation is guilty of "systemic racism" even while he calls Americans "good people."
None of these positions reflect the Joe Biden people knew from his long tenure in Washington, where he personified the word moderate. Indeed, when he talked repeatedly in his campaign and at the inaugural about "unity" and working as hard for those who didn’t vote for him as those who did, there was reason to hope he was serious about trying to heal the nation’s breach.
Yet here we are, with the president remaking himself as a leftist, the left calling it insufficient, and he shrugs his shoulders and says OK.
The House Dems’ refusal to give Biden his infrastructure bill until they get a vote on the $3.5 trillion spend-apalooza is mind-boggling when you consider that a monster that incoherent and expensive will never pass the Senate. Biden is said to have talked of cutting it to $2 trillion or so, even as Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., says $1.5 trillion is his maximum.
The haggling over the contents and price could take weeks or months, with ultimate passage uncertain. And there is no guarantee the infrastructure bill would pass muster with the left after all that.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the rest of the progressive caucus said no to Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the same reason college students try to silence conservative voices.
They’re in Congress but still don’t understand that, in the adult world, you can’t always get what you want. And that to get along, you sometimes have to go along.
That’s true in every family, workplace and neighborhood, but it’s telling that such basic truths of everyday life elude many lawmakers. No wonder Congress is leading the country to hell.
Still, because all roads in Washington lead to the White House, the question of why Biden has ceded so much of his power to the insatiable far left demands an answer.
Unfortunately, the answer is obvious. He’s a weak, befuddled president who is the emptiest of empty suits. All talk and no conviction, he couldn’t stand up to the Taliban and can’t even stand up to the wing nuts in his own party.
What a disaster.
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