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Bibi and Biden Hanging On

Both Biden and Netanyahu are in deep political trouble, and their problems are much worse because of the digital platforms that amplify the volume and increase the reach of their critics’ messages.
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July 10, 2024
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It’s been a bad week for the political establishment. In the British elections, the Labour Party won a historic victory over the long-standing Tory majority. In Iran, the moderate candidate prevailed over entrenched conservative opposition. And in France, the centrist status quo was upended by a coalition led by anti-Semites.

But if Rishi Sunak, Emmanuel Macron and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have been unable to suppress populist uprisings in their countries, the political challenges now facing Joe Biden and Benjamin Netanyahu may be just as formidable. That’s not to say that either the American president or Israeli prime minister will suffer the same type of defeat that these other world leaders have endured this month. But at the same time that street-level movements have been sweeping to political success across the globe, Biden and Netanyahu are both confronted by potential insurrections that could prematurely end their careers in public office as well.

Populism is not unique to the 21st century: the sentiment has existed for as long as human beings have organized themselves into hierarchies. It’s not surprising that those on the lower rungs of the ladder will occasionally rise up against those at the top. But social media has provided those organizers with technology that makes it far easier for them to coordinate, inspire and mobilize their allies, as supporters of Donald Trump, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Mahsa Amini and Brexit can all attest.

Both Biden and Netanyahu are in deep political trouble, and their problems are much worse because of the digital platforms that amplify the volume and increase the reach of their critics’ messages. Both men began their careers several decades ago, at a time when the ability to communicate with large numbers of people was the exclusive property of the wealthy and the powerful. Neither has ever been comfortable in an era in which the conversation is more democratized. Both are now struggling to confront existential threats in a landscape they do not fully understand.

Ever since Biden’s debate night meltdown threw the Democratic Party into a panic, the president has been attempting to stave off a growing rebellion from within his own ranks. It’s becoming clear that if the president does continue his campaign for reelection, he would do so as a compromised candidate in a deeply divided party. And if the donors, strategists and congressional members who no longer believe he possesses the necessary physical or cognitive fitness to lead are able to force him out, there is only a tiny window of opportunity for his party to choose a successor or even decide on a process for making that decision. 

Biden and his advisors understand the emotional allure of a message in this environment that challenges the powerful. So it’s not an accident that he is framing “the elite” as the villains who are attempting to undermine his campaign and who he is confronting on behalf of Democratic activists and voters. But it’s not yet clear whether his party’s rank-and-file stands with or against him. Barring either a cataclysmic presidential meltdown or dazzling resurgence, or a stampede of party leaders (in either direction) in the next several days, it’s unlikely that Biden’s situation will be resolved anytime soon. 

Netanyahu has made a career out of speaking out against conventional politicians, primarily on security issues. As his base of support has shrunk, he has become more reliant on the ultra-Orthodox and extremely conservative members of his coalition to survive. But the Gaza War has created another grassroots movement, spearheaded by the hostages’ families, whose goals are now in direct opposition to those of Netanyahu’s base. No matter which path forward Bibi chooses, he will face an angry and empowered populist movement determined to stop him. 

They are two elderly leaders who believe that their past accomplishments have earned them the right to continue in power. Both are now losing that argument to the next generations — who appear to be ready for change.

Political revolutions fail more than they succeed. But even those movements that come up short often claim prominent victims before they expire. Biden and Netanyahu are two elderly leaders who believe that their past accomplishments have earned them the right to continue in power. Both are now losing that argument to the next generations — who appear to be ready for change.


Dan Schnur is the U.S. Politics Editor for the Jewish Journal. He teaches courses in politics, communications, and leadership at UC Berkeley, USC and Pepperdine. He hosts the monthly webinar “The Dan Schnur Political Report” for the Los Angeles World Affairs Council & Town Hall. Follow Dan’s work at www.danschnurpolitics.com.

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