Ezra Klein on Biden leading from behind

I’m ambivalent about this Ezra Klein piece:

Trump’s efforts to stay in the news, however, are matched by Biden’s efforts to stay out of it. Biden gives startlingly few interviews and news conferences. He doesn’t go for attention-grabbing stunts or high-engagement tweets. I am not always certain if this is strategy or necessity: It’s not obvious to me that the Biden team trusts him to turn one-on-one conversations and news conferences to his advantage. But perhaps the difference is academic: A good strategy is sometimes born of an unwanted reality.

Biden simply doesn’t take up much room in the political discourse. He is a far less central, compelling, and controversial figure than Trump or Obama or Bush were before him. He’s gotten a surprising amount done in recent months, but then he fades back into the background. Again, that’s a choice: Biden could easily command more attention by simply trying to command more attention. When he picks a fight, as he did in his speech on Trump, the MAGA movement and democracy in Philadelphia last month, the battle joins. He just doesn’t do it very often.

. . .

What was never clear to me was what Biden and the Democrats would do when Trump wasn’t on the ballot — when Biden had to drive Democratic enthusiasm on his own. But Biden is running a surprisingly similar strategy in 2022 to the one he ran in 2020, with some evidence of success. He doesn’t try to command the country’s attention day after day. And that’s left space for Trump and the Supreme Court and a slew of sketchy Republican candidates to make themselves the story and remind Democrats of what’s at stake in 2022.

On the one hand, I think this is a pretty accurate depiction of how the race is shaking out (or at least was until recently).  The economic environment improved, the Dobbs decision has been highly motivating for Democrats and some cross-pressured voters, Trump has continued to engage in his often less-than-perfectly-strategic political gambits.  And there is sometimes a case for keeping a low profile in our polarized politics.  Attacking Trump for his support of Putin might reduce support for Ukraine among Republicans rather than discredit Trump.

But I still think the Democrats would benefit from a President who could calmly but relentlessly draw attention to the outrageous positions of the Republican party.  Why can’t Biden tweet regularly about the horrors being done to women under Dobbs?  He could do this in a very bipartisan, centrist way – the Republican position is very unpopular.  Why can’t he talk about the threat Republicans pose to Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare?  The importance of political rhetoric is hard to gauge and easy to exaggerate.  But on the other hand, it’s one of the things we have under our control, at least for now.  No president is perfect, but the fact that Biden can’t be trusted to stay on script in front of a microphone is a genuine liability.