Stupid 2024 Fantasies

The silly season has commenced a mite early.

At the New York Times, Thomas Friedman, who I had forgotten still had a column, poses his silliness in the form of a question: “Biden-Cheney 2024?” The setup:

As I’ve noted before, one reason I pay very close attention to the Israeli-Palestinian arena is that a lot of trends get perfected there first and then go global — airline hijacking, suicide bombing, building a wall, the challenges of pluralism and lots more. It’s Off Broadway to Broadway, so what’s playing there these days that might be a harbinger for politics in the U.S.?

Answer: It’s the most diverse national unity government in Israel’s history, one that stretches from Jewish settlers on the right all the way to an Israeli-Arab Islamist party and super-liberals on the left. Most important, it’s holding together, getting stuff done and muting the hyperpolarization that was making Israel ungovernable.

I’ll defer to Friedman’s long experience in the Middle East but will note that it’s only been six months and the bar in Israel is rather low in the wake of the long Netanyahu nightmare.

Is that what America needs in 2024 — a ticket of Joe Biden and Liz Cheney? Or Joe Biden and Lisa Murkowski, or Kamala Harris and Mitt Romney, or Stacey Abrams and Liz Cheney, or Amy Klobuchar and Liz Cheney? Or any other such combination. Before you leap into the comments section, hear me out.

After more discourse into the Israeli mess, he argues,

Netanyahu was just a smarter Donald Trump, constantly delegitimizing the mainstream media and the Israeli justice system and vigorously exploiting social/religious/ethnic fault lines to divide and rule. He eventually stressed out the system so much that several of his former allies broke away to forge a unity coalition with Israeli center, left and Arab parties.

I would note that we are not at “several” here. Cheney’s is the only name that seems to come to mind.

As Hebrew University of Jerusalem religious philosopher Moshe Halbertal put it to me: “What happened here is that there is still enough civic responsibility — not everywhere, but enough — that the political class felt that the continued breakdown of the rule of law and more elections, which was leading nowhere, was an indulgence that Israel simply could not afford, given its highly diverse population and dangerous neighborhood.”

Alas, I see little evidence of said civic responsibility here.

America is facing an existential moment, [Steven Levitsky, a political scientist and co-author of “How Democracies Die“] told me, noting that the Republican Party has shown that it isn’t committed any longer to playing by democratic rules, leaving the United States uniquely threatened among Western democracies.

That all means two things, he continued. First, this Trump-cult version of the G.O.P. must never be able to retake the White House. Since Trump has made embracing the Big Lie — that the 2020 election was a fraud — a prerequisite for being in the Trump G.O.P., his entire cabinet most likely would be people who denied, or worked to overturn, Biden’s election victory. There is no reason to believe they would cede power the next time.

“In a democracy,” Levitsky said, “parties lose popularity and they lose elections. That is normal. But a democracy cannot afford for this Republican Party to win again because they have demonstrated a ton of evidence that they are no longer committed to the democratic rules of the game.”

So Biden-Cheney is not such a crazy idea? I asked.

“Not at all,” said Levitsky. “We should be ready to talk about Liz Cheney as part of a blow-your-mind Israeli-style fusion coalition with Democrats. It is a coalition that says: ‘There is only one overriding goal right now — that is saving our democratic system.'”

That brings us to the second point. Saving a democratic system requires huge political sacrifice, added Levitsky. “It means A.O.C. campaigning for Liz Cheney” and it means Liz Cheney “putting on the shelf” many policy goals she and other Republicans cherish. “But that is what it takes, and if you don’t do it, just look back and see why democracy collapsed in countries like Germany, Spain and Chile. The democratic forces there should have done it, but they didn’t.”

So . . . okay. I get where Levitsky and Friedman are coming from. It’s an extension—albeit a significant one—from the argument many of us NeverTrump types made in 2016 and, especially, in 2020.

But America is not Israel. Even leaving aside every other difference—and they are vast—our institutions aren’t the same. Israel has a modified parliamentary system elected under a version of proportional representation. Coalition governments are the norm: the rules are such that no party is likely to win a majority of seats in the Knesset and, therefore, bargaining to get other parties to agree to form a government is required.

The crucial compromise for the current grand coalition was a rotation agreement under which Yamina Party leader Naftali Bennett will serve as prime minister until August 2023 and then hand power over to Yesh Atid Party leader Yair Lapid through until November 2025. There is simply no mechanism for doing that here.

So, what exactly would democracy-loving Republicans get out of the deal. Vice President Cheney would be essentially powerless because the Vice Presidency has no real power unless the Senate is split 50-50. She would be influential to the extent Biden heeded her counsel and/or handed her control over a policy portfolio—although, presumably, it would be one on which they were already on broad alignment or one Biden didn’t much care about.

Conversely, Democrats would be less than stoked about this as well. Biden would turn 81 shortly after his re-election. There is a higher-than-usual chance that he would not finish out his term. In which case, we have President Cheney.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Campaign 2024, Democracy, Middle East, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Kathy says:

    Back when Bush the elder looked as invincible as Wonder Woman’s love child with Superman, right after the successful conclusion of Gulf War I, there was a joke piece in TIME suggesting the Democratic Party nominate George H. W. Bush for president in 1992, but their own candidate for vice president.

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  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    Yes, Friedman has broken into the wacky-tobaccy cabinet again. Now Tom take your PRN Haldol and watch some TV.

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  3. wr says:

    I think Friedman has been running this column his entire career, merely changing the name depending which Republican is in the news at the time. “Al Gore should team up with Newt Gingrich!!!!”

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  4. This is stunningly stupid and yet another grand example of an American writer having little operative understanding of another country’s institutions. Friedman has a lot of years studying the Middle East and Israel in particular, but he comes across as having a college sophomore who barely gets C’s understanding, at best, of what coalition government means in a parliamentary system. And he gets a D, if one is feeling generous or charitable, as to what both the power of the US veep and what it means when a person joins a presidential ticket. Cheney would be immediately seen as having become a Democrat as opposed to everyone seeing this as some grand coalition. And, as James notes, being veep conveys essentially no power.

    Levitsky knows all of this, so I wonder about the context of the quote above.

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  5. @Kathy: I always remember an SNL skit: “The Race not to be the Guy to Lose to Bush” or somesuch, with SNL cast members doing impressions of prominent Democrats saying why they shouldn’t be the nominee.

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  6. MarkedMan says:

    @wr: You nailed it. Decades ago I thought Friedman was a voice of reason. I came to realize that his analysis usually boiled down to, “Hey, I’ve got an idea! What if we are all nice to each other?!”

  7. Michael Reynolds says:

    Isn’t it time for Tom Friedman to announce his run for governor of Oregon?

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  8. CSK says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    Okay, that made me laugh out loud.

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  9. Kathy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    I suppose everyone thinks their own ideas are brilliant, especially if they seem completely original.

    For instance, why not adopt the Roman Republic’s system of legislation, and have the citizens vote for or against every bill Congress intends to pass? Why not? It would get all citizens involved in the political life of the country and give everyone a say.

    Coming up with reasons why this is a bad idea in a representative democracy is easier than finding flaws with Donnie the Con.

  10. Kylopod says:

    The left and center-left in Israel are a burned husk. They’ve got literally no choice but to coalesce with the center-right to defeat the far right if they wish to acquire any power. It’ll take a lot to convince me America’s Dems are in anywhere near that dire a situation. But keep dreaming, man.

  11. gVOR08 says:

    @Kathy:

    I suppose everyone thinks their own ideas are brilliant, especially if they seem completely original.

    That’s pretty much the definition of the Pundit Fallacy.

    There is some validity to the idea of everyone else banding together to beat the bad guy. But we already had that election in 2020.

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  12. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Michael Reynolds:

    Or Minnesota, being a proud son of St Louis Park.

  13. grumpy realist says:

    I remember a college dorm discussion back around 1980 or so about parliamentary procedure and proportional representation. Someone (NOT me) enthusiastically burbled about the great benefits that were seen in countries like Japan….
    ….and then someone else pointed out that the Exact Same Setup was how Israel’s government was set up and maybe he would like to reconsider his suggestion.

  14. Scott F. says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    I’m finding a good measure of comfort in knowing the outcome of the ‘92 election referenced in that sketch. SNL’s sandbox is the zeitgeist and the public perception of “unbeatable” in politics can change quickly.

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  15. Scott F. says:

    I’ll defer to Friedman’s long experience in the Middle East but will note that it’s only been six months and the bar in Israel is rather low in the wake of the long Netanyahu nightmare.

    To be fair, six months is a Friedman Unit and a lot can happen in a Friedman Unit.

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  16. Lounsbury says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I can assure you, his understanding of the Middle East is not any better at all. Not at all. And never has been.

  17. Moosebreath says:

    @grumpy realist:

    “I remember a college dorm discussion back around 1980 or so about parliamentary procedure and proportional representation. Someone (NOT me) enthusiastically burbled about the great benefits that were seen in countries like Japan….
    ….and then someone else pointed out that the Exact Same Setup was how Israel’s government was set up and maybe he would like to reconsider his suggestion.”

    I am surprised no one brought up Italy. In the post WWII period until your conversation, Italy had nearly 40 different coalitions forming the government (and has had over 60 now). Possibly something for Dr. Taylor to discuss when he returns to the topic of the merits of proportional representation.

  18. just nutha says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: I took Levitsky as advocating for what “should be ” or “needs to be” done irrespective of the vacuum of what can be done given our system and its institutional stickiness. Going to some sort of proportional representation scheme that would open the floodgates of third party activism would be desirable (or at least arguably so) and is necessary to the survival of our system.

    The fact that it’s not likely to happen in the lifetime of anyone currently living gets finessed by.

  19. HelloWorld! says:

    Two points that seem to be missing:
    1 – EVERYONE – inside the beltway, outside the beltway, any which way – thought Clinton was going to win, so many people did not vote. This was amplified by the Access Hollywood tapes.

    2 – While there is a huge smear campaign that has been going on at Clinton since she was 1st lady, you’re underestimating the influence that corporate doner, lobbying agencies, image consultants, K street think tanks, K street advertisers, and K street “news” organization have on the fluid opinion of masses of people in this country.

  20. HelloWorld! says:

    @HelloWorld!: Opps, wrong thread and article entirely.

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  21. Mimai says:

    Friedman is not paid to write well-reasoned columns about US, Middle East, etc policy. Rather, he is paid to write columns that are read. And discussed. And allow readers to (a) sound clever to their social contacts who don’t read Friedman columns and/or (b) laugh at the imbecile Friedman who they are clearly so much smarter than.

    I suspect there are other reasons, but I am feeling especially uncharitable today, so I didn’t even try.

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  22. Kathy says:

    @gVOR08:

    It should be obvious even to highly creative people that no one can have only brilliant ideas. Who do they think they are? Me?

    😉

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  23. Kathy says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    At first it didn’t ring a bell, but now I kind of recall seeing it. But, then, there were so many skits on politics, especially during election season.

    I’ll look it up when I get home.

  24. gVOR08 says:

    @Moosebreath: Italy was, for awhile, notorious for shuffling governments. But I remember someone during the worst of it observing that it was X new governments, but it was really a fairly small, stable group of pols playing musical chairs. Yes the PM lost a vote of confidence. But then he became the Agriculture Minister and his old Finance Minister became the PM and a few ministers went back into parliament for a cycle or two.

    A question, because I’m too lazy to dig it out. Not many years ago Belgium had gone years without a government. They could because the EU largely handled finance, NATO handled security, and between them they covered diplomacy. Did Belgium ever get it’s act together?

  25. Lounsbury says:

    @gVOR08: Belgium went without a constituted Federal government due to parliamentary deadlock. EU in no way “largely” handles Belgian finances. In fact they handle nothing of Belgian national finances, any more than they do for France nor Germany nor Netherlands.

    Presumably you refer to the 07-11 episode and not the more recent 19-20 episode.

    Either way, rather at the operational level as so much authority is delegated to the regions (or more brutaly, the French and Flemano-Dutch speaking geo-blocs), quite a lot of daily items are taken care of there. And the caretaker rump goverment could fudge through on status quo althoug no new signifcant finance bills could go through.

    (although the NATO and diplomacy aspects are more or less true, but then Belgium rather doesn’t face any terribly critical external issues versus the rather critical internal incoherencies. For all that my Germanophone Belgian cousins thought the 10 propo of getting merged with the Bundesrepublik had some merit).

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  26. Scott O says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Was that Victoria Jackson? Brings back memories. Those were simpler times when we could laugh at the loons. She could probably win a house seat now.