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Norman Solomon, Putting the Biden Crisis in Perspective

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Until last Sunday, the 2024 election wasn’t just a campaign between a distinctly old man making uncalled-for mistakes and his opponent. It was between two distinctly old men, both making uncalled-for errors, and of the two, the one making the most disastrous errors (not just in language but in preparing the future for the rest of us) was, thanks to an assassination attempt on him, offered a free pass to the Republican convention. Who cares that, at a recent rally of his, he said things like “everybody has a water spot, where water comes out” and went on “nonsensical rants about whether it would be better to be electrocuted or attacked by a shark.” And yet give him credit. Though in recent years he could never seem to stop talking, in the wake of President Biden’s disastrous debate with him (no matter that he himself offered a nozzle full of errors, misstatements, and god knows what else that night), he kept his mouth remarkably shut for days on end and let the Democratic Party beat itself to… well, now that President Biden has withdrawn from the 2024 race, let’s hope it’s not death.

Certainly, Joe Biden had his problems. I’m thinking, of course, about the president who only recently called Ukrainian President Zelensky, “President Putin,” while introducing him at a NATO conference in Washington, and briefly labeled his own vice president, Kamala Harris, “Vice President Trump.” And that, for sure, was anything but pretty, but at least he’s now left the race and we don’t have to face the possibility of an 86-year-old president. But even a president who would leave office at 82 is — let this 80-year-old assure you — simply not a good bet.

In the meantime, while the Republican Party has, with the rarest of exceptions, become totally Trumpified, the Democratic Party suddenly faces a new world of sorts and it’s not exactly in great shape, as TomDispatch regular Norman Solomon, who has had long-term up-close-and-personal connections to that party, makes clear. No one, of course, can faintly know how all of this or, given Biden’s decision, election 2024 will turn out, but if you’re not worried, believe me, you should be. Tom

The Democratic Party’s Culture of Loyalty

How an Ethos of Compliance Made the Biden Debacle Possible

The Biden campaign drove the Democratic Party into a ditch and speculation is rampant about grim prospects for the election. But little scrutiny has gone into examining how such a dire situation developed in the first place.

Joe Biden was on a collision course with reality long before his abysmal debate performance led to his withdrawal from the race. “Several current and former officials and others who encountered him behind closed doors noticed that he increasingly appeared confused or listless, or would lose the thread of conversations,” the New York Times reported five days after the debate. Some had noticed the glaring problem months earlier but kept quiet.

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Engelhardt, I.F. Stone and the Urge to Serve

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[Note for TomDispatch readers: On this weekend I’m taking off to, if not celebrate, then at least live through my 80th birthday, I’m posting what I consider a 2015 “best of” from Tom Engelhardt (something I’ve seldom done). In that nine-year-old piece, I focused on a figure I then considered (and still consider) heroic: I.F. Stone, who, from the early Cold War moment of 1953 deep into the Vietnam War era, put out his own “weekly” newsletter. By 2015, I already thought of myself (as I wrote in this piece) as “I.F. Pebble.” As I made clear then, however, in the years of the American global war on terror, I found myself, unlike Stone in the Vietnam years, dealing with a populace that, when it came to protesting our disastrous conflicts abroad, had been effectively demobilized (and some of whom in recent times have, horrifically enough, been remobilized by one Donald Trump).

As I wrote then, both sadly and, when it came to a crucial right-wing movement The Donald would later supersede, tellingly enough, “The American national security state has succeeded strikingly at only one thing (other than turning itself into a growth industry): it freed itself of us and of Congress. In the years following the Vietnam War, the American people were effectively demobilized… Since then, in a host of ways, our leaders have managed to sideline the citizenry, replacing the urge to serve with a sense of cynicism about government (which has morphed into many things, including, on the right, the Tea Party movement).”

So, on this weekend when I’m off duty, check out the Tom Engelhardt of 2015 and the I.F. Stone of the 1960s and 1970s. And while you’re at it, if you feel the urge, visit the TomDispatch donation page and consider offering I.F. Pebble a chance to keep on, if all goes well, until his 81st birthday (and thanks so much in advance!). 

Oh, and one final thing: I thought I might recommend two new books. The first is a just-published novel, Ravens on a Wire, about the grim legacy of the Vietnam War (I’ve already ordered it myself!) by that superb TD writer and Vietnam veteran Andrew Bacevich. The second is Joe Conason’s The Longest Con: How Grifters, Swindlers, and Frauds Hijacked American Conservatism, which focuses on how Donald Trump’s path to power was blazed by a motley crew of swindlers and frauds who made up the conservative movement from the last century to this one, a book that I read in galleys and found all too painfully relevant. Tom]

Remembrance of Wars Past

Why There Is No Massive Antiwar Movement in America 

There was the old American lefty paper, the Guardian, and the Village Voice, which beat the Sixties into the world, and its later imitators like the Boston Phoenix. There was Liberation News Service, the Rat in New York, the Great Speckled Bird in Atlanta, the Old Mole in Boston, the distinctly psychedelic Chicago SeedLeviathanViet-Report, and the L.A. Free Press, as well as that Texas paper whose name I long ago forgot that was partial to armadillo cartoons. And they existed, in the 1960s and early 1970s, amid a jostling crowd of hundreds of “underground” newspapers -- all quite above ground but the word sounded so romantic in that political moment.  There were G.I. antiwar papers by the score and high school rags by the hundreds in an “alternate” universe of opposition that somehow made the rounds by mail or got passed on hand-to-hand in a now almost unimaginable world of interpersonal social networking that preceded the Internet by decades. And then, of course, there was I.F. Stone’s Weekly (1953-1971): one dedicated journalist, 19 years, every word his own (except, of course, for the endless foolishness he mined from the reams of official documentation produced in Washington, Vietnam, and elsewhere).

I can remember the arrival of that newsletter, though I no longer know whether I subscribed myself or simply shared someone else’s copy. In a time when being young was supposed to be glorious, Stone was old -- my parents’ age -- but still we waited on his words. It helped to have someone from a previous generation confirm in nuts and bolts ways that the issue that swept so many of us away, the Vietnam War, was indeed an American atrocity.

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Engelhardt, Where Did the American Century Go?

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[Note for TomDispatch readers: Consider me a broken record, but with my 80th birthday just a couple of days from now, I want to urge all of you TD readers to consider visiting our donation page and lending me a hand, while I do my aging best to head into the future. Tom]

The Decline and Fall of Presidential America

Are We Now Living in a Defeat Culture?

It's not a happenstance or some sad mistake that, barring a surprise, Americans will go to the polls in November to vote for one of two distinctly ancient men, now 77 and 81, both of whom have clearly exhibited language and thought problems for a significant period of time. To put this in perspective, remember for a moment that, until Ronald Reagan entered his second term in office in 1985 (during which he would get dementia before leaving the White House at age 77), the oldest president was Dwight D. Eisenhower and he was 70 (yes, 70!) not on entering the Oval Office but on leaving it after his second term in 1961. 

Of course, that was another America in another age -- and my apologies for using that word in a piece about Donald Trump and Joe Biden! It was one in which it seemed all too natural to have the youngest president ever, John F. Kennedy, who was only 46 years old when he was assassinated. 

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