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Punching Left, Right, and Center | Insight

Joe Biden’s presidency has been struggling for months. Some frustration is warranted, but sticking with Joe is our best bet.

If you ask the American public, Joe Biden’s presidency is not going well. According to an aggregate of polls from FiveThirtyEight, President Biden had a whopping 53% approval and 36% disapproval in late January, shortly after he took office. Today, the aggregate suggests that just over 50% of Americans are unhappy while only 43% are pleased with the President’s performance.

I can’t tell you how much I hate the constant election panic media cycle. A lot can happen between now and the midterms. So many variables are in play that acting like we have any notion of reliable predictive power is about as honest as the claims of a street magician. However, the conventional understanding of how Biden won in 2020 is that he pulled together a very broad coalition from the left to the center-right, and it’s hard to imagine he (or whoever else might run) could do it any other way.

So, I’d just like to take a quick look at the objections and critiques I’ve seen floating around from the right and the left, though I’ll restrict myself to domestic issues to keep this brief. Why are so many people unhappy, and what's the smart way through this without blindly declaring that everything is fine?

President Biden has been hemorrhaging support particularly amongst young people, according to The Economist, a voting bloc that is decidedly more progressive. The typical complaint I see from progressives is that Biden isn’t doing enough. They want Build Back Better (BBB). They want ambitious voting rights legislation. They want a lot more than they’ve gotten, and they’re angry at both Joes: Manchin and Biden.

The truth, though, is that the Biden administration has done a heck of a lot. For one, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework is nothing to sneeze at, though Harry explained its limitations without BBB. Covid relief has amounted to unprecedented government stimulus and spending, marking a sea change in what we expect from the federal government. What’s more, Biden alone is not responsible for achieving progressives’ goals. Obstacles like Joe Manchin and other, quieter, centrist Democrats can’t easily be overcome without compromises, which many progressives are also loath to tolerate, but that’s hardly Biden’s fault.

Now, if you’re not in the progressive camp, you probably think all that has been too much, rather than not enough, even if you’re in the center or center-right and voted for Biden. The concerns from this side usually seem to be worries about inflation or an increased deficit.

The thing is, inflation is probably a result of the massive Covid stimulus we saw from both Presidents Trump and Biden. The calculation was that modest inflation was a justifiable cost for muscling through a global pandemic. Few would've done differently. What’s more, Biden’s Build Back Better, for example, has gotten seals of approval even from inflation hawks, because it won’t print new money, and its impact on the deficit will be negligible. For other programs, the sensible rejoinder seems to be that we ought to raise taxes on the very wealthy. America certainly wasn’t socialist under President Dwight Eisenhower, despite income taxes reaching up to 91%! In fact, that's seen by many conservatives as an American golden age!

The conclusion both these sides reach is essentially that you shouldn’t support Democrats like Biden, unless they "earn your vote." That may spell a poor midterm performance for his party. And I certainly don’t mean to sit here and insist to you, as some mistakenly do, that Democrats can do no wrong.

To be clear, there are plenty of failures to point to. Biden promised Build Back Better, and he hasn’t delivered it. Inflation really is hurting some Americans, and that matters, even if the economic recovery has also been a boon for the poorest Americans. Beyond any of the substantive stuff, Biden promised to be a unifier, but the above suggests he’s failed to hold together his fragile coalition, at least so far.

But, as you can probably imagine if you’re familiar with Spectacles, these complaints do not justify a reproach of either Democrats in the midterms or Biden in 2024. It goes almost without saying that it doesn't reflect well on the health of our democracy to insist, “vote blue no matter who.” But the reality is that that’s the responsible thing to do, given our situation.

As the investigation of January 6th reveals darker secrets, as Republican representatives call colleagues terrorists for their religion and fantasize publicly about murdering them, as GOP candidates around the country maintain that the election was stolen, no matter how bad you might think Biden’s presidency has been, from either side, things can get so much worse. Besides all the rest, staving off the worst possible outcome for democracy should, I think, "earn your vote."

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For more on the subjects touched on here, try these pieces:

Insight - Voting Rights Bill a Dead End for Democracy
House Democrats just passed a new voting rights bill, but it’s not enough to secure democracy’s future.
Building Roads to the Future? | Insight
Is President Biden’s big bipartisan spend on infrastructure a sign of the future to come, or a post-COVID blip we’ll soon forget?
A Different Perspective on Inflation | Insight
With inflation still on the rise, Democrats are paying a political price. But a closer look suggests that the economic reality is more mixed.
American Backslide | Bird’s Eye
Join Harry and Philip as they wrap up their discussion of democratic backsliding with a trip across the 50 states.
Backsliding in Budapest | Bird’s Eye
Join the editors as they discuss backsliding in Hungary. What are the precise mechanism’s used to undermine rule of law and popular government?


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