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Old man look at my life

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Ezra Klein takes a predictable victory lap on the should Joe Biden withdraw from the race question, and points out that, to the extent that Biden should be pressured to drop out, the Democrats have a classic collective action problem: While it may be in the collective interest of the party and the nation for Biden to drop out — Klein to his credit acknowledges that even someone like himself needs to admit there’s real uncertainty on this point — it’s certainly not in the interest of any individual Democrat in a position to do anything about this to try to get Biden to do so.

I want to raise a couple of points here. The first is that a lot of LGM commentators have taken Denverite to task for arguing that Biden didn’t have a “bad night,” in the sense that say Obama had a bad night at his first debate with Romney. A bad night is one thing, this is another:

Watch that clip and then tell me it doesn’t raise some real concerns about basic cognitive fitness going forward, so I can ignore your opinion about anything else going forward. (OBVIOUSLY this doesn’t have anything to do with Trump. Everybody should vote for Biden in November even if he’s been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s by that point. That’s not what this is about, and it’s ridiculous that I even have to say that, but this is the Internet so there).

Something the last three days has brought to my mind is the fact that Truman and LBJ each decided in the spring of a presidential election year to drop out of the race. This has always struck me as a couple of really interesting decisions, that in the context of today seem very counter-cultural. It’s true that Truman had an extremely low approval rating in the spring of 1952, but polling was very much in its infancy at that point — Truman was in fact the very first president who even had a formal approval rating, as the Gallup poll had just started — so it’s not as if there was anything like compelling evidence for the claim he couldn’t win re-election, especially given that lots of people had claimed exactly the same thing in 1948 (hence the famous photo of Truman holding up the false headline from the Chicago Tribune the day after the election).

LBJ’s decision is even more interesting to me. LBJ was of course a deeply controversial figure in the spring of 1968, and his approval rating was just about exactly what Biden’s is now. But he was both an extremely ambitious man, and, beyond that, driven by a powerful set of beliefs about what the American government could and should do: he wasn’t by any means only personally ambitious, in the way Trump so obviously is. I realize he was very tired and in poor health — the photos of him from this time are pretty shocking, given his by today’s standards very youthful chronological age — but it still seems in retrospect a curious decision.

LBJ’s speech announcing his decision not to run is my very first clear political memory. Do I dare to eat a peach? Let’s hope we hear the mermaids singing this fall, one way or another.

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