This Baby Boomer author finds it easy to write about Joe Biden — because he remembers Jimmy Carter. So when the 46th president does something, I need only to recall what the 39th president did (and what was done to him during his single term, 1977-1981), and the similarities become clear. Indeed, just this year, I’ve written about five Biden-Carter parallels: on the economy, national security, crime, inflation, and Iran.
So now here’s a sixth parallel, which is the president’s inability to manage a difficult issue, specifically the issue of immigration. (We can save a seventh parallel, infrastructure and reconciliation, for another time.)
Like Carter’s presidency decades ago, Biden’s presidency is a muddle. He is betwixt and between Democratic constituencies, and they are both ignoring him and whipsawing him. This is not a fun position to be in. One useful political science term for this condition is disjunction. Yes, Biden is suffering a bad case of intra-party disjunction, and this internal disunity threatens his presidency.
Illegal immigration—or, as Democrats prefer to call it, migration—has surged this year. As to the recent origins of the problem, former secretary of state Mike Pompeo was succinct: “Joe Biden undid Remain in Mexico, stopped the construction of the border wall and every policy we had in place to combat the crisis at the southern border. He created this crisis at the southern border.”
Joe Biden undid Remain in Mexico, stopped the construction of the border wall and every policy we had in place to combat the crisis at the southern border.
He created this crisis at the southern border.
— Mike Pompeo (@mikepompeo) September 27, 2021
For further perspective on the international movement of peoples, we might think back to a 2018 Gallup Poll, which found that 15 percent of the world’s adults—that’s more than 750 million people, plus, of course, their families—would migrate if they could. Their preferred destination? The United States, of course.
So that’s the sort of enormous planetary population pressure that’s being put on our border and on the U.S. authorities at the border trying to hold that thin line.
Yet when the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) used familiar tactics of detention against Haitians in Texas, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) decried it as “worse than what we witnessed in slavery.” Within the Democratic Party, we might note, Waters is a respected, admired, and feared figure. So the Biden administration had best pay heed.
In other words, the mere fact that the administration wasn’t simply waving through thousands of Haitians into the U.S. was a point of disjunction, riling up Waters and many other Democrats.
Then came the catalytic issue. Yes, we’re talking about “whips,” or, as they are more commonly known, “horse reins.” A few out-of-context and sensationalized photos showing CBP horsemen with their reins flying as they were trying to deal with Haitian were enough to send the Democratic base (including, of course, the Main Stream Media) into a foamy lather.
Indeed, so great was the foaming that it didn’t matter that the photographer himself said that the “whips” interpretation was simply wrong. As John Daniel Davidson, writing in The Federalist, said of the incident, “Narrative triumphed over reality,” thereby triggering “a moral panic in Washington.”
This is one of the controversial photographs showing a U.S. Border Patrol agent on horseback trying to stop a Haitian migrant on the banks of the Rio Grande river near Del Rio, Texas, on September 19, 2021. (PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty Images)
Mounted U.S. Border Patrol agents watch Haitian migrants on the bank of the Rio Grande river near Del Rio, Texas, on September 20, 2021.(John Moore/Getty Images)
The result was not only a firestorm on the left, but intra-party disjunction for Biden. Hence this September 25 headline in Politico, that bible of the liberal-leaning Beltway: “Immigration drives cracks in Democratic coalition.” That headline was no exaggeration; the piece quoted former Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro saying that the administration’s policy “risks the collapse of the Democratic coalition that elected Joe Biden.”
Now that’s how to get the attention of White House pols, including Biden himself.
Faced with a rebellion within his own party, Biden did the Bidenian thing: He adjusted his position.
The White House
We might recall that once upon a time–in 2007 to be exact—Biden had been something of a hawk on immigration, declaring, “No great country can say it is secure without being able to control its borders.” And yet over the years, he has moved left on the issue, alongside his party.
So now, further going with the flow, Biden has actually joined with his critics in lambasting his own executive branch for attempted border enforcement.
Speaking to reporters on September 24, the president said of the fake-news images, “It was horrible . . . to see people treated like they did, horses nearly running them over, people being strapped. It’s outrageous.” Warming to his new stance of pandering to the left, the always talkative Biden said of the border patrollers who had done their duty, “I promise you, those people will pay . . . an investigation [is] underway now, and there will be consequences. There will be consequences.”
Furthermore, lest he not be heard by Maxine Waters, he piled on some more: “It’s an embarrassment. It’s beyond an embarrassment. It’s dangerous. It’ s wrong. It sends the wrong message around the world. It sends the wrong message at home.”
Immediately, the Biden administration released about 85 percent of the Haitians, some 13,000 in all. Most likely, one way or another, they are all now here for good. This leniency, of course, sends an obvious signal to others who might wish to come here (the population of Haiti, for instance, is about 11.2 million).
Haitian migrants walk across the Rio Grande river carrying food and supplies from Mexico back to their makeshift encampment under the international bridge in Del Rio, Texas, on September 17, 2021. (Jordan Vonderhaar/Getty Images)
(Jordan Vonderhaar/Getty Images)
Haitian migrants continue crossing the Rio Grande river from Mexico to their makeshift migrant camp under the international bridge in Del Rio, Texas, on September 19, 2021. (PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty Images)
Haitian migrants are pictured in their makeshift encampment under the international bridge in Del Rio, Texas, on September 21, 2021. The camp grew to over 12,000 migrants, sparking a humanitarian crisis. (PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty Images)
Another view of the makeshift encampment of Haitian migrants under the international bridge in Del Rio, Texas, on September 17, 2021. (Jordan Vonderhaar/Getty Images)
In fact, on September 30, we learned that the Panamanian government has been monitoring the movement of another 87,000 or so Haitians—and getting no help or guidance from the Biden administration. And then, on October 1, we learned that the number might be up to 125,000. So what number will be the next report reveal?
Rep. Carlos Giminez (R-FL) warns, “This thing is getting out of control, will be and continue to be out of control, until the Biden administration changes their policy.” Giminez added some blunt advice to the Biden administration: “Basically, it just has to revert back to the Trump policies and most of this will stop.”
As we have seen, Biden did want the influx to stop—and then he was hooted by fellow Democrats, so he stopped wanting that. And now, perhaps he can’t decide what to do. That’s disjunction.
In the meantime, it’s not hard to see that Biden’s words will have a crushing effect on CBP morale. Who among the border patrollers should want to take physical risks to enforce the law, and then face the further risk of legal and disciplinary wrath from on high? And on September 29, even as some MSM outlets were admitting that the “whips” were actually reins, the White House stood firm in its condemnation.
Okay, so it’s possible that by capitulating to the open-borders left, Biden has placated fellow Democrats, and that might seem to solve his problem, at least within his party. And yet what about the rest of the country?
With Biden’s cavalier condemnation of the CBP, we see just how easy it can be for a commander-in-chief to trash those under his command.
And that trashing was too much, even for Jake Tapper at CNN. On September 26, Tapper questioned Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas on whether a fair investigation into CBP is even possible, given that the president has so noisily prejudged the situation.
Mayorkas answered by saying that Biden’s words and his own should not matter to the investigators. Fat chance of that, and it’s also worth recalling that Mayorkas was also a prejudger. He had said that the misinterpreted images “horrified us.”
Tapper persisted: “Some of the initial descriptions of those images were just patently false. There’s now video out there that provides more context. Having seen the video, are you certain that there was actually wrongdoing?”
Mayorkas mumbled around some more, and Tapper pressed him some more: “Can the Border Patrol count on you and President Biden, who has said that people will pay, to come to a determination based on the facts, and not based on Twitter outrage?”
Then Mayorkas, perhaps belatedly mindful that he has to actually lead the homeland security department and its employees, chose to suddenly praise the CBP’s “heroism.”
To which Tapper snapped back, “The nice words you said about them, you should probably share with President Biden.” Snap, indeed!
U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas speaks at a White House press briefing on September 24, 2021, about the Haitian migrant encampment in Del Rio, Texas. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
From Tapper’s TV discontent we can move to the larger—and more consequential—discontent of the American people. According to a September 27 poll from Echelon Insights, public approval for Biden’s immigration policy stands at 39 percent, with disapproval at 55 percent. And while immigration is not the most important issue in the mind of the public, it is the third most important issue.
Which is to say, Biden should be mindful that the whole country is watching him on the immigration issue, not just his left flank. And so if he is focused only on appeasing the left, he’ll likely lose sight of pleasing most Americans.
Why, even former president Barack Obama, the father of DACA, said on September 28 that we need genuine border enforcement. So again the question: Where’s Joe? (And we might also ask: Where’s border chief Vice President Kamala Harris? Remember her?)
This is disjunction: A weak president skitters back and forth, seeking to tamp down discontent among his base, while losing track of the more important task of appealing to the middle. Indeed, Biden’s overall approve/disapprove polling number has been drifting downward, to the point that he is now three or four points underwater.
Not a good place for Biden to be barely nine months into his term. For those of us who remember Jimmy Carter, it’s all familiar. And for those who don’t remember the 39th president, here’s the key fact to keep in mind: He was a one-termer.