Opinion | The Second-Worst Decision Democrats Could Make Right Now (2024)

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Serge Schmemann

Editorial Board Member

Macron’s Gamble Has Opened the Door to ‘La Rupture’

Two terms crop up often in the French political lexicon: “la rupture” and “la cohabitation.” The former means the same as in English and is applied to any political parting of the ways — between candidates, parties, ideologies. “Cohabitation” refers to times when the president and the majority in the National Assembly fall into different political camps.

Both terms have been in heavy use since the second and final round of the surprise election President Emmanuel Macron called on June 10, after the far right scored big in elections to the European Parliament. Macron’s timing and calculations remain a bit puzzling, but stopping Marine Le Pen and her nationalist, anti-immigrant National Rally was one major goal; another was to achieve “clarity” in a muddled political landscape in which the president was growing increasingly unpopular. French elections come in two rounds, and Macron probably hoped that a strong showing by Le Pen in round one would shock the electorate into common sense in round two.

The gambit succeeded. After scoring big in the first round Le Pen was blocked in the second. But clarity was not to be. Rather than flock to Macron’s center, voters shifted to a hastily assembled bloc of left-wing parties called the New Popular Front, which included traditional Socialists, radical leftists, Communists and Greens. They are now the biggest grouping in the National Assembly, the French parliament.

That was the rupture. Now comes the challenge of cohabitation. The left-wing coalition is hardly favorable for Macron, especially given that the strongest party in the grouping, the aggressively named France Unbowed, is also the most radical, under the rabble-rousing Jean-Luc Mélenchon. He doesn’t get along with Macron, or most any of his partners, and has already demanded the prime ministry for his party.

The left, moreover, will go after many of Macron’s pet economic policies. Last year, the president unleashed fiery protests when he raised the retirement age from 62 to 64; the left wants to lower it to 60, along with other costly social spending the French economy is not in shape to handle. And Mélenchon, a supporter of the Palestinian cause, might try to recognize a Palestinian state.

There’s no indication yet of Macron’s choice for prime minister. He could try someone from his humbled party, or an acceptable leftist, or an apolitical technocrat. In any case, past bouts of cohabitation have not achieved much.

As for the far right, blocking the National Rally — again — may have brought relief, but it was hardly a victory. The party got 37 percent of the vote and increased its seats in the parliament from 89 to 142, the most of any single party. It can’t be dismissed as the radical fringe of nativists and antisemites the way it was in its early years.

So we’re likely to hear “rupture” a lot more.

July 9, 2024, 3:21 p.m. ET

July 9, 2024, 3:21 p.m. ET

Pamela Paul

Opinion Columnist

It’s an Old Story: Great Authors Are Not Always Great People

Is a single transgression enough to torpedo a writer’s reputation — Virginia Woolf wearing blackface, for example? Or does the full-throated denouncement require a lifetime of racism, antisemitism, hom*ophobia, sexism, Naziism or collaboration, along the lines of Jack London, Henry Miller, Thomas Mann or Jean Rhys?

All are writers who are still read.

But these are different times, and so the question arises anew with regard to recently named transgressors, Neil Gaiman and Alice Munro, both celebrated, even beloved figures.

Let’s go over what we know. With Alice Munro, the facts are straightforward and damning. According to an essay by Munro’s daughter Andrea Skinner in The Toronto Star, Munro stayed married to the man who pleaded guilty to sexually abusing her daughter.

With Neil Gaiman, the issue is knottier. The author was recently accused of sex abuse and rape, allegations he has emphatically denied. We don’t know what happened, but recent history shows that for some audiences, accusations alone are too often sufficient evidence. It doesn’t bode well.

The question of whether you can separate the art and the artist is old and vexing, with no clear answer, though the current cultural consensus holds strongly against. As Jean Luc Godard (alleged to be antisemitic) once said, “How can I hate John Wayne upholding Goldwater and yet love him tenderly when abruptly he takes Natalie Wood into his arms in the last reel of ‘The Searchers’?”

Even some who argue that, say, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot or Louis-Ferdinand Celine can still be appreciated despite reprehensible views or acts may also insist that artists whose work is closely tied to their personal lives, like Woody Allen or David Foster Wallace, for example, should be held to account.

In these latter-day cases, the verdict, spiked with envy and resentment, seems preordained. Will there be a double standard between Neil Gaiman, who is a prominent and commercially successful online figure, and Alice Munro, who led a humble, quiet existence in Canada and whose stature among the literati has achieved Joan Didion-level worship?

Most people in the literary world know that writers are flawed humans just like everyone else, only a little more so. Even so, most of us do not really know these people; we know them mostly through their writing.

Great writing is about human complexity, not the black-and-white moralizing of the internet mob. In the eyes of the wise reader, whatever our judgments of the authors, their writing only becomes yet more interesting, more telling, more potent.

July 9, 2024, 11:36 a.m. ET

July 9, 2024, 11:36 a.m. ET

Jamelle Bouie

Opinion Columnist

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The Anti-Abortion Movement Is Perverting the 14th Amendment

Donald Trump pushed the Republican Party’s platform committee to change its language on abortion, and on the surface it looks like an exercise in relative moderation.

Where the 2016 and 2020 Republican platforms called for a national abortion ban, demanded a constitutional amendment to establish due-process rights for embryos and fetuses and stated that “the unborn child has a fundamental right to life which cannot be infringed,” the 2024 platform simply states the Republican Party’s belief that “the 14th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States guarantees that no person can be denied life or liberty without due process and that the states are, therefore, free to pass laws protecting those rights.”

This change, said NBC News and other outlets, is a “softening” of the party’s position on abortion.

But is it really?

The lodestar for the anti-abortion movement has always been a constitutional guarantee of fetal personhood, which would outlaw abortion and threaten the legality of both IVF and hormonal birth control. (This endorsem*nt of protection for fetal personhood also makes clear that the platform’s ostensible support for IVF is cheap political posturing.) To state, in the context of abortion, that the 14th Amendment guarantees due process and that legislatures are free to pass laws “protecting those rights” is to outright endorse the legal theory that the Constitution already outlaws abortion with or without amendment.

The new platform language may lack the specificity of the old, but it expresses the same basic commitment to vast restrictions on reproductive rights and bodily autonomy. Moreover, the Republican Party coalition is still grounded in the grass roots activity of anti-abortion groups and the ideological ambitions of movement jurists and politicians. The platform makes no real difference in their efforts to ban abortion and limit a woman’s right to live a free life and pursue her own vision of the good.

It should be said as well that in the same way it is perverse for conservative legal activists and Supreme Court justices to use the Reconstruction amendments — written and ratified to assist the formerly enslaved and enshrine a principle of anti-subordination in the Constitution — to dismantle this nation’s halting efforts at substantive racial equality, it is also perverse for the anti-abortion movement to use the 14th Amendment as a cudgel against bodily autonomy in the name of so-called fetal rights.

Animating that amendment, as well as the 13th, was the reality that Black Americans could not be secure in their persons — in their bodies and reproductive capacities — as long as the badges, incidents and vestiges of chattel slavery endured in the nation’s constitutional order. If, in other words, American slavery rested on reproductive enslavement — the forced birth and breeding of men and women for profit — then anti-slavery had to mean reproductive liberation.

What the anti-abortion movement wants is a dark and cruel inversion of what the Reconstruction framers intended.

July 8, 2024, 2:02 p.m. ET

July 8, 2024, 2:02 p.m. ET

Pamela Paul

Opinion Columnist

The Second-Worst Decision Democrats Could Make Right Now

I was an early and enthusiastic fan of Kamala Harris when she first ran for president. She had an inspiring personal story and an impressive résumé. Here was someone who had been a senator, an attorney general and a prosecutor. She had been an advocate for recidivism reduction and other measures of criminal justice reform, and had proved she could be tough in the Senate, where her questioning was described as “prosecutorial.” She seemed gutsy and capable and a fine candidate for national office.

Wow, was I wrong. Look, it’s hard to shine as vice president — as John Adams put it, “the most insignificant office that ever the invention of man contrived or his imagination conceived.” But Harris has also proved how easy it is to sink.

Between her high staff turnover, her ineffectiveness on migration and the border, her chronically low approval ratings and her often embarrassing public experiences — remember, Harris chose to subject herself to the cringe on “The Drew Barrymore Show” — she has not exuded competence or inspired confidence.

Yet despite Joe Biden insisting he can still drive, dagnabbit, talk of anointing Harris as his replacement has started to take hold. Representative James Clyburn of South Carolina said he would support Harris if Biden drops out, also proposing a mini-primary. “The Democratic Nominee in 2024 should be Kamala Harris,” the former congressman Tim Ryan wrote in Newsweek last week. “She is brilliant, compassionate, engaging, funny and totally down to earth,” he wrote, and “more importantly, she deserves a chance to go to the American people and show us her mettle.”

Choosing a presidential candidate should not be about someone proving herself or “deserving a chance.” It should be about who has the best chance. This should not be about advancing women, Black people or people of South Asian descent. It should be about beating back Donald Trump with the most electable and capable candidate possible.

That Harris leads Biden slightly in polls as a possible replacement candidate only shows how low that bar is. Those same polls suggest she would still lose against Trump.

If some racist or sexist Americans wouldn’t vote for Harris based on her ethnicity, race or sex, shame on them. But to argue against Harris is not inherently racist or sexist.

If Democrats are serious about not wanting to lose this election — and most important, preventing Trump from resuming power — they need to stop trying to make Harris happen and allow an open primary. Americans need a candidate who will win.

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July 8, 2024, 11:59 a.m. ET

July 8, 2024, 11:59 a.m. ET

Michelle Cottle

Opinion Writer

What Primary Voters Didn’t Know About President Biden

Buckle up for another bumpy political week. As Washington lawmakers slouch back from their holiday break, they have been greeted by a defiant letter from President Biden, effectively daring them to try derailing his re-election bid.

Thank you for sharing your concerns, he wrote. “I am not blind to them.” That said, he continued, “I wouldn’t be running again if I did not absolutely believe I was the best person to beat Donald Trump in 2024.”

No matter how many times he repeats it, this assurance remains worthless. What high-ranking politician doesn’t believe in his own exceptionalism? I mean, Ron DeSantis was 100 percent convinced he was the best person to beat Trump this year, and we see where that got him.

But where Biden seems intent on making toxic mischief is with grand pronouncements about preserving democracy.

“We had a Democratic nomination process and the voters have spoken clearly and decisively,” he asserted, ticking through the number of votes, the percentage of the primary vote and the number of delegates he amassed — as if a re-election primary coronation is anything like an open race.

“Do we now just say this process didn’t matter?” he wrote. “That the voters don’t have a say? I decline to do that.” Only the voters decide the nominee, he said, not the press, pundits, donors or other “selected” groups of individuals. “How can we stand for democracy in our nation if we ignore it in our own party?”

So much to unpack. Let’s just go with this piece: While there is an abundance of Democratic pundits, donors and members of “selected” groups, I’m confident it’s not enough to account for the 59 percent of Democrats who, post-debate, fear Biden is too old for the job, according to the latest Times/Siena poll.

What about these voters? Or the 79 percent of independents who expressed similar anxiety? Do they not matter? Are we not concerned about their faith and trust as they grapple with apparently having been misled about the president’s fitness? How do they feel about Biden’s people stage-managing and shielding him to the point that it was almost impossible for voters to assess his fitness until absurdly late in the race? Are the voters who feel betrayed going to punish the entire Democratic Party come November?

Biden aggressively pitching the situation as him and the grass roots versus a bunch of snooty elites may make him feel tough. But it accomplishes little more than fueling discord and division within his own party. He needs to show people he is up to the job, and not just assert as much while pretending this is a crisis manufactured by bed-wetting establishment types.

The president and his team have proved they know how to write a strong and salty letter. If only that were all there was to the job.

July 8, 2024, 5:03 a.m. ET

July 8, 2024, 5:03 a.m. ET

Katherine Miller

Opinion Writer and Editor

The Big Decisions Facing Trump and Biden This Week

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Every Monday morning on The Point, we kick off the week with a tipsheet on the latest in the presidential campaign. Here’s what we’re looking at this week:

  • This will be a very full, unpredictable week of politics. In terms of where everyone is: Donald Trump will hold rallies in Miami on Tuesday and near Pittsburgh on Saturday. President Biden will host a NATO summit in Washington beginning Tuesday, and is expected to hold a news conference on Thursday. He will also campaign in Detroit on Friday. Kamala Harris will hold a campaign event in Las Vegas on Tuesday, and Jill Biden will hold a slate of campaign events in the Southeast on Monday.

  • How strong is Biden’s support with congressional Democrats? This week might answer that. One thing I’ve seen in the last decade that will most likely shape the politics of it, though, is really about what elected officials say publicly; the public pays attention to what politicians say on the record, so if they back him or tell him to leave, voters will take that more seriously than the private commentary.

  • On Sunday, a number of Pennsylvania Democrats, including both senators, welcomed Biden at the airport, and there have been shows of support from people like Bernie Sanders and Joyce Beatty. A small number of House members, like Minnesota’s Angie Craig, have said publicly that he should step aside; there’s also been reporting on private meetings where additional Democrats have said he should withdraw.

    There are elected officials like Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who said Sunday there were still voter concerns about Biden’s 2024 viability that the president needs to address this week. Congress is coming back to Washington on Monday, which might make things more chaotic in the short term, when a few hundred lawmakers, aides and reporters begin interacting. How congressional leaders like Chuck Schumer and Hakeem Jeffries approach his candidacy seems likely to shape a lot.

  • Trump is widely expected to announce his vice-presidential pick this week — maybe J.D. Vance, Doug Burgum or Marco Rubio, though it could be someone else. That pick might not change people’s perceptions of Trump personally, but it might give a real lens to the rest of the campaign.

    In 2012, for instance, whether Mitt Romney intended this or not, his selection of Paul Ryan affirmed the idea of their campaign as an ideological, austerity-minded one; in retrospect, that was probably the apex of entitlement-reform politics in America. Vance is now very much a post-Trump figure, and there’s a universe in which his selection makes the rest of Trump’s campaign and potential presidency look different and more ideologically aggressive and populist, compared with, say, Burgum, who is perceived as being more from the corporate, business world.

  • Republicans are also meeting, privately, about the party’s platform this week. Longtime anti-abortion activists are deeply unhappy with the reported plan to drop the party’s commitment to a national abortion ban in favor of Trump’s “states should decide” position that doesn’t really satisfy anyone, especially people who want abortion to be legal.

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July 6, 2024, 10:00 a.m. ET

July 6, 2024, 10:00 a.m. ET

Maureen Dowd

Opinion Columnist

On Congenital Liars, Then and Now

In his Friday back-against-the-wall interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News, President Biden said of Donald Trump, “The man is a congenital liar.”

That rang some bells with longtime Times readers.

In 1996, when Bill Clinton was running for re-election, William Safire wrote a blistering Times column about Hillary Clinton called “Blizzard of Lies.” Citing Whitewater, Travelgate, exponential commodity trading profits and behavior in the wake of her friend Vince Foster’s death, he wrote: “Americans of all political persuasions are coming to the sad realization that our First Lady — a woman of undoubted talents who was a role model for many in her generation — is a congenital liar. Drip by drip, like Whitewater torture, the case is being made that she is compelled to mislead, and to ensnare her subordinates and friends in a web of deceit.”

Then the kerfuffle began. Bill Clinton said he wanted to punch Safire in the face. His spokesman, Mike McCurry, told reporters: “The president, if he were not the president, would have delivered a more forceful response to that on the bridge of Mr. Safire’s nose.”

Safire was presented with a pair of red boxing gloves on “Meet the Press.”

The famous Times wordsmith, who had a column called “On Language” in addition to his conservative political column, was accused by some of choosing the wrong word. Congenital is defined in the Oxford English Dictionary as “Existing or dating from one’s birth,” as in a “congenital disease or defect.” It was harsh.

As the author and journalist Garry Wills wrote in The Washington Post, “It seems a gratuitous, if not cruel, description of a woman who is not accused, or suspected, of such innate deceptiveness during the first 45 years of her life.”

My pal Safire took all the criticism with his usual equanimity. But one day during this donnybrook, I wandered into his office down the hall from mine in the Washington bureau. I wanted to see what he thought. He wasn’t there but in plain view, he had left a list of synonyms for “congenital,” starting with “chronic.” So he may have had his doubts about the word he chose, as well.

But in the latest instance, President Biden probably chose the right word. Donald Trump not only gives the impression that he has been lying since the cradle, but seems proud of it. So “congenital” works pretty well.

July 6, 2024, 7:00 a.m. ET

July 6, 2024, 7:00 a.m. ET

Frank Bruni

Contributing Opinion Writer

President Biden and the Lord Almighty

On Friday President Biden named the one scenario by which he’d decide to abandon his re-election campaign:

If “the Lord Almighty came down” and told him to.

Not if Democratic leaders in Congress insisted it was best for the party and country. Not if other prominent Democrats begged. Not if polls showed him losing to Donald Trump in November. (They already do.) Biden essentially said that those leaders would never lose faith and those polls can’t be trusted. Everything will be fine. Everything is fine.

Either Biden genuinely believes that or has decided that a pantomime of unsullied confidence is the best damage control. Neither possibility reassures me, and I suspect that neither will end Democratic worries about his fitness and about voters’ impressions of it.

Biden made his remarks in an interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC News that was all of 22 minutes long and was broadcast, unedited, in prime time. The interview continued his effort to explain, improve on and erase his shockingly unsteady performance in a debate against Trump over a week ago.

And Biden indeed improved on it. He ably extolled his first-term record, even if some sentences were rickety, with some details incorrect. He wisely emphasized crucial differences between him and Trump and rightly recognized the stakes of defeating Trump.

But Stephanopoulos wasn’t asking Biden about Trump. He was asking Biden about his own health, and Biden deflected many of those questions or answered them tersely. He conceded no physical decline since 2020. He cast this current passage as 2020 all over again — needless panic and predictable underestimations of his strength. He pretty much rolled his eyes at a reference to his supposedly low approval rating. And he scoffed at the suggestion that he have a thorough neurological work-up.

Stephanopoulos kept asking about the future. Biden kept talking about the past.

But this isn’t 2020. The polls, the country, Biden — they’re all different. Does he fully get that?

“I’m the guy,” he said, over and over, and while that phrase typically teed up mention of one of his many legitimate accomplishments, it was also an assertion of his status, in his view, as the best and only Democrat to take on Trump, no matter the evidence to the contrary.

I hope with every fiber of my being that he’s right, because I doubt the Lord is descending anytime soon. And if he’s wrong? Heaven help us.

Opinion | The Second-Worst Decision Democrats Could Make Right Now (2024)
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