In A Man for All Seasons, the play and movie about the persecution and execution of Sir Thomas More for opposing Henry VIII’s usurpation of the Catholic Church, a corrupt official named Richard Rich perjures himself by delivering false testimony that will condemn More to the scaffold. More intuits that Rich has been bribed, presumably by Henry himself, with an appointment to a rural outpost.

“Richard,” More declares, “it profit a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world … but for Wales?”

Joe Biden just gave his soul by reversing his own firm stand on Israel’s side in its war on Hamas by withholding arms he himself had sought for months. And for what? For Dearborn?

We are being asked to accept two things about Joe Biden as we try to make sense of his behavior. First, his apologists want us all to believe that he is a man of conscience who cannot countenance further injury to suffering Palestinians in Rafah from high-end American military materiel. His decision-making here is deemed to have a moral basis; while he still believes Israel has a right to defend itself, he has come to think that its actions have been too indiscriminate and that the cost of a siege of Rafah would be too great.

At the same time, political professionals want us to understand he is in a difficult position and must take that into account if he is to save himself from defeat and save America from Donald Trump.

He is, it is said, facing a significant split in his base that is typified by the negative reaction to his support for Israel on elite college campuses and in the crucial swing state of Michigan. It is home to 400,000 Arabs, a tenth of whom live in the now-legendary Detroit suburb of Dearborn—a heretofore insignificant spot that went undiscussed politically until it suddenly emerged like Brigadoon popping up out of nowhere but with keffiyehs and ululating Hamas supporters instead of Scottish maidens in 19th-century garb warbling “The Heather on the Hill.”

It is true that Biden is in trouble with his base. And it is also true that there are young people and Arabs who are disgusted by him and the support he had shown for Israel. But there are plenty of young people—the absolutely overwhelming majority of young people, in fact—for whom the war in Gaza is not even a minor concern. In the Harvard Youth Poll conducted by the Institute of Politics in April, it ranked 15th—fifteenth—on a list of 16 issues people between the ages of 18 and 29 said they cared about. A grand total of 2 percent said Israel/Palestine was the issue that concerned them most.

OK, let’s do some math here. There are about 4 million people born every year in America, which means there are about 44 million Americans between the ages of 18 and 29.

Of those 44 million, according to the IOP poll, a stunningly tiny 2 percent say Israel/Palestine is the most important issue to them—compared with 19 percent who say the economy and inflation.

Two percent of 44 million is 880,000 people. Nationwide. That means the number of potential voters for whom the war is the number-one issue is around 17,500 per state. Compare that with the economy and inflation; there are around 9 million voters who pick them as the top issues, or about 180,000 per state. That’s 10 times the number when it comes to Israel/Palestine. Not coincidentally, the economy and inflation are the issues that have dragged Biden down around 40 percent and lower in his overall approval ratings. Not Israel or Gaza.

Demographers and psephologists will surely quibble about how I’m using a quick-and-dirty and not scientifically valid method of allocating voters. But I’m making a broad point here. I could be off by 10 or 20 percent, and still my point would stand: A highly respected survey, conducted annually among young people for many years, demonstrates that Biden’s problems with young voters are not related to Israel/Palestine—except as a matter of public relations and the apparently inexhaustible desire of the media to view leftist radicals as the only true representatives of the mainstream opinions of their age cohort.

And what of Biden’s supposedly miserable standing among Arabs in Michigan, which we’ve been told since last November might threaten his reelection chances in the state and therefore cost him reelection? Let’s go through this as well.

First off, it’s not actually clear how large the Arab population in Michigan is. The numbers available from various sources vary between 250,000 and 400,000.

Since Americans under 18 make up about 20 percent of the population and are therefore not part of the eligible voter pool, we need to lower the estimated number of potential Arab voters in Michigan to between 200,000 and 320,000.

And we need to lower it still further. The Arab-American Institute says 85 percent of Arabs in America are citizens, meaning 15 percent are not and therefore can’t vote for president. With that taken into account, the overall number of potential Arab voters in Michigan drops again to somewhere between 170,000 to 275,000. This is in a state where 5.5 million people voted in 2020, and which Joe Biden won by 155,000 votes. In its most heavily Arab-Muslim counties, Biden got 68 percent. An interesting deep data dive by Nicholas Noe and Steven Abdelatif for Mideast Wire found that Biden surfaced 34,000 new voters in 2020 in those counties, compared with Hillary Clinton in 2016.

If Biden melted down among Arab voters in Michigan in November, that could certainly cut into his 155,000 tally, especially if he can’t replace them with suburban women activated by the threat to abortion rights or with moderate Republicans disgusted by Trump and January 6. But it wouldn’t come anywhere near to zeroing out Biden’s previous margin of victory, especially when you consider that subgroups like Arab-Americans generally do not turn out in high numbers. In any case, we have a recent example of a president getting fewer votes in his reelection bid and still prevailing comfortably. Barack Obama got 65 million in 2012 after scoring 70 million in 2008, dropping from a 7-point victory to a 4-point victory nationally. Biden won Michigan by 3 points. Even if he were to lose 75,000 Arab voters—voters Trump would be unlikely to pick up, by the way, since they would be most likely just to stay home—Biden would still win Michigan.

Disaffection with Biden’s policies toward Israel and Gaza is not Biden’s problem in Michigan. He has the same problem there that he has everywhere else, which is that Americans as a whole don’t think he’s been a good president.

For Biden and his people to obsess over this is ludicrous, but we know they’ve been doing it since November. The implicit suggestion to the conventional-wisdom peddlers Mark Halperin calls “the Gang of 500” is that Biden is showing a kind of Machiavellian canniness in trying to answer and neutralize this supposedly terrible political liability for him. He did so in smaller ways at first—like basically calling for less death at the hands of an Israeli military unique in the annals of war-fighting history for the care it takes to warn civilian populations of the coming danger to them. But those were just words. He didn’t alter his or America’s actions, and he continued to advocate for a gigantic military-aid package to resupply the Jewish state.

Then, as spring sprung and his own numbers continued to keep him in the reelection ICU—and as the anti-Israel mobs and the pro-Hamas foreign-funded organizations accelerated their assaults on the good working order of the United States and the free movement of American Jews—things began to change rapidly. The criticisms of Israel from Biden podiums became a daily occurrence. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, clearly trying to do Biden a solid, openly called from the floor of the Senate for the removal of Israel’s prime minister.

Then, after giving a Holocaust Day speech about how “never again means never forget,” and how he has not forgotten what Hamas did on October 7, Biden announced on CNN that he was going to place a partial embargo on his own aid package. This policy stands in complete contravention of the 1974 Impoundment Control Act, which requires presidents to spend the money Congress authorizes and appropriates and that the president signs into law. But hey, no one expects presidents to obey the law any longer.

This political maneuvering just doesn’t pass the smell test. Nor do Biden’s expressions of disapproval at Israel’s “indiscriminate” bombing, which has been the opposite of indiscriminate. Something else is going on here.

Now, I’m not saying the Biden people are being disingenuous. It could be, as Matthew Continetti points out in his column this month, that they’re just bad at politics and are miscalculating the electoral importance of the anti-Israel voter. But what if it’s not just that. What if it’s something darker?

For three years, Biden and his team have been fighting to get the American people to give him and themselves credit for a booming economy. Whether he deserves that credit or not, it’s not happening. They are beside themselves with frustration because they are not receiving the gratitude they think they deserve. Add to this that there’s nothing they can do about Biden’s own personal infirmities. These matters appear out of their control, and beyond their ability to fix, and it’s maddening to them. And they’re terrified—maybe even more terrified now that it’s clear that three of the four criminal cases against Donald Trump will not reach a courtroom before Election Day. They have been pinning their hopes on a turn in American opinion against Trump due to multiple Trump convictions. They might get the verdicts they want in the Stormy Daniels case, but the public’s lack of response to his being found liable for sexual assault and financial fraud might suggest even that anti-Trump moment will not be the knockout blow they desperately crave.

Ask yourself: Might there be something irresistibly seductive for the Biden team and Biden himself in the idea that his electoral woes have a foreign root? Doesn’t the disorder and crisis in and around Israel provide a convenient scapegoat for his own failings? No, it’s not that inflation has eaten away at the ordinary American’s financial gains. It’s not that Biden now needs his staff to stand between him and photographers to obscure video images of his halting gait. It’s not that he sounds like his throat is coated in sandpaper and that his tongue lolls about around his mouth when he speaks.

No, it’s that damn Bibi that’s threatening to drag him down.

The obsession with Netanyahu—when Israel’s prime minister is doing nothing more than reflecting the consensus opinion of his people about the necessity of winning the war—is reminiscent of another shameful moment in English history. “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?” Henry II is reputed to have said of Thomas à Becket, after which four knights cornered Becket in Canterbury Cathedral and murdered him. Perhaps, in his private councils in the White House and perhaps in conversation with Chuck Schumer before Schumer’s speech, Biden offered some woke variant of the same sentiment: “Who will rid me of this meddlesome Jew?”

Biden’s policy now is that Hamas should be allowed to live to massacre another day. In the end, then, while Biden spent months being the best friend Israel may ever have had in the White House, he has now become one of its worst enemies.

And, again, for what? For Wales?

Photo: AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File

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