Monday was Martin Luther King Jr. Day. And this year it was most memorable for two events. The first was the unveiling in Boston of a new sculptural tribute to the civil rights hero. Unfortunately, depending on the position from which you view this inept work of public art, it resembles either a man holding his head in despair or some people holding aloft a giant turd.
The second incident was Joe Biden doing what he does best. The president was careful not to politicize the day — apart from attacking the Republicans. But during his remarks he also noted that it was the birthday of King’s daughter-in-law and said that his wife has a rule that when it is someone’s birthday everybody should sing “Happy Birthday.” Crazy old rule.
So the President led the singing to Martin Luther King III’s wife Arndrea. “Happy birthday to you” he started confidently. But he soon came to that tricky moment that has faced many restaurant staff. And he did not have the dexterity of those waiters who quickly sing “happy birthday, happy birthday” in lieu of the name they do not know. Instead Biden sang something which came out like “Happy birthday dear Val-waaar.”
Perhaps the president should try slurring things a bit more. Because, as it happens, he has some explaining to do.
Last year the FBI sensationally raided Donald Trump’s home at Mar-a-Lago. The cause was that the former president had allegedly kept hold of various top-secret documents that should have been deposited in the national archives when he left the White House. The material was said to include something compromising about the private life of a European leader, leading to much gossip in France for some reason.
Of course Trump was incandescent. He insisted that he had done nothing wrong; in fact had done everything absolutely perfectly right — as right as he had ever done anything. His opponents took a contrary view. “How could anyone be that irresponsible?” asked Biden, while his Democrat colleagues lost no time in putting together the darkest possible interpretation. A special counsel is now investigating Trump over the issue.
This month it has been Biden’s turn. Over the course of a few days last week it emerged that he too had been lax with top-secret documents. Batches of them had been located at a number of sites associated with him, relating to the period after his leaving office as vice president. The papers included classified intelligence on Ukraine, Iran and the UK. They were found at Biden’s old office, at a Biden policy think tank that nobody knew existed, and beside his car at one of his homes.
When questioned at a press conference he very carefully read out a prepared answer. He then snapped at a reporter that it wasn’t like the documents were beside his car in the street. The car they were piled beside is apparently parked in a garage. So that’s OK — because while the Chinese, Russian and other security agencies could not possibly get access to a shut garage, Hunter Biden lived at the relevant property for a time and there is no reason whatsoever to believe that the president’s crackhead son could be any kind of security risk.
Two things happened next in quick succession. The first was the realization by the Democrats that one of their best attack lines had just been neutered: we will not be hearing very much about Mar-a-Lago in the coming months, I should think. The second was that people became aware of what might be described as a game beneath the game.
For there are a couple of ways to look at the documents issue. Either it is an area which is a bit gray and nobody can really be sure what they can and cannot take with them when they leave office. Or it is obvious that something labeled “top secret” should not just be left lying around beside the old Corvette. If it is the latter, then somebody wanted Biden to be embarrassed and has been drip-dripping the story for more than a week.
One interesting aspect of the manner in which it came out is that it was not leaked to Republican sources. Instead, it went straight to various Democrat mouthpieces in the media, leading some of us to a not-so-crazy conclusion — that these revelations are an attempt to take Biden out of the running in the 2024 election.
So far the president hasn’t confirmed that he will run, but it is widely believed he is getting ready to. He would be in his mid-eighties at the end of a second term and there are reasonable concerns in the Democratic Party that while many people of that age are sprightly and alert, Joe Biden is not among them. A new generation of politicians want to seize the party from the gerontocracy.
But who would replace him? Here is where the Democrats have a series of quandaries. There is general agreement that if Kamala Harris wants to run she has to be allowed to do so. The party cannot prevent the first ethnic minority female vice president from trying to get the top job. Yet her disapproval ratings make her unable to win and the party knows that if she runs they will lose the presidency.
Who else is there? There is Governor Newsom of California who managed to wreck San Francisco as mayor before moving on to do over the whole state. He wants the top job for sure, but all the Republicans will have to say is “But California…” and any reasonable Republican will win. There is also Pete Buttigieg, who inexplicably polled at 0 percent among African-American voters in 2020. And there is Antony Blinken – a talented foreign policy expert who has been kept so caged by Biden that the American public has essentially not heard from their own secretary of state for two years.
So that’s the choice before the Democrats. They may get rid of Biden, but the options that come after him uncannily resemble that new public sculpture that has so engaged the citizenry of Boston.