It seems hard to believe now, when President Trump feels he needs to give an address at Mount Rushmore in defense of American values and the American way of life, but twenty years ago this summer, the presidential election was a dead heat between two bland centrists. The Republican Party had vanquished Pat Buchanan’s rightwing populist insurrection of the 1990’s. The Clinton/Gore Administration had worked hard to defeat the old Liberals who lost five of six presidential elections to the GOP. Texas governor George W. Bush and Vice President Al Gore were the candidates of bland centrism and the ‘radical middle’. This was an election of policy positions on prescription drugs, tax rates, and campaign finance reform. The great issues of the age had been settled. America was in the post historical world. That November, Bush defeated Gore by 547 votes in Florida, showing just how little space lay between the two men. No one imagined that history would come roaring back less than a year later on September 11th. The first decade of the 21st century was made by George W. Bush.
Eleven years out of office already, the 43rd President’s legacy is complex. Detractors say he led America into an unnecessary five-year war in Iraq and presided over the worst economic catastrophe since the Great Depression. To those who support him (this author voted twice for W), Bush rallied the nation after the September 11th attacks, liberated Afghanistan, and won the battle for Iraq. The Republican mainstream still adores W for his pro-business polices, while the conservative base has rejected his brand of corporatism and internationalism in favor of Trump. Unlike President Obama, who remains in Washington D.C., Bush had the decency to go away. Back in Texas now, he paints and participates in various veteran’s charities. Like his late father, whom he movingly eulogized, George W. Bush has avoided the post presidency spotlight.
Through no fault of his own, Bush is back in the news. Last week, a group calling itself 43 Alumni for Biden announced it had sprung forth from the bowels of Washington’s think tanks, special interest groups, and bureaucracy to join the fight against Donald Trump. Declared Jennifer Milikin, one of the hundreds of group members no one has ever heard of, ‘We just feel the time now is to restore dignity to the White House, and the current gentleman is not, so that’s why we’re supporting Joe Biden.’
Fans of 43 Alumni for Biden need not worry about membership obscurity. Surely Ms. Milikin or some other career Washingtonian will pull a former Bush cabinet secretary out of the law firm or corporate board in which he or she sits and make them honorary chair. This observer’s best guess is Colin Powell, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Secretary of State, last seen assuring the United Nations about Saddam Hussein’s WMD stockpiles. Powell supported Obama in 2008 and 2012 and Hillary Clinton in 2016.
When political skeptics talk about the multiparty, the thousands upon thousands of permanent professional Washingtonians drifting from one administration job to the next, regardless of election outcome, 43 Alumni for Biden is what they’re talking about. Very often when the Bush’s are out of power, the Clinton’s are in. Nine of the last 10 presidential elections going back to 1980 have involved a Bush or a Clinton (only in 2012 were neither family involved, but Biden was). Donald Trump defeated the Bush Dynasty in the 2016 Republican primary, and the Clinton Dynasty in the general.
The Establishment has forgiven Trump or accepted his victory. The Washington bureaucracy has waged a clandestine war against President Trump for three and half years, first with the Russian Collusion Hoax, then their Ukrainian Impeachment fiasco, now an implausible story about Russian bounties on American troops in Afghanistan without having to explain what Moscow gains from such a scheme. What is it with the Democrats and Russia anyway?
The GOP base has waged unrelenting war against the Establishment, upsetting several of their candidates in congressional primaries. On the Democrat side, far left office holders like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have fought off establishment challenges or defeated sitting establishment figures like 15 term Congressman Elliot Engle. This will not be an election about centrism.
And so, a weary America casts its eyes to 43 Alumni for Biden, in the hopes that a 77-year-old man in cognitive decline can restore dignity to the White House. Joe Biden was always useful, first as a liberal Cold War Democrat, then as a centrist, the author of the 1994 crime bill (now blamed for ‘mass incarceration’), later as a foreign policy ‘realist’ giving respectability to the Obama campaign, and, finally, a cipher through which the Establishment can govern. He is the mono-party’s last gasp.