Joe Biden Needs a Malarky Moment

This week I had Josh Kraushaar, National Journal Daily‘s Senior National Political Columnist on the podcast to discuss why Joe Biden should confront the Left-wing of the Democratic Party.

This week I had National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar on the podcast to discuss why Joe Biden needs a “Malarky moment.”

Click here to listen to our full conversation.

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The following excerpt has been edited for length and clarity:

Matt: I’ve been writing a lot about how Joe Biden won the presidency in 2020 by performing better among white men, and how there is a danger of progressive overreach jeopardizing that support and causing a backlash. Where do you come down on that?

Josh: The appeal of Biden is that he is this older guy who doesn't speak the kind of jargon that a lot of left wing activists do. And that's politically popular, that's effective. But then you see, at an event encouraging hispanic voters to get vaccinated, Biden use the formulation “LatinX” to talk about the people he was trying to reach out to, it goes against the Biden brand, right? I mean, that goes against everything that Biden tells his own staff to [do], to speak to like average Joes—to speak to average people and not to use this complicated jargon... So there is this tension… The image of Biden has been this kind of moderate establishment Democrat. But there is this party that he represents, that is moving further and further to the left. And there's this inherent tension between those two sides, and increasingly, it seems like the left-leaning elements of the party are gaining steam, they're gaining the momentum in that fight. 

Matt: I saw CNN did a thing on critical race theory. I just saw on Twitter, I didn't even watch the clip, but I'm given to believe that they went out and asked people what CRT means and no one could define it. And I think the point is to suggest that people are afraid of it, and yet, they can't define it, so it's silly to be afraid of. I mean, is it a problem? How big of a problem is it for Dems?

Josh:  It is a big problem, and a lot of the debate has been about semantics, like what you call this curriculum, what you call this ideology. I think technically, what critical race theory is, isn't literally being taught in school systems. But its worldview has been championed by a bunch of equity officers—a bunch of [Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion] officials that are invoking a lot of very controversial concepts into K-12 schooling—that were not there a couple years ago. This is something that's pretty radical, and it's pretty new over the last year. In fact, Loudoun County, Virginia, has been sort of the hotbed of the backlash to the changes in the curriculum. And the superintendent who said, “We don't do critical race theory, this isn't part of what we teach,” acknowledged in this big story that Politico did today that, you know, “It’s not only teaching students, but people who detract from equity work, often use CRT interchangeably with what we call equity work.” Well, “equity work” is essentially making race about every aspect of teaching, you know, essentially saying that the United States was founded on racism and oppression and white supremacy, and if you disagree, you're a racist. And any discussion about these issues, is itself racist. So this racial essentialism that you're seeing, not just in the classroom, but in some corporations. It's become very divisive, very controversial, not just among Republicans and Fox News viewers, but among a lot of middle of the road parents who are just kind of stunned with what they're seeing their kids learn—

Matt: But they're playing this game, because they could just be like, “Well, that's not what CRT means”, you know. It's a moving target—

Josh: It's a word game. And I think, the largest teachers union, the National Education Association, acknowledged in a resolution that they just passed this past week, that they're fighting for critical race theory. So they're essentially now using the lexicon to embrace it and say, “Yeah, we do want this stuff in the classroom.” So there's a lot of semantics going on, but the fundamental question is, “Do you want you know, this worldview, to be taught?” I think it really comes down to indoctrination versus education. It's one thing to talk about a certain theory and debate it and discuss it and to have conversations in the classroom about these issues. It's another thing to say, “This is how you need to think, and if you question this, if you want to discuss this, you're racist, are you going to get canceled,” and that is the difference. Like, this is a very illiberal ideology that pretty much says you have to think this way. And if you don't, you're gonna be canceled, then you're going to be drummed out of the polite conversation. The illiberalism of the movement is what I think is driving a lot of parents batty—that they're, they're being taught, you know, more propaganda than education in this instance.

Matt: Joe Biden seems like this nice guy who just keeps, God love him, he eats ice cream every day. I mean, his cholesterol must be through the roof. But I like Joe Biden, I like seeing him eat ice cream. And I don't know if this CRT controversy sticks to him. But I tell you what, in the midterms, this seems like a bad idea to me. Meanwhile, there’s potential for inflation. There's potential for a violent crime wave. Afghanistan could really deteriorate. And there's a whole bunch of stuff bubbling out there. And meanwhile, Biden's just sort of like oblivious to a lot of it—maybe for the good actually.

Josh: I think Biden has been well served by not embracing the these very radical movements within the party that have been gaining steam. But, you remember all the way back to the ‘90s, when Bill Clinton had what was deemed at the time, a “Sister Souljah Moment” for delivering a speech rebuking Jesse Jackson about a rapper who had had some violent extreme lyrics in her songs. So that the moment where someone calls out the extremes from within their party was deemed a “Sister Souljah Moment,” and it was a part of the political lexicon for quite some time. I think Biden needs kind of a “Malarkey Moment.” He needs a moment where he not just says, “I'm not a defund the police guy,” but where he actually takes on some of these these very fringe voices that are in his own party and says, “Look, not only do I not support defunding the police, the police are the heart and soul of our country. We need safety in our communities. We can't afford to stereotype an entire slice of the population that does essential work in terms of keeping our communities safe, and it's just not acceptable.” There has to be a moment where Biden not only is willing to say “I'm not part of the radical left, I'm not part of this extreme fringe,” but actually calls them out in a way that, you know, gives comfort to the middle of the road voters who —that's how they view Joe Biden. He's the guy that wrote the Crime Bill. He's the guy who has a brand consistent with that notion.

Matt: I completely agree, but here's the thing: He's been trained not to do that. He didn't confront the left on his way to the 2020 Democratic nomination. He just like, survived the left on his way to the nomination. He ran out the clock like a football team's prevent defense. And it was fine. He won. But it's one thing to do that in a political campaign. Can he spend four years never confronting the left? He just sort of ignores them, or stays above the fray. I agree with you for the good of America, I think he should confront them. But I don't see any indication he's going to.

Josh: It's sort of a mirror image of what Republicans are dealing with… Half the Democratic Party generally identifies as more moderate, so there is a political logic to taking on the far left within the party… Eric Adams’s success in New York…he was someone who actually did call out the progressive left. He did have his “Malarkey Moments” in that New York City campaign where he said the defund the police stuff was not sent—and literally called out the progressives, even after he won the election, and then kind of spiked the football. He won on the first ballot, pretty convincingly, and then won the rank choice side of it as well. So there is proof that even in a very blue liberal city like New York City, running against the progressive left can provide pretty significant political benefits. And so if being against the far left plays in New York City, it certainly should play well in these suburban swing districts that are going to be making up so many of the battlegrounds for next year's midterm election.

Matt: How'd you come up with the “Malarkey Moment'' phrase?

Josh: Well, you know, I like it. I hear a lot of political rhetoric. And that's part of the Biden brand, right? I mean, that's his own words. He loves to use the word malarkey to call out BS when he sees it. And yeah, like I think that would be very, very much consistent with what he's stood for throughout much of his political career. Presidents have power to set the example for their party… Biden has a lot of political capital right now, and he has a lot of power. He certainly could set the example for where his party needs to go to win elections in the future. 

Click here to listen to our full conversation.