Make politics boring again – The Atlantic


This is an edition of The Atlantic Daily, a newsletter that guides you through the biggest stories of the day, helps you discover new ideas and recommends the best in culture. Register here.

Joe Biden promised voters they wouldn’t have to think about politics all the time. It didn’t work for them, nor for him.

But first, here are three new stories from Atlantic.

More: Scroll down to read Imani Perry’s picks from the newly launched Atlantic archive.

Not reassuring

Political strategists and pundits sometimes talk about the quest to win the news cycle. These days, the question is less whether Joe Biden will win a news cycle than what kind of defeat he will suffer. The president’s struggles stem from a variety of causes — inflation, foreign warfare, the lingering effects of COVID, a conservative justice system, and sloppy messaging — but one way I thought about it is this: Biden hasn’t managed to deliver the boring America he promised when he ran for president.

Biden’s speech in 2020 was that he would get back to normal. For him, Donald Trump’s presidency was an aberration, a vision that set him apart from his Democratic rivals who viewed Trump as the culmination of long-running currents in American society and Republican politics. But for an electorate exhausted by the roller coaster of the Trump and then COVID years, Biden’s assurance that politics could get boring again was quite appealing.

As hard as it can be to be interesting, delivering boring is even harder. Former British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan reportedly joked that the hardest part of his job was “events”. Biden can surely sympathize. Overturning last month’s Supreme Court ruling Roe vs. Wade stripped Americans of what many consider a basic right. It is also, for the White House, a political headache. The decision was the product of a court full of conservative judges before Biden was elected. The White House couldn’t prevent the decision, nor does the president have many (if any) good options to push back.

And yet, Biden appears to have made the worst of a bad situation. His top lawyer was somewhat taken aback by the timing of the decision, according to CNN — a claim that might seem hard to believe were it not for the lack of a unified response from the White House. The administration seems quite reactive, announcing for example that declaring a health emergency is not a “great option”, before suddenly reconsidering it.

Over the weekend, Biden’s outgoing communications director criticized “activists who have always been out of step with the mainstream of the Democratic Party,” a particular place to draw his fire. Perhaps she is trying to recapture the magic of the 2020 campaign, when Biden was at odds with progressive “Defund the police” activists but in tune with voters. In this case, however, voter sentiment is clearly in favor of some abortion access, and not just among Democrats.

This lack of change has taken its toll. As Ed Kilgore writes for SpyBiden is now voting lower than Trump was at the same point in his presidency. The New York Times seems to tell a big throwback story about Biden getting old every month or so. Today, a poll found that almost two-thirds of Democratic voters would like to see someone else as the party’s candidate in 2024.

Perhaps this negative reaction to Biden is unfair. Even with tight congressional scrutiny, Democrats passed blockbuster legislation, like the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill and a massive COVID relief package, though they made the mistake of promise a Build Back Better plan that they were unable to adopt. Pundits have widely praised Biden’s handling of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Last week’s unemployment report exceeded expectations. Gas prices are falling. Some of the other issues, including inflation and COVID, are largely beyond his control.

That’s not what voters want to hear, however. They voted for Biden because he reassured, and now he’s fussing because he…can’t reassure. Writing in this newsletter nearly a month ago, my colleague Tom Nichols pleaded for voters to leave Joe Biden alone. The problem is that they also want to be left alone, without having to worry about the cost of filling their tank or the possibility of obtaining basic health care if they are pregnant. And yet politics, or reality, continues to erupt.


Today’s News
  1. After defying a congressional subpoena, Steve Bannon said he was now willing to testify before the House Jan. 6 committee.
  2. The death toll from Saturday’s Russian strike against a Ukrainian building in the Donetsk town of Chasiv Yar has risen to 31.
  3. This afternoon, the White House viewed the first image captured by the largest space telescope in history.


The Atlantic Archives: Race, Roots and Hope

Today, Atlantic puts 165 years of his journalism online. Lily Editor’s Note by Jeffrey Goldberg about new archiveexplore Atlantic Writers Projector continue below to discover four of the stories from the author of Unstable Territorya newsletter on “American roots”.

As a teenager living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I often walked past the home of abolitionist and Union officer Thomas Wentworth Higginson. I remembered that Ida B. Wells might have visited Higginson there and romantically imagined myself following in his footsteps, walking down Buckingham Street. It was therefore particularly exciting to find Higginson’s abolitionist writings in the Atlantic archive.

In this essay from the June 1861 issue, he recounts the insurrection led by Denmark Vesey in South Carolina some 40 years earlier. He’s not as brutally honest about racism as Wells, but Higginson’s recognition of the nobility of self-emancipation is significant, especially on the eve of the Civil War.

Two other writings from the archives that have piqued my interest are both from the September 1859 issue. The first is a description of a trio’s visit to Martha’s Vineyard, long before the island was associated with the resort glamor of elite that characterizes it today. The relocation of the Gay Head tribe, the impact of the whaling industry on the island’s ecology, and local New England language and culture are vividly rendered. If you know the landscape, the description of the geography and the beauty of the vineyard will be quite familiar to you. But this story tells something about the roots of the place and how it became the treasured enclave it is today.

The other article in this issue is another story set in what is now a popular tourist destination: Savannah, Georgia. Specifically, it is a rave review of an American Anti-Slavery Society pamphlet on an event known historically as the “Weeping Time,” the largest slave auction in the world. history of the United States. As the pamphlet reveals, it was a Philadelphian who organized the auction – a powerful reminder that although antebellum slavery was centered in the South, its beneficiaries were elites across the country.

Finally, this 1954 article, published two months after the Brown v. Commission education decision, provides a powerful, if brief, history of school segregation. But what strikes me about this is author Arthur E. Sutherland’s hope for desegregation – a hope that was quickly dashed by massive resistance and the anemic mandate of “deliberate speed” of the second Brown opinion. Now of course, however Brown does not seem immediately threatened, the white supremacist ideology that underpinned legal segregation is on the rise. Almost 60 years later, hope seems harder to find.

Iman Perry

More Atlantic

cultural break
cartoon illustration of a slushie with a straw, with a question mark on the cup and a swirling pattern in the background

Lily. “Lucky”, a new poem by Carl Dennis: “No way to explain to a car, that’s always waiting / Just where you leave it, the human ability / To drift in thought away from the body / Just when the body is in the need for guidance.

Look. Déjà vu Superior gun and in the mood for more explosive action? look already seen (available on Disney+ and for rent on Amazon Prime), a 2006 Tony Scott-directed thriller starring Denzel Washington that turns into a “kind of high-tech vertigo.”

Or try something else from our writer’s list of 26 brilliant movies the critics got wrong.

Beverage. It’s Free Slurpee Day at 7-Eleven. What is a slushie anyway? Find out here.

Play our daily crosswords.


It’s a pleasure to substitute here this week, especially because it gives me the opportunity to celebrate the hottest team in baseball. I regularly look for consolation in Tom Scocca’s anthem for the 2011 Baltimore Orioles, who finished last in the AL East but dashed the hated Red Sox’s playoff hopes on the final day of the season. Scocca notes how small (even tiny) wins can make rooting for a bad team worthwhile. The O’s will almost certainly end up in the basement again this year, but they’ve won eight straight and they’re guaranteed not to lose tonight because it’s an off day. Long live the small wins, or better yet, eight of them.

– David

Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.


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