The Frankening

#23 -- Biden has already lost power

Genuine or not, it almost doesn’t matter in the end! Even with new, corroborating evidence, there’s room to doubt Tara Reade's account of Joe Biden assaulting her in a Senate hallway in 1993. You can read Cathy Young's brief against Reade here (if it seems defensive —well, Young has a lot to fend off). What do I think happened? I have no idea. But that's not the point. Whether or not the voters believe Reade's story, it's now accumulated enough evidentiary heft to subtly change the power dynamics of the Democratic race, and the party itself.

The reason is Al Franken, or more accurately the Franken Precedent. Back in late 2017, it looked like Franken was going to weather the charges of inappropriate conduct against him, until Democrats apparently decided to sacrifice him, presumably in part to demonstrate that they could police their own (unlike the Republicans, who were at the time running controversial Judge Roy Moore for a Senate seat in Alabama). The coup was quick and brutal. First, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand posted on Facebook a call for him to resign. Then, in quick succession, 13 more Democratic women senators (and a majority of the entire caucus) joined her. Whether Franken was guilty or innocent -- and he'd asked for a hearing -- his position became untenable. The day after Gillibrand’s shiv, he announced his intention to resign. (Chuck Schumer had told him to be out by 5 P.M.)

If it looked like an orchestrated takeout, that's because it probably was.

Biden -- even if innocent -- is now in a position where he must constantly worry about getting Frankened. By whom? Well, by the same sorts of powerful Democrats who helped him win the nomination (perhaps by helping orchestrate the well-timed withdrawals of Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg). I’m not saying there's some shadowy committee of power brokers — but there are still power brokers: e.g., Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, James Clyburn, Barack Obama, maybe even Hillary Clinton. Maybe even Bill Clinton. They can talk to each other.

I'm also not saying "they" want to replace Biden now. I doubt that, no matter how appealing Andrew Cuomo looks. Biden's winning the polls. But they could change their mind, and quickly, if he gives enough of them enough reason -- either by faltering, or pissing them off, or a combination of the two. Biden hasn't been nominated yet, after all; he doesn't even have a majority of delegates.  If a series of Democratic women legislators were suddenly to stride to microphones and denounce him -- or, rather, say that the charges against him are serious enough that he should stand down for the good of the party while he clears his name -- the pressure on Biden to comply would be hard for even the enthusiastic choice of primary voters to resist. Biden is not such an enthusiastic choice.

I’d venture this scenario isn’t implausible even after Biden’s nominated (though presumably not in October).

All this has real policy consequences. Biden probably wasn’t about to forge bold new directions -- on trade, say, or the budget deficit, or school choice or crime or welfare reform or (yes) immigration -- that take on any of the party’s various interests, the way Jimmy Carter took on government unions with civil service reform or Bill Clinton took on the anti-poverty lobby over welfare (or Biden himself took on the civil rights lobby in the busing debate of the 1970s). But now Biden’s really in no position to step on anyone’s toes. Power has shifted away from the candidate.


Bonus.: One thing is certain! My grandmother and her family lived through the Great 1906 San Francisco Earthquake and fire. According to family lore -- don't bust me here, it's genuine lore -- the job of fighting the fire was so immense and urgent that private property went out the window. When a dutiful San Francisco citizen was exhausted after battling the blaze, he just walked into the nearest house and lay down on any mattress he could find. 0ne of my relatives came home to discover his arch-enemy sleeping in his bed. That's the lore, anyway.

Even deeply rooted institutions like private property buckle under the pressure of a big enough emergency. We're not at that stage yet with the Corona disaster, but lesser institutions are being brushed aside, and new ones seemingly being born. Journalists are filling their quarantine time compiling knowing lists of all the new trends the current lockdown will start or accelerate: the UBI, mail-in balloting, universal health care, the end of college, the end of urbanization, of department stores, of computer models, of leafblowers, even of Buzzfeed.

Yet, as in San Francisco, sometimes the old institutions (like private property) reassert themselves. Write those trend stories! But keep in mind Walter Kirn’s note:

I used to write for a news magazine and most big analytical stories would end like this: ‘X might happen or Y might happen, but one thing is certain: things will never be the same.’ Then, once time had passed, things would be the same 

Over and over