Market Mad House

In individuals, insanity is rare; but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule. Friedrich Nietzsche

Historical Insanity

Obama vs. Biden = Roosevelt v. Taft

There’s a growing feud between President Joe Biden (D-Delaware) and ex-President Barack Obama (D-Illinois) that could tear the Democratic Party apart. Strangely, that feud resembles the historic battle between President William Howard Taft (R-Ohio) and ex-President Theodore Roosevelt (R-New York).

A Biden-Obama feud could grow because Axios claims “White House insiders” say Biden “loves the growing narrative that he’s bolder and bigger-thinking than President Obama.” To elaborate, Axios reports Biden thinks he could accomplish far more in the White House than Obama did.

Similarly,The Hill’s Rising speculates that Obamaworld (Obama’s fans and associates) is upset with Biden’s snubbing of their hero and growing popularity. Rising’s Krystal Ball speculates Biden is trying to usurp Obama’s role as leader, or figurehead, of the Democratic Party.

Obama vs. Biden

I think Obama could fear that Biden plans to scrap some of his signature policies. Notably, Biden has not returned to Obama’s foreign and trade policies.

To explain, Biden is taking a hard line on Iran and is moving away from Free Trade. As President, Obama was a staunch advocate of free trade who negotiated a nuclear disarmament deal with Iran.

Biden has revived neither policy. Instead, President is taking a tough line on Iran and ignoring free trade.

Instead of returning to Obamaism, Biden is promoting what he calls a “Foreign Policy for the Middle Class.” I think the “Foreign Policy for the Middle Class” is a kinder/gentler version of former President Donald J. Trump’s (R-Florida) America First agenda.

Thus, Biden is moving away from Obamaism which drives the Obama worshipers crazy. However, it is unclear how Obama himself views this situation.

Roosevelt v. Taft

The Biden/Obama relationship resembles the destructive battle between Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. The Taft-Roosevelt battle nearly destroyed the Republican Party in 1912.

The similarities between the two relationships are striking. Roosevelt was a popular and charismatic celebrity ex President widely viewed as the Republican Party leader. Teddy Roosevelt was incredibly popular with the Republican base, just as Obama is beloved by today’s Democratic base.

The similarities between the two relationships are striking. Roosevelt was a popular and charismatic celebrity ex President widely viewed as the Republican Party leader. Teddy Roosevelt was incredibly popular with the Republican base, just as Obama is beloved by today’s Democratic base.

Biden, in common with Taft, had far more experience than the man he succeeded. Remember, Biden had a successful almost 40-year career in the US Senate before ascending to the Vice Presidency.

However, many people falsely viewed Taft as Roosevelt’s protegee. A falsehood that obviously irritated Taft. Similarly, many people view Biden as Obama’s protege, a delusion that could irritate the President.

The Taft-Roosevelt Split

The Taft-Roosevelt split developed for two reasons. First, Taft ignored his famous predecessor and went his own way. In particular, Taft refused to listen to Teddy’s advice about federal appointments.

Second various political operatives; led by former US Forest Service Chief Gifford Pinchot, exaggerated the differences between Taft and Roosevelt for their own benefit. Pinchot was angry at Taft because the President had fired him from the Forest Service.

Pinchot travelled all the way to the Riviera, to intercept TR, who was returning from Safari in Africa. Pinchot went to Europe, so his side of the dispute was the first the former President could hear.

Essentially, Pinchot asked Roosevelt to choose between him and Taft. Roosevelt chose Pinchot, which put him in the center of some unpleasant scandals at the US Interior Department.

Over the course of Taft’s presidential term, Roosevelt’s feelings about his successor grew from irritation to frustration to anger. One reason for the change was that Roosevelt allowed Pinchot to manipulate him into a fight with Taft.

Dragging the Party to the Left

Hence, all it could take is one disgruntled political operative with Obama’s ear; and an axe to grind, to launch a Democratic Party split. An army of grassroots activists and pundits soon joined Pinchot’s effort to turn TR against Taft.

The activists and pundits were progressives who wanted to drag the Republican Party to the left. These people; sensed correctly, that TR was also moving left, and hoped to use the ex-President’s star power to remake the Republican Party as a center-left organization.

I think a similar dispute today could center on progressives who want Biden to move left on economic issues. Notably, Biden is sympathetic to the Left on some economic issues, including the $15 minimum wage.

A complicating factor that did not exist in the TR/Taft feud is race. Many people view Obama as the leader of Black America.

Interestingly, Obama is further Left on racial issues than economic issues. Obama thinks the US Senate should scrap the filibuster because that mechanism blocks voting rights legislation. Moreover, many blacks view the US Senate as a racist institution because it gives disproportionate representation to rural whites.

In contrast, Biden wants nothing to do with a possibly destructive filibuster battle. Hence, the filibuster and voting rights could be the issues that trigger a Biden-Obama split.

The Base vs. The Party

One similarity between the Taft-Roosevelt Grand Old Party (GOP) and today’s Democratic Party is an army of grassroots activists who loathe the party establishment and want to destroy it. Strangely, in the early 20th Century many grassroots Republicans were progressives who felt the party establishment was too close to Big Business.

Today, many rank-and-file Democrats who think Big Business owns their party’s establishment. Notably, many of those people view both Obama and Biden as corporate shills.

However, I think many leftists would take sides in a Biden/Obama fight to further their own agendas. Notably, the real agenda behind the Teddy Roosevelt campaign of 1912 was to create a nationwide progressive political movement that could seize control of the GOP. Roosevelt’s star power provided the popularity the insurgents needed to achieve their goal.

Thus, I think the ingredients for a 1912 style split exist in today’s Democratic Party. Notably, many leftists are angry at what they see as the party’s portrayal of their hero; US Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), in the 2020 presidential primary.

I think those people those will rally to any figure who wants to screw the party establishment even Biden or Obama. Just as many grassroots Republicans rallied to former President Donald J. Trump (R-Florida).

Will it be 1912 all over again?

Ultimately, there are some enormous differences between Biden/Obama and Taft/Roosevelt.

First, Taft and Roosevelt were old friends whose relationship existed long before their presidential adventures. Notably, Taft and Roosevelt’s families were close and had been neighbors in Washington DC in the early 1890s.

It is unclear how close Obama and Biden are. Remember, both men are masters of media manipulation and putting on a public charade. However, it seems their relationship was one of convenience rather than friendship.

Thus, many people could imagine an Obama/Biden friendship that never existed. Instead, their relationship was one of political expediency. The expediency no longer exists.

Thus the element of personal hostility based on feelings of betrayal that drove Roosevelt’s war on Taft may not exist in today’s battle. Notably, Obama did not support Biden’s 2020 presidential run until Sanders, whom Obama loathes, became the front runner.

Second, the 22nd Amendment bars Obama from seeking another term as president. There was no 22nd Amendment in 1912, which allowed TR to seek a third term and disrupt the party.

Hence, Obama’s only course of action is to support a challenge to Biden. Conversely, Obama could hurt Biden by endorsing a challenger to the president or his handpicked successor in 2024. For example, Obama could endorse Andrew Yang (D-New York) for president, and Biden could endorse Vice President Kamala Harris (D-California).

The Catastrophe of 1912

Yet Obama could hurt Biden, but on the level Roosevelt hurt Taft. In 1912, Roosevelt challenged Taft for the Republican presidential nomination and lost. As a result, TR made a third-party run on the Progressive or Bull Moose ticket.

The result was that Democrat Woodrow Wilson (D-New Jersey) won the presidential election with 435 Electoral College votes. In 1912, Roosevelt won 88 Electoral College votes and carried six states, the best performance by a third-party presidential candidate in American history. Embarrassingly, Taft won eight electoral votes and carried two states.

Interestingly, the Progressive Party collapsed after the 1912 debacle. Roosevelt returned to the Republican fold and campaigned for the GOP nominee Charles Evans Hughes (R-New York) in 1916. Taft returned to his first love: the law, serving as a law professor and Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court.

History shows the Obama-Biden relationship could be the catalyst for a Democratic crackup. In 1912 an ugly mix of ambition, populist rage, anger, and envy led to a battle between a president and his predecessor that almost destroyed the party. Today’s Democratic Party could repeat that catastrophe.