I remember Al Hunt, the once-ubiquitous guest on cable TV talk shows like Capital Gang, before—say, 2008—they became too obnoxious to waste time on. I haven’t tuned into any of those programs—except for Election Night marathons, presidential and midterm—for more than 15 years and am no worse for it. Hunt—a longtime reporter and pundit for The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg News, among other outlets—held his own with colleagues expressing opposing political views, like Robert Novak, Kate O’Beirne, Margaret Carlson, Mark Shields and Pat Buchanan, but was generally collegial and rarely raised his voice. I got the feeling that a bunch of the panelists, all friends, members in good-standing with what was once The Beltway Establishment, would toss back a few drinks after the show was taped.
I hadn’t thought of Hunt for several years until seeing his recent Messenger column last week, headlined “A Democratic Governor Needs to Enter the Presidential Race Now,” another “more-in-sadness-than-anger”—the most notable recent example was The Washington Post’s David Ignatius’ obsequious plea to Joe Biden to retire—call for a shake-up in the Democratic presidential primary that begins early next year. Hunt, like Biden, is 80, and I’d guess that informs his opinion, and he notes that in 1984 Ronald Reagan was pilloried by the left as “too old,” even though he was—by today’s standards—a youthful 73. As I’ve written before, Biden’s family and small circle of confidantes, especially Dr. Jill, are doing the bumbling president a disservice (in his wife’s case, unmistakable spousal abuse) by propping him up before television cameras and convincing him to spend four more years (maybe) traveling around the world and keeping a grueling schedule.
There’s the joke on social media that Biden, on many days, “calls a lid” on activities, meaning he’s snoozing; telling stories from the old days in Selma, Alabama; the gridiron; how his father told him in 1961 that homosexuals (“gay” wasn’t yet used) kissing in public meant they were in love, a view that wasn’t yet accepted by a majority of Americans; and maybe pretending to comprehend “top secret” security reports. I haven’t a clue as to what’s really going on in the Israel-Hamas-Gaza war—is Iran involved? Did Bibi manufacture the crisis? Has Arafat been resurrected to embolden the Palestinians?—because it’s still too fresh, and today, more faulty information and videos are prominent, and given Biden’s contradictory statements about Standing With Israel and praying for peace negotiations, I’m not sure he’s on top of the almost-hourly reports (or scams) from the region. I’d guess he knows more about the war than most, but does he remember the particulars? Not likely.
Hunt disputes the Democratic “conventional wisdom,” a term that’s nearly-retired, that the Party has a “weak bench” and ups the ante, calling for one or more of the following Democratic governors to mount a write-in campaign in New Hampshire: Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer, California’s Gavin Newsom, New Jersey’s Phil Murphy, Illinois’ J.B. Pritzker and North Carolina’s Roy Cooper. That’s a fairly shabby lot; Newsom, whose only attribute is that he looks like a president and is comparatively young (56), has made California a laughing-stock; no one’s heard of Cooper and Murphy; Pritzker’s a buffoon; and only Whitmer makes sense in Hunt’s scenario. The “reason” for Hunt’s concern: “President Joe Biden looks like a general election loser. The likely alternative would be Donald J. Trump, an existential threat to American democracy.” (If you read news reports or punditry it’s hard to go 30 minutes without seeing the word “existential”; “pack journalism,” as Timothy Crouse brilliantly lampooned in Rolling Stone in 1972 and further in his ‘73 book The Boys on the Bus, has never disappeared, despite the 21st century’s media tumult.
Hunt ought to know better, but he took an Emerson College poll very seriously, because it showed Biden in serious trouble. For example, Biden, who won Pennsylvania by a percentage point in the Covid presidential election three years ago, is, according the poll, now down nine points to Trump. With no names mentioned (a journalistic rule that’s vanished), Hunt writes: “Talk to some smart Pennsylvania Democrats today and they’re getting the same refrain from these voters: Biden’s done a really good job, but he’s too old.”
It doesn’t matter if you’re smart or dumb (like most of Trump’s advisers, one of the reasons his predicted election is very premature), the fact that Biden’s too old is apparent to anyone who sees Harry Truman’s trusted adviser on TV. Naturally, Hunt brings up Gene McCarthy’s write-in campaign in New Hampshire in 1968, the results of which pushed LBJ to step aside. He continues: “To those Democrats who say there isn’t a big issue like in 1968 with Vietnam… I say there is: Democracy.”
I’m younger than Hunt, but as I recall, 1968 was about “democracy,” more so than today, even if Trump returns to the White House and plots revenge, legally or illegally, against his enemies. I’ve no idea if Hunt made Richard Nixon’s “enemies list,” a badge of honor among somewhat more honorable journalists back then, but lace the man’s cocktail with truth serum and he’ll admit that “democracy” is always under attack, from one side or the other.
—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER2023