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The political climate in America as we approach the presidential campaign year of 2020 is remarkably similar to that prevailing in Europe. On both continents, the center is not holding.
In both America and Europe, I venerated the classical conservative philosophy in the 1980s of former President Ronald Reagan and United Kingdom Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. It was a philosophy in which the reverence for institutions and norms of Edmund Burke, the protection of life, liberty, and property espoused by John Locke, and the emphasis on free markets by Adam Smith were all woven together in one magnificently coherent governing doctrine.
Today, among self-defined conservatives in both America and Europe, the parafascism of Donald Trump has largely replaced the classical conservatism of Reagan and Thatcher. Parafascism is best defined as a doctrine of capturing power by authoritarian tactics that convey by demagogic populist propaganda a message of bigotry and xenophobia. Parafascism is not only the dominant creed of the White House of Donald Trump. In Poland and Hungary, parafascists are now in power, and they are a major force in coalition governments in Italy and Austria and the parliaments of Germany, the Netherlands, and France. In Italy, the Interior Minister Matteo Salvini openly aspires to be the next Donald Trump.
And let us not mince words: Parafascism is the prime right wing enabler of antisemitism in both America in Europe. It manifests itself in the white nationalist movement of America and the nativist movements in Europe.
Likewise, the hopeful compassionate appeal to the heart by liberals in America like Hubert Humphrey and Robert Kennedy and European social democrats like former West German Chancellor Willy Brandt and British Prime Minister Harold Wilson is now being largely supplanted by the hateful Marxian anti-Westernism of an Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in America and British Labor Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Both these individuals are enablers of antisemitism and hatred of the State of Israel.
The center is not holding in either America or Europe. Above all else, this is what makes the American presidential election of 2020 so significant to Europe. A center-left Democratic victory in America over Trumpian parafascism would serve as a beacon of hope to both European center-left and center-right political parties and movements. It would signify that the center CAN hold.
And in this political climate, that is what makes the Joe Biden message so compelling. The Biden message, in so many words is that the vital center MUST hold.
Yet in recent months, three unforced errors on the part of Joe Biden have raised a concern as to whether he can effectively deliver his own message. The first was the controversy about his unwelcomed, albeit nonsexual physical contact with women. The second was his waffling regarding the Hyde amendment on abortion. The third was his statement regarding his ability to work with the late segregationist US Senators James Eastland and Herman Talmadge. The last controversy was particularly annoying to Biden supporters, since he could have used his excellent relationships with former Republican Senators John McCain and Orrin Hatch as examples of his ability to work with officials on the opposite side of the aisle.
These unforced errors of Biden are all due to his most significant political flaw. He lacks political discipline, the ability and inclination to reflect on the prospective impact of his interpersonal actions and statements before he acts or speaks.
The good news for Biden is that African-Americans are aware of his magnificent civil rights record, and women are well aware of his distinguished championship of protection of women from domestic violence and discrimination in the workplace. They know full well that this profoundly decent man is no racist or sexist predator. The criticism of Biden by Cory Booker must be evaluated in view of Booker’s political desperation as shown by his abysmal showing in presidential polls. And the demagogic excoriation of Biden by New York’s repulsively corrupt Mayor Bill DeBlasio is totally lacking in credibility.
Still, Biden’s lack of political discipline does tend to become a campaign story that gets in the way of the moral imperative of the Biden message. One cannot expect Biden to become an exemplar of political discipline overnight. In fact, an excess of political discipline may get in the way of a quality of Biden that voters find to be most endearing: his genuine relaxed authenticity.
One can hope, however, that Biden’s top-level campaign staff can both appropriately caution Biden before he interacts with voters and act quickly to do damage control when such unforced errors occur. They have performed very well in providing highly effective surrogates on behalf of Biden throughout the past week. The best has been former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell. New Jersey’s former Governor Jim Florio could perform excellently in this regard.
The various state and national public opinion polls of the past week show that the voters are determined to excise the virulent malignant cancer of Trumpism from the American body politic. Joe Biden can be a most effective president, a force for both healing and sound policy to lead America out of the nightmare of the Trump years. The avoidance of unforced errors must remain a focus of the Biden campaign in ensuring his most welcome election as our nation’s 46th president.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman.