During Donald Trump’s tenure in the White House, it became common knowledge that the best way to lobby the president on a particular position was to do an interview on the right cable news programs espousing your views. Gone were the days of relevance of Wall Street Journal op-eds during the George W. Bush administration or articles in the Atlantic for the Barack Obama era. If you wanted to change POTUS’s thinking on something, get in front of a camera and make yourself heard.
Now, in the context of the Democratic Party’s split over Israel and the war in Gaza, we are witnessing a surprisingly similar public lobbying campaign play out for Joe Biden’s attention — albeit via different methods than cable news. It’s clear this is happening in public in part because Biden — ever the guy with a chip on his shoulder — feels a Rodney Dangerfield level of disrespect by the whole attempt. In Biden’s view, he’s a foreign policy genius, a great politician and thinker — and he’s not going to get pushed around… even by the guy who made him vice president.
In Franklin Foer’s book The Last Politician, in a portion focused on the 2021 Gaza conflict, he describes Biden’s perspective on Israel as one at odds with the approach deployed by Obama and then-secretary of state John Kerry in 2014:
In [Biden’s] view, the quickest way to end the conflict was to stand squarely with Israel, to smother Netanyahu with love. Then, at the right moment, Biden said that he would take advantage of the trust he had deposited in the bank. Only then would he tell Bibi to wind the war down. But in the meantime, he was going to hug Bibi tight.
NBC News reports today:
Instead, they said Biden has noted, Obama publicly admonished Israel’s actions and voiced concern for Palestinian civilian deaths early into the 2014 conflict. As a result, Biden has argued, Obama squandered any ability to influence the Israeli government as it invaded Gaza, said the people familiar with his comments. They said Biden’s message when he revisited the 2014 debate was: I was right then, and I am right now.
You can detect in this piece the pushback against the idea that the former president is still running the foreign policy show from Kalorama — the people around Joe want you to know he’s very much in charge. But that hasn’t stopped Obama from lobbying and using the methods he likes the most: public expressions of exasperation and annoyance, followed by acting as if he didn’t say what he just said.
Obama appeared to echo his approach as president this month when he offered a nuanced view of how decades of simmering tensions led to the current Israel-Hamas war, saying “nobody’s hands are clean” and “all of us are complicit to some degree.”
Some Biden administration officials bristled at Obama’s comments, which he made in a discussion with some of his former aides for a podcast, according to two senior administration officials. They felt his comments undermined Biden, the officials said.
Obama’s office has coordinated with the White House, an aide to the former president said. His office provided the White House with copies of his Medium posts about the war, in which he has been complimentary of Biden, the aide said. Biden’s aides also were told in advance that Obama would discuss the conflict during the podcast and were aware what his thinking about it was, the aide said.
Can you imagine that email? “Heads up, the former president is going to meet up with his besties on Pod Save America, somebody make sure Joe listens. And to make it easier, just tell him it’s the radio, you don’t have to try and explain what a podcast is, it’ll just confuse him.”
I’m sure that went over well, especially considering the venue:
The former Biden 2020 campaign alum described a preoccupation at Biden’s campaign headquarters in Philadelphia that year with Pod Save America, a podcast run by former Obama staffers, including Jon Favreau and Jon Lovett.
“Everyone in Philadelphia was a little obsessed with those guys because they were always shitting on Biden and giving the benefit of the doubt to other candidates,” the source said.
If you want an example of how long Biden holds onto things, they also report him bringing up the oft-cited 2014 quote from former secretary of defense Robert Gates, who wrote in his memoir that Biden “has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades”:
“In an early discussion about Israel, another senior US official said, Biden playfully slapped the arm of an aide next to him and asked: “Who’s wrong now?”
These developments of public lobbying are how you know that for all the speculation of some late-breaking replacement by Gavin Newsom or the like, worried Democrats are going to have to pry the 2024 nomination from Biden’s cold dead hands. He’s convinced that he’s right, that he’s smart, that he’s better than the rest, and that he gets no respect for it. He’s worked his whole life to get to this point. He’s not leaving now.