Syllipsimodi bideni fossil (for relevance see end of article)
Traditionally, war or other disasters help incumbent politicians and create severe risks for their opposition. The opposition politician who does not give full support to the incumbent of high office at such times walks at the edge of a precipice, requiring great skill to avoid the bottomless chasm whence tumbles any politico who is seen as “unpatriotic” or “disloyal”. Yet at the same time, traps await. If the government turns out to be getting things wrong, then the opposition must suddenly produce the evidence that it always held doubts, harboured reservations, had more considered views. If the public turns on the government that got it wrong (whatever “it” happened to be: war, pestilence, welcoming refugees), the opposition must rapidly execute sharp footwork if it is to gain the glittering prize of high office.
Keir Starmer, leader of the British Labour Party, is in this context having a good war; he shows undoubted support for Mr Johnson and his cabinet, but keen browsers of the media will be aware of the subtext that Labour could have done things quicker, with more generosity, or by a bonfire of bureaucracy. Keir has the additional difficulty of keeping some of his backbench hotheads quiet, although not so quiet that he will not be able to harness some of those wild horses if they should look to have laid useful trails in the future.
In France President Macron faces no such difficulties. The war in Ukraine could not have been better timed; with an election due in the next three weeks he is the living embodiment of the saying that it is better to be born lucky than rich. Three months ago the outcome was looking far from certain; and M. Macron’s attempts to become Macron the Peacemaker went sadly adrift at that extraordinarily long table, a potential electoral disaster. But his piece of luck was that his opponents on the right had previously shown themselves rather over-fond of Mr Putin in Moscow; and flint hearted on immigration. Now Emmanuel is Emmanuel the Strong, Emmanuel the leader of United Europe, and Emmanuel the Compassionate. His electoral opponents lie around, misfooted and discomforted, M. Zemmour almost stunned
into silence and Mme le Pen doing what she can, but with that air of a third-time loser.
Which takes us to the leader of the free world, Good Ol’ Joe Biden. Mr Biden’s presidency has not been going well. To be fair, at inauguration he was dealt a pretty weak hand, with Covid19 at its height, an economy that President Trump had pretty much got right and for which Joe could take no credit, and worst of all, a fractured and argumentative Democrat Party where any attempt by the President to try to keep one element on side was to merely send another group into a fury.
Still, Mr Biden ought to have had the ability to get some of his programme into legislation. The Democrats control the House of Representatives (not by a lot admittedly), and have effective control of the Senate – it is split 50/50 between the two parties but that gives the Vice President the casting vote. That is the theory; but it does not allow for a situation in which two conservative Democrat Senators, Manchin and Sinema, side with the Republicans in most matters, especially in anything which involves increased tax burdens, as legislation tends to do. And the Vice President, Kamala Harris? That was to be the dream balance to the Joe Biden ticket; a female, black, cerebral, West Coaster, ready for nomination for the Oval Office whenever Mr Biden decided to not fight another election.
That was the dream; the reality has turned out very different. Kamala was always known to be a poor speaker, but such skills can be taught, to an extent. She had a reputation as a tough Attorney General in California, not popular with Democrat liberals, but such stances can be adjusted in high national office. But no; Kamala almost seems to have a death wish insofar as high office is concerned. What does she actually do? Nobody really knows, but when she does do something it seems terribly half-hearted, as with her attempts to sort out the mess that is immigration into the US in the south west, and with her bizarre world tours, visits to potentially friendly nations where she has little to say and few results of significance to report.
A little slip ten days ago did not help. Mr Biden referred to the Russian attacks on Iranians; he meant Ukrainians, of course; it did not need Kamala behind him mouthing rather obviously “Ukrainians” to add yet more to the open rumour that the President is getting a little confused and forgetful. Indeed, Mr Biden further fuelled it a few days later, saying that the Covid positive status of the First Lady’s husband meant Ms Harris could not be present at a press conference. Even when pressed to confirm that he was surely the First Lady’s husband (Mrs Biden being First Lady) and asked to clarify as to whether he had Covid, the Presidential confusion continued amidst nervous laughter and some heavy prompting from his entourage.
But war in eastern Europe has surely created a surge of support for the Biden Presidency? Initially it did. For about four days. And never to an extent where the polls gave the President more positives than negatives. The President’s ratings are now back in the zone where they have been for the last six months – about 42% of those polled think he is doing a good job, whilst 53% don’t. Interestingly, for those with long memories, Richard Nixon throughout his presidency had higher approvals than disapprovals – right up to the time he resigned.
The nature of the American political system is of course that there is no formal leader of the “opposition”, giving the President a natural advantage. Mr Trump might be thought to be so, but has still not told us whether he might run again for the Presidency in 2024, and Russia is not a good subject for him due to his wrongly-perceived closeness to Mr Putin. His potential opponents for the Republican nomination tend to keep off the troubles in Europe because there is no political point in getting into one position or another until, let’s be cynical, the end result can be seen. Plus, most of the American public are not very interested and still think Mr Putin is a Commie. The wilder fringes on both left and right seem to be ever so slightly pro-Putin (perhaps they all think he is a Commie too) though there is certainly a thoughtful and strategic group on the right who think it would be a good idea (we are being ironic) to nuke Moscow whilst Putin’s attention is elsewhere.
Mr Biden continues valiantly trying to make rude noises at the Russians, but not so rude that there is any danger of anything explosive being pointed at Washington. His conversations with President Xi of China made no progress at all. His efforts to get the Saudis to release more oil and get the price down have failed – the Saudis need the revenue to subsidise their rapidly growing population, quite apart from their concern about Joe wanting a deal with Iran.
The overall effect is to make Joe look weaker than ever, and that is bringing troubles in the Democrat Party slowly to the boil. To wit, serious moves are now being made to find a younger, cleaner, widely-appealing candidate who might be the Democrat nominee in 2024, somebody who will advance the interests of the left, the woke, the shrill, rich professionals, Californian liberals, the working class traditional Democrat blue collar groups. All at once, somehow. In short, a young version of Bernie Sanders. One may be emerging. He is Ro Khanna, congressman for the Silicon Valley, increasingly promoted by Senator Sander’s advisory team. Last week Congressman Khanna said: “I’m not running in 2024, I fully expect the president to run and intend to support him strongly.” He sounds like a contender to us. And so Bernie may yet have his revenge on the Democrat establishment that kept him from the White House.
But not all is grim for Joe. He has achieved the rare distinction of having a creature named after him, the Syllipsimopodi bideni . The creature is admittedly 405 million years old and so rather dead and is best described as a vampire squid. But hey, it’s being remembered that matters.