Joe Biden faces Richard Nixon’s choice

By Daniel McCarthy

Joe Biden has come to the same dead end Richard Nixon arrived at half a century ago.

His presidency can’t go on, and the choice now is what kind of exit to make.

Nixon could have clung to power, fighting impeachment over Watergate all the way to a Senate trial.

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He might even have won.

Impeachment has never removed a president – the two failed attempts against Donald Trump, one right after the Jan. 6 riot, show how high the bar for removal is.

But if Nixon could have remained in office, he couldn’t have served effectively as president anymore.

He at last did the right thing:

On Aug. 8, 1974, Nixon resigned for the good of the country.

Does Biden have the courage to do likewise?

Like Nixon, Biden can hold on by his fingernails, if he wishes.

He might even win reelection:

Polls show Biden is still competitive, despite public exposure of his age-related debilities.

No one can wrest the Democratic nomination from Biden if he won’t give it up.

And the party has no obvious, more electable alternative.

The likeliest substitute for Biden is Vice President Kamala Harris.

But she polls no better than he does, and Harris has little incentive to push for his replacement when she can count on becoming president anyway if Biden’s reelected – because he won’t be able to serve for long.

The truth is he isn’t able to serve now, whether or not he can bring himself to admit it.

Reports from inside the White House say Biden is unable to put in a full day:

He’s only “dependably engaged” between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., according to Alex Thompson of the news site Axios.

Journalists themselves have to work much longer hours than that.

In a panic, Biden’s campaign is trying to take events after 8 p.m. off his calendar: CNN says the president told a conference call of Democratic governors he needs more sleep.

Never mind the campaign: There is simply no way Biden can fulfill his duties as president on such a schedule.

Yet it’s all his stamina and diminished ability to concentrate will allow.

Americans have seen what happens when a senescent politician refuses to relinquish power.

By the time she died last September, Sen. Dianne Feinstein had become wholly a creature of her staff, unable so much as to walk the halls of the Senate without a guide.

Sen. Mitch McConnell, born the same year as Biden, is retiring from Senate Republican leadership after the election, yet his party is suffering for his delay in stepping down:

GOP efforts to retake the Senate aren’t helped by uncertainty about who its leader in the chamber will be – nor by the lack of a vigorous captain to assist colleagues and new candidates in their campaigns.

For a senator to reach a point where he or she can’t function in office is disturbing – for a president, it’s outrageous.

Already Biden’s administration is stage-managed heavily by staff and family, including, as critics have long warned, the president’s influence-peddling and criminal son, Hunter.

A party serious about democracy can’t field a scarecrow for a second term.

The only person medically qualified to be president on the ticket Democrats are set to nominate next month is Kamala Harris.

She owes voters a forthright account of what she will do as president, not vice president, if her ticket wins in November.

Harris may be prepared to wait out Biden’s decline and fall, and the party might believe he’s a better nominee than she is despite his compromised condition – which is a damning judgment on Harris’ own abilities.

Trump and the Republicans, too, might prefer Biden stay in office and in the race, no matter how confident they feel about defeating Harris.

This is the fight they’ve rehearsed, after all, with Biden’s age and infirmity part of their battle plan.

But more than partisan advantage is at stake.

Political calculations did factor into Nixon’s decision to resign:

He knew if he hung on, Republicans would pay an enormous penalty in the 1974 midterms (as they did anyway) and face annihilation in the ’76 presidential contest.

He also, however, understood he had a responsibility to end America’s agony and give the country a president who could get on with the job.

Biden has that responsibility, too, and it’s the last one he’s prepared to meet.

He should bring his presidency to a dignified conclusion and let the country make an open choice about its future.

Like Nixon, Biden must now write his last chapter – for one way or another, he’s reached the end of the book.

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