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US politics

Is “Sleepy Joe” too woke?

Joe Biden with Terry McAuliffe, the losing Democratic candidate for Virginia governor. Al Drago/Bloomberg/Getty Images

No wonder “poor Joe Biden” fell asleep at the Cop26 summit on Monday, says Freddy Gray in The Spectator. “He has a lot on his addled mind.” Biden has been in the White House less than a year and already his presidency is a “catalogue of crises”. First, he botched the evacuation of Kabul, then his flagship trillion-dollar infrastructure bills got jammed up in Congress. His latest headache is the Democrats losing the governorship of Virginia to a Republican candidate running on a promise to scrub critical race theory from schools. Widely viewed as the first big political test of the Biden era, voters chose to resist the Democrats’ move towards “ever madder progressive activism”. Given that Biden beat Donald Trump by ten points in the state last year, “the result looks damning”. Looking ahead to the 2022 midterm elections and beyond, the picture for Biden and the Democrats is “extremely grim”. The president’s job-approval rating has sunk since he took office, from 55% in January to 43% today. No postwar president has fallen faster.

This should be a “woke-up call” to Democrats, says Peggy Noonan in The Wall Street Journal. The Virginia vote comes from a widespread feeling of “national deterioration” and the Democratic leadership’s “misreading of the nation’s mood”. Veteran Democratic strategist James Carville blames his party’s failure on “stupid wokeness”, telling PBS: “this ‘defund the police’ lunacy, this ‘take Abraham Lincoln’s name off of schools’… people see that.” The Democratic Party has become the political home of progressive thinking. They thought the left of the party “would beat them to a pulp if they didn’t”. But this was a mistake. You can’t associate a great party with cultural extremism and not eventually pay a price.

What is “badly needed”, says The New York Times in an editorial, is an honest reckoning in the Democratic Party about getting back to the moderate policies and values that won Biden the presidency in 2020. A national Democratic Party that “talks up progressive policies at the expense of bipartisan ideas”, and that obsesses over Trump at the expense of looking forward, risks becoming a fringe party appealing only to the far left. Biden did not win the Democratic primary because he promised a progressive revolution. There were plenty of other candidates doing that. He captured the nomination – and won the presidency – because he promised an exhausted nation a return to “sanity, decency and competence”. Democrats should get back to policies that actually help the American people, “or risk getting run out of office”.