Biden Ran To Be The President For The Forgotten Middle, Not Ukraine
A trip to Kyiv before East Palestine
Joe Biden’s Kyiv visit is playing in very different ways depending on the audience. The Anne Applebaum contingent loves it — I won’t link that, it has a virus alert for attacking the American free press with taxpayer funds, but here’s a more restrained take from Jacob Heilbrunn:
With his dramatic trip to Kyiv, President Joe Biden directly escalated his confrontation with Russian president Vladimir Putin—and with his Republican detractors at home. Biden, you could say, is all-in on standing by Ukraine against Russia’s war of aggression. His visit not only to Kyiv but also to Warsaw, where he will deliver a speech about the conflict, marks a pivotal moment. More than ever, Biden is signaling that he is a war president…
The trip also underscored Biden’s diplomatic savvy. As a product of the Cold War era, Biden knows that he, and he alone, can exercise the leadership to bolster the Western alliance, which buckled but never disintegrated during the standoff with the Soviet Union, no matter how much pressure the Kremlin exerted upon it. It’s back to the future. Once more, Moscow is attempting to fracture NATO in the hopes of creating its own, anti-Western new world order.
Biden isn’t budging. He campaigned on restoring American democracy but has ended up defending it even more abroad. The Ukraine crisis plays to his strengths, allowing him to exercise the atrophied diplomatic and military muscles of the Western alliance to promote American predominance once again…
Biden’s emergence as a vigorous leader is not sitting well with his critics on the political Right who are scrambling to depict his courageous visit as misguided or worse. For them, the idea that politics stops at the water’s edge is so yesterday. This morning, for example, Florida governor Ron DeSantis told Fox & Friends, “I and many Americans are thinking to ourselves, OK, he’s very concerned about those borders halfway around the world. He’s not done anything to secure our own borders here… we have a lot of problems accumulating here.” He added that Russia has been exposed as a “third-rate military power.” Maybe so, but he conveniently ignored that the exposure would never have occurred had Biden not supported Ukraine in the first place.
Then there was Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene. In a tweet, she stated, “This is incredibly insulting. Today on our President’s Day, Joe Biden, the President of the United States chose Ukraine over America, while forcing the American people to pay for Ukraine’s government and war. I can not express how much Americans hate Joe Biden.”
It’s a false choice. Biden isn’t picking Ukraine over America. He’s carefully countering Vladimir Putin’s ambition to create a new Russian empire that will directly menace Europe. Anyway, the idea that the conflict is “Ukraine’s war,” as she puts it, is a canard. Conservatives used to recoil at what they called blaming the victim. But that’s precisely what she is doing—creating a fictional narrative that Ukraine is the bad guy, responsible for triggering the war through its obstreperous behavior. Since when does mere existence constitute a casus belli for being attacked?
Make no mistake: the Ukraine war will create a searing rift in the GOP. The old guard represented by Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell will champion the war against Ukraine. Presidential candidates like Nikki Haley and (presumably) Mike Pompeo will attack Biden for being too soft on foreign policy. But others in the GOP are chicken about backing Kyiv. Take Donald Trump. He will promote a policy of cowardly truckling to the Kremlin—charging that Biden bungled matters by not seeking a diplomatic solution, namely, handing over Ukraine to Putin on a silver platter as part and parcel of Russia’s legitimate sphere of influence.
But for the contrast on how this plays at home, consider the response from the mayor of East Palestine, Ohio: “That was the biggest slap in the face that tells you right now, he doesn’t care about us … [Biden] can send every agency he wants to but I found that out this morning and one of the briefings that he was in the Ukraine giving millions of dollars away to people over there, not to us and I’m furious.”
As the days passed after the derailment and the immense explosions touched off to deal with it, outrage and worry over the disaster merged with other concerns to form a sort of cloud of dread and anger. As you’ve probably noticed, large industrial mishaps seem to have grown common lately. Ag facilities up in flames. Exploding plants and factories. Combined with the shortages of goods evident in stores across the land, and then combined with the tattoo of war drums sounding louder and louder from our capital, a sense of uneasiness, even of mounting terror, is an understandable result. Those who find themselves at odds with the country’s political leadership might be expected to sound the loudest alarms -- and so they have, perhaps – but to frame their fears as standard partisanship is itself a partisan act.
The press went ahead and did it anyway. An internet headline from the New York Times, whose coverage of the derailment as a hard news event had been sparse thus far, outpaced by that of Youtubing civilians, called out “Right-wing commentators” (why Right-wing was capitalized eludes me) as being “particularly critical” of the government’s handling of the horror. What a peculiar and post-modern angle, especially so early in the story – before the story proper had even been fully investigated. But all that is solid melts into information – “mis-” and “dis-“ -- for today’s guardians of righteous thought. Even a meteor strike might get this treatment, depending on where it hit and who was harmed and who complained the loudest about the damage. And if a government agency – NASA, say – was deemed negligent in not warning of the strike, one can be certain that questions about the “commentary” would quickly rank as urgent news.
Whether or not the toxic plume above the farmland and waters of Ohio warrants, at this stage, comparison to Chernobyl (let’s hope this proves a hysterical response), the runaway meltdown of media authority appears unstoppable. One reason for this, quite possibly the main one, is that the embattled institutions have grown so preoccupied with the dimension of perceptions and ideas that they’ve abandoned their former strongholds in the dimension of earthly occurrences. Man bites dog was a big story once, but the bigger story now, for them, is the cultural import of the attack and who is strengthened and who is weakened by the assorted retellings of the matter.
Meanwhile, a town is poisoned, perhaps a region, and the toxins float ineluctably downstream, their ultimate effects unknown. They may dissipate harmlessly or they may not, but they’re not information, these particles. They’re molecules. They exist in the hard, unforgiving realm of chemistry, and so do we. The people.
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