Remember that startling remark Karl Rove made while serving as an adviser to George W. Bush? It was October 2004, the so-called war on terror was going full tilt, and Rove was talking to the journalist Ron Suskind. Suskind was writing a piece for The New York Times Sunday Magazine about the habit among Bush and his people to dismiss inconvenient facts. He described a conflict between “pragmatists and true believers, reason and religion.”
Rove, who Suskind identified only as “the aide,” could scarcely have been pithier as he expressed the Bush administration’s grandiosity and its contempt for “what we call the reality-based community”—which, Rove told Suskind, referred to “people who ‘believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.’” He, Rove, went on to explain matters this way:
We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study, too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
These remarks have made it into various history texts, and they earn their place in all of them. Who, at the time, was not floored by Rove’s extraordinarily bizarre boasts? I found them ominous, a frank intimation that the attacks of September 11, 2001, had induced a real, live, properly defined case of psychosis among those then governing America. Democrats ran miles with the comments Suskind, with great skill, pulled out of Rove.
Oddly enough, one of those Suskind cast as a voice of reason at this time was Joe Biden, then a senator from Delaware. Actually, it was Biden who cast Biden as a voice of reason: “I was in the Oval Office,” Suskind quotes him as saying, “and I was telling the president of my many concerns”—these as related to the invasion of Iraq the previous year. We cannot, things being as they are, be at all certain Biden countered Bush’s departures from reality in any such voice or was, indeed, even in the Oval Office when he said he was. Biden’s voice, after all, was among the loudest on Capitol Hill in support of the March 2003 invasion.
But he is in the Oval Office now, and we find among Biden and his people, and in the Democratic Party elite altogether—not to mention the liberal media—the same case of psychosis that so alarmed people 19 years ago, if we define this term as a severed relationship with reality.
We are talking here about denial, psychotic denial, and denials of this kind often, maybe almost always, come with heavy costs. The Bush administration’s denials of reality resulted in … what? … a million-plus deaths, millions more displaced persons, and more than $6 trillion (the Cost of War Project’s count) wastefully spent. These are among the realities created by those for whom Rove spoke.
The Biden administration has a pointlessly destructive war to answer for, too, although it is a stretch to assume any American president in recent memory has answered for the disasters his denials of reality have wrought. But we now witness a case of denial Biden and the Democratic elite are going to pay for dearly. I refer to their headlong rush toward failure in the 2024 election. There is only one way to describe the irrationality of the Democrats’ determination—determination to date, I must add—to support the thought of a second term for Biden. I read in it the same presumption Rove so well expressed: They think they can create reality and this reality will trump, if you will, “discernible reality,” to borrow Rove’s phrase.
Biden’s polling numbers are not short of disastrous at this point, even among registered Democrats. His approval rate hovers at 40 percent or so in all polls; in some surveys the percentage of those who “disapprove” of the president is north of 60 percent. Three quarters of registered voters think he is too old to run for a second term. A CNN poll published two weeks ago found that 46 percent of registered voters would prefer any Republican candidate to Biden.
Organized labor does not trust “union Joe,” as reports this week from the United Auto Workers’ picket lines indicate. Poverty levels, including child poverty, are rising swiftly, as is credit-card debt. Inflation, although down from its peak, has chewed up what wage gains working class Americans have achieved since Biden came to office, and the official inflation rate is a chisel in any case, as it does not include energy and food costs. The administration is doing absolutely nothing as private equity firms buy houses—neighborhoods, indeed—at a rate that is destroying communities and provoking a housing crisis that starts to look like the early 1930s.
Last week the House began an impeachment inquiry into a “culture of corruption”—Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s phrase—that to a majority of Americans is sky-is-blue obvious. The Justice Department—widely understood to be going after Trump for political advantage—is now considering imposing a gag order on Biden’s likely opponent next year. Vice–President Kamala Harris—whose polls are worse than Biden’s—reminded us in an interview with The Associated Press two weeks ago that, as all vice-presidents are obliged to consider, she “may have to take over” from Biden.
What we hear from the administration and the media are straight-out denials on all of these matters. The polling numbers do not reflect reality. No one cares much about Biden’s corruption or the impeachment proceedings. MAGA, a White House official asserted last week, “is widely unpopular.” Kamala Harris will remain a heartbeat away for another four years, and this is as it should be. In the case of the economy, officials and liberal pundits do what they always do to make things look good: They resort to statistics and wonder why Americans aren’t happy.
This in pencil-sketch is what I mean by the Democrats’ collective psychosis. They are, in effect, attempting to create their own reality while assuming they can sell it to enough voters to keep Biden in the White House.
Some readers suggest in the comment threads to these commentaries that this isn’t, after all, a case of denial so much as crafty political calculation. It only looks as if the Democratic establishment overinvested in the burbling Biden in 2020 and is now throwing good money after bad. In this argument, Biden is soon to have “his LBJ moment”—a reference to that cold evening in March 1968 (how well I recall it) when Lyndon Johnson shocked the country by announcing he would not seek the presidency that autumn. Biden steps aside, and Kamala Harris breaks all kinds of glass ceilings as she is elected No. 47: This is the story line.
I do not see this. Kamala Harris is a liberal deplorable too far. Threaten Americans with a Harris presidency and Republicans could run Donald Trump’s masseuse and win. Democrats simply cannot be this far out of touch with reality. But I had better be careful: I could be wrong and they are.
The thing I find especially strange about the long runup to November 5, 2024, is that the outcome is nearly unimaginable no matter which way you rotate the mirrored ball. I do not see how the Democrats can win unless Biden steps aside and takes Harris with him, and this seems a political impossibility. Ready or not, here’s my take: Democratic denialism is well on the way to making Trump the strongest candidate in the field. But then we have to wonder how far the liberal authoritarians will go to prevent any such outcome. My guess is a very long way.
Democrats are not the first to lose track of reality, or to presume they can create their own. The Bush II people weren’t, either. Karl Rove simply described it in welcomely honest terms. What I am calling a collective psychosis has a long history among American leaders and in American politics. This syndrome has already destroyed American foreign policy, not to mention the very many who have endured it. In our time the casualties are to be closer to home.