While The Wall Street Journal, like all legacy media institutions, isn’t what it once was—the print edition each morning is useless for current news, and its articles often contradict one another from day-to-day, a yo-yo—reading it isn’t a habit I’ll give up soon. Its editorials, off-beat sports stories and book reviews are to my general liking, as well as columnists like Daniel Henninger and Holman Jenkins Jr. But the paper’s fealty to Karl Rove—whose op-ed appears every Thursday—continues to nettle me. Despite a very mild disclaimer at the end of his columns, this is a partisan Republican figure who was an advisor to the Trump 2020 campaign, a regular on Fox News and involved in political action committees. I can’t believe the late Robert Bartley, editorial page editor of the Journal for 30 years, and one of the later-20th century’s most influential conservative voices, would’ve countenanced such an arrangement.
The Journal’s chief competitor The New York Times—The Washington Post is lodged in a crazy land of its own making; employing the calcified Dana Milbank and the AI-creation Jennifer Rubin; and it’s an open question of when Jeff Bezos unloads the paper from his portfolio—doesn’t have the equivalent of Rove, say George Stephanopoulos, on its opinion roster. Granted, contributors like David Brooks, Nicholas Kristof, Thomas Friedman, Paul Krugman, David French, Gail Collins and Michelle Goldberg are all de facto Joe Biden—and Democrats in general—apologists, but not as blatant as Rove. (That could be a very minor distinction today—that Krugman, for example, doesn’t affix an “I’ve never voted for a Republican” disclaimer at the end of his columns—but I think Rove’s in-your-face conflict of interest matters.) The former George W. Bush campaign chief’s Oct. 25th column was a laundry list of Biden’s string of bad polls, his extensive advertising buys, both national and in swing states, and the “whispered” opinions of some Democrats that he’s too old to run for reelection. (Rove isn’t alone here; although similar entreaties from Democratic pundits carry more weight, at least in the increasingly unimportant world of the Beltway Establishment.)
Rove writes: “The core reason Mr. Biden’s numbers aren’t getting better is that no amount of advertising will change public opinion about his fitness for the Oval Office. He won’t get better, only older… Democrats [if Biden passes the baton] would (quietly) cheer in relief. Americans who viewed him as a transitional figure would applaud. Foreign allies and adversaries would take it as a sign of strength. It might encourage Republicans to nominate a new face. And being ex-president at 82 isn’t a bad gig.”
Biden is too old for the job, which is demonstrated almost every time he appears before the media (rarely) or makes comments on current affairs. But coming from Rove, this is too rich; I wonder what Republican he, and his various committees, is planning to back for 2024. He might as well admit that in print.
In contrast, former Republican-turned-NeverTrump chronicler David French never tires of pumping up Biden in his Times column. His October 29th advertisement, “Joe Biden Knows What He’s Doing” bordered on the deceitful. For example, French doesn’t once mention Biden’s age or his fellow Democratic pundits’ concern about how that’ll play next year. Instead, it’s a full-throttle hummer, trying to convince readers (and, charitably, perhaps himself) that Biden and his administration are deftly handling the Gaza and Ukraine wars, despite “the fog of war,” while keeping a firm eye on China.
He concludes: “If Biden can persevere in the chaos and confusion of war abroad and polarization at home, all while preserving a level of economic growth that is astonishing in contrast with the rest of the world, he’ll have his own story to tell [at the Democratic Convention in Chicago], one that should trump any adversity of any given moment or the concern of any given poll. If Biden can do his job, then he can take the stage in Chicago with his own simple pitch for reelection: In the face of disease, war, inflation and division, the economy thrives–and democracy is alive.”
Maybe French is auditioning for a post in a possible second Biden administration (replacing milk-carton Mayor Pete?)—and he’s correct that reliance on polls is short-sighted—but his statement that the U.S. economy is “the envy of the world,” is disingenuous. French should remember that Americans are the only citizens voting in 2024, and nearly everyone in this country isn’t nearly as sanguine about inflation, as they experience sticker-shock every week.
Finally, this statement is odd: “[Hamas] has no legal or moral right to embed itself in the civilian population to hide from Israeli attacks. Israel, by contrast, has every right to destroy Hamas in a manner consistent with the laws of war.” What, exactly, are the “laws of war”? Only the naïve believe that the United Nations or the Geneva Conventions have any meaning in the modern age. War is war: did the United States follow the “laws” in Vietnam, Iraq or Afghanistan? Does Hamas, Hezbollah and Israel consult the gentleman’s list of protocols before making an attack? Russia and Ukraine? Maybe French, at his Tennessee home on Halloween, dressed up as Adlai Stevenson, while handing out mini-Nestle Crunch bars.
—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER2023