Bad Portents for Biden

The ancient world was full of signs and portents that the high and mighty ignored at their peril. When, for example, Xerxes set out on his campaign against Greece in 480 B.C., Herodotus tells us that “a great portent” appeared. 

Xerxes paid no attention to it, however, although it was quite easy to interpret. A horse gave birth to a hare, which clearly symbolized the fact that Xerxes was about to lead an expedition against Hellas with the greatest pride and magnificence, but would return to the same place running for his life.

That was about the size of, too. At the Battle of Salamis later that year, the Greeks delivered a crushing blow to the Persian navy. Xerxes decided to retreat with the bulk of his army back to Persia. It was a disaster. He lost most of his men to disease, famine, and exhaustion. It was a pitiful remnant that arrived at the Hellespont nearly two months later, only to find the bridges they had built at the outset of their campaign utterly wrecked. Xerxes was rowed across the channel, enraged but broken. 

I thought of that episode the other day when I read of the dramatic collapse of a bridge in Pittsburgh just before Joe Biden was due to arrive to rally his troops for a further assault on American independence and prosperity. 

That wasn’t how the agenda was described, of course. No, it was supposed to be the “unofficial launch of a new strategy the President devised to shore up his political fortunes by changing how he spends his time.”

In particular, we are told, Biden will be spending less time wrangling with Senators Kyrsten Sinema (D- Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D- W.Va.) over why they refuse to rubber-stamp his agenda and more time “jetting to places where he can highlight his achievements to ordinary Americans.” I do like to think about what “highlighting his achievements” might mean. I think this is where logicians start talking about “null sets.” Bridge collapse or no bridge collapse, however, I don’t think that was meant ironically. To quote Donald Trump, “Sad!” 

But this just underscores the uncomfortable possibility that, when it comes to Joe Biden, the signs and portents are addressed as much to us as to him. 

Biden talks about infrastructure. We’re the ones that have to drive over the crumbling bridges. 

We read the news. We know about Biden’s plummeting poll numbers. We know that inflation is out of control. We know that the stock market is skittish if not verging on panic. We look on, amazed, as the president of the United States all but invites Vladimir Putin to invade Ukraine. Memo to the president: When it comes to armies violating the borders of sovereign nations a “minor incursion” is analogous to being “a little bit pregnant.”

“The White House quickly tried to walk back the remark,” but then is there a remark that Biden has made in his tenure as president that the White House has not “quickly tried to walk back”?

Sometimes, it seems, they simply ignore the reports. For example, the report that Biden warned Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that Kyiv would be “sacked” by Russian troops. Question for the class: Does Joe Biden know what it means to “sack” a city? Extra credit: What is the difference between a “minor incursion” and a “sacking”? Be specific. 

I don’t think we are quite sure whether Biden actually said what he was reported to have said because, to date, the White House has not released a transcript of the call. In other words, we have yet another instance of the old Democratic Double-Standard Delight at work. Donald Trump has a call with President Zelensky. Pudgy weasel Alexander Vindman leaks details of the call and thus jump-starts the preposterous impeachment of Trump. 

The White House denies that Biden said what he is reported to have said, but isn’t there an easy way to settle it once and for all? Release the transcript of the call. This is an idea that Representatives Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) have had. 

“The White House must release the transcript of President Biden’s call with President Zelensky immediately,” Stefanik and Jordan demanded. “It was House Democrats, led by Chairman [Adam] Schiff and Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi, who spent months wasting American taxpayer dollars on a purely partisan attack propped up by their selectively-edited call between President Trump and President Zelensky. Joe Biden himself called on President Trump to ‘release the transcript . . . let the House see it.’” 

Have the bookies spoken yet about the odds of this happening? 

Stefanik and Jordan are right: “Democrats are putting another double standard on display by not releasing the transcript of President Biden’s call with Zelensky. To paraphrase our colleagues on the other side of the aisle, if there is nothing wrong with the call, this should not be a problem.” 

No, I’m not holding my breath, either. But it’s worth noting that there are not only double standards at play here. There is also the other Democratic speciality, projection—the habit of doing yourself what you accuse others of doing. It turns out that it was Hillary Clinton, not Donald Trump, who was “colluding” with the Russians. 

Donald Trump was alleged to have been profiting from foreign connections. There is no evidence of that. But there is plenty of evidence that during Joe Biden’s vice presidency, the Biden family raked in some $31 million from “Chinese individuals of the highest rank at the highest levels of the Red Chinese government.”

Joe Biden is a walking purveyor of signs and portents. He came to office promising to restore unity and reestablish a sense of “normalcy.” He has done the opposite. The public has gone from being concerned to being afraid. They despair at our porous borders, the empty shelves in our grocery stores, the skyrocketing prices of everything from food and clothing to cars, hotels, housing, and energy. They listen in the night and hear Putin’s and Xi’s saber rattling, the ravings of Iranian mullahs, sounds that are not soothed by the incoherent mumblings of the president of the United States. The omens are everywhere. 

Joe Biden came to town bearing a double-decker ice-cream smile. I suspect he is going to leave like Xerxes—confused, battered, alone. Perhaps he’ll have to be rowed across the Potomac back to Delaware if our bridges keep collapsing. I suppose the rest of us will be on the other shore, licking our wounds. 

About Roger Kimball

Roger Kimball is editor and publisher of The New Criterion and the president and publisher of Encounter Books. He is the author and editor of many books, including The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia (St. Augustine's Press), The Rape of the Masters (Encounter), Lives of the Mind: The Use and Abuse of Intelligence from Hegel to Wodehouse (Ivan R. Dee), and Art's Prospect: The Challenge of Tradition in an Age of Celebrity (Ivan R. Dee).

Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

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