Why isn’t Biden Magical?

Some pundits have high standards.

Source: The White House

Let start with a basic observation: presidents have a lot more power to do harm, often by obstruction or inaction, than they do to engage in proactive good. Further, the policy areas that the presidents can affect unilaterally are very specific and not as wide-ranging as either campaign rhetoric or the wishful thinking of supporters would suggest. And while, as Richard Neustadt famously observed, the power of the presidency is the power to persuade, sometimes the persuasive power of even the most gifted president will get exactly zero public policy produced.

I will go one farther and note that the degree to which a given president is persuasive over a member of Congress (those holders of the keys of proactive policy action) is often linked to either a) what that a given president can leverage out of Congress for that member, especially on spending, and/or b) the degree to which a presidential endorsement/support is useful for helping that member get re-elected. Given how little Congress passes these days (especially without earmarks for quite some time now) and, also, the number of electoral contests that are not competitive, one might consider the possibility that presidential persuasion is often not all that it is cracked up to be.

To pick an obvious example: exactly what can Biden use to persuade Joe Manchin? (And, I would note, he has tried).

Indeed, one of the faultlines of American democracy at the moment is that given the inability of Congress to effectively govern, presidents try to govern on their own via executive orders and the like. This leads to temporary fixes at best (since they can be reversed by the next president) and also to incomplete fixes since presidential powers are limited. Further, the courts can overturn presidential interpretation of the laws, as we saw just this week. Worse of all, the shifting of powers that ought to be legislative in nature to the executive has the effect of increasing the authoritarian tendencies of presidential systems in a decidedly unhealthy way (if, that is, one values representative democracy).

Also, let me underscore that passing laws, especially major domestic policy changes, requires a majority vote in the House, a supermajority vote in the Senate, and the signature of the president. This is not an easy confluence of outcomes (as any observer of American politics should understand). It is not unreasonable to suggest that the system is as best damaged, and at worst, broken. I would submit as evidence of this fact the number of times in the last couple of decades the government has shut down over lack of agreement over basic spending as well as the number of times we have flirted with defaulting on the national debt because as an arcane procedural vote. We don’t even have a consistently functional budget process.

All of this to say that I don’t have exactly high expectations for a given president, especially in terms of significant policy outcomes.

This brings us to Joe Biden. Is Biden my ideal president? All I can say for certain is that Biden is better at a couple of key parameters than his predecessor. These include not constantly lying about the outcomes of the 2020 elections, not being an obvious narcissist, taking public health seriously, and having some operative understanding of the world beyond simply what he sees on the shows. My bar is not all that high, I will confess. At a minimum, I am not a Biden fanboy nor a sycophant and my expectations are not especially lofty.

Having said all of that, I found David Ignatius’s WaPo column, Biden is failing politically, and not just because of Republican obstruction, to be more than a bit silly. It is of the genre of Very Serious DC Observer who wants to show how Very Serious they are by showing that they can criticize Democratic presidents, too.

Side note: I have no problem with criticism of Biden, he deserves plenty, as does any president. But this column is a weird combo of simplistic thinking about bipartisanship (to include taking Mitch McConnell more seriously than he deserves) and an utterly unrealistic view of how much unity a US president can generate in twelve months under current conditions. (And the conflation of the two topics is poorly done, as the unity piece feels shoehorned into a column that only has one truly substantive point–the failure of a bill about computer chips to pass the House as yet).

The piece starts as follows:

President Biden hit a political wall this week in his push for voting rights legislation, just as he did last year in trying to pass his Build Back Better spending package. It’s time for Biden to ask himself why he’s in this morass.

It sticks in my craw to quote Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has often been a wrecker in our national politics. But he had it right when he said Wednesday that Biden was elected with a mandate to “bridge a divided country, lower the temperature, dial down the perpetual air of crisis in our politics.”

Biden is failing in that mission. Republican obstructionism is a big reason, but it’s not the only explanation. Biden has been losing his way politically. As he chases support from progressives in his own party, he has failed to craft versions of his social spending package and voting rights legislation that he could pass with fragile majorities. He’s been spinning his wheels.

Recognizing that, in the abstract, a better job could be done (after all, better is always better!) there are several items above that I find problematic.

First, passing Build Back Better and “lower[ing] the temperature” are two different (and possibly contradictory) goals, so the whole thesis of the column is muddled.

Second, given that McConnell is dedicated to the proposition of not allowing Biden to be successful, why quote him in the first place? Why validate one of the key sources of political polarization in the country at the moment, especially in the context of criticizing Biden for not being sufficiently unifying?

Third, the notion that Biden is going to will unity into existence in our polarized political environment is folly. Note: he is still 5 days shy of even being in office a full year.

Fourth, presidents don’t vote on legislation, and while it is possible he could have done, well, something (exactly what, Ignatius does not say) to pass BBB, the lack of votes of it (and on voting rights) is pretty obvious.

Fifth, have we already forgotten the American Rescue Plan and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act of 2021 that were passed? I am not saying that Biden is the Tom Brady of getting bills passed, but the narrative of Biden as a failure seems to constantly forget the substantial bills that have been passed during his administration.

I will come back to those bills in a minute, as they speak to Ignatius’ magical thinking on bipartisanship.

But, set my list aside, because Ignatius has a column to write:

A prime (but rarely discussed) example of Biden’s loss of momentum is the failure to enact legislation to improve American competitiveness in chipmaking and other technologies. This bill, known as the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (or USICA), passed the Senate back in June with a big majority, 68 to 32. Passage illustrated the strong bipartisan consensus that America must respond to China’s technology challenge.

But USICA stalled in the House. Democrats there were miffed at what they saw as Senate attempts to dictate science policy. Some progressives didn’t want chipmaking to get in the way of battles for child-care credits and other Build Back Better programs. And House Republicans wanted to sabotage any potential success for Biden.

I will admit, this bill has not received much attention (I don’t think I was even aware of it), and perhaps it should. But I will note that if the bill is stalled in the House, that is because Pelosi either doesn’t want to take it to the floor, or the votes aren’t there. (But, of course, let’s blame on the dreaded progressives, well “some” of them, anyway–which Ignatius does twice in his first four paragraphs). Whatever one might think about Pelosi, she is savvy about when to bring legislation forward and when to wait. If the bill has not come forward yet, it is reasonable to assume a strategic reason for doing so, not to assume that it is the White House’s fault.

While it is certainly true Biden could try and persuade the Speaker to bring the bill up for a vote, the notion that it is the executive’s failure that the legislature, an independent branch, is not behaving assumes more power than the president has.

Pelosi’s aides say she wants to get a House version of the bill moving again soon. And one Senate staffer hoped a House bill could pass in a few weeks — clearing the way for a real conference to resolve differences. “We are working hard on trying to get USICA done in the House,” a White House official told me Thursday. But the official said it’s not clear if House Republicans will help. “To be blunt, it takes two to tango.”

May I note that a bill that might have the effect, at some point down the road, improve computer chip production, is rather unlikely to have any effect on national politics? There is not going to be a massive surge of national unity over this piece of legislation.

But, bipartisan agreement is quite easy to forge in the land of columnists–all you have to do is try!

The larger question for Biden is whether there’s any space left for bipartisanship and conciliation. Political divisions have worsened over the past year, and Republicans, led by McConnell, have rebuffed nearly all of his overtures. He had bigger ambitions, on social and political revitalization. But with such fragile Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, Biden will struggle now to pass meaningful legislation. USICA would be a good test. So would a scaled-back version of Build Back Better that could win support from Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.).

Sen. Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) thinks there’s more room left for bipartisanship than many observers believe. His staff gave me a list of bills that Coons and other Democrats have co-sponsored with Republicans to, among other things, provide better background checks for gun purchasers, expand civics education, spend more on conservation and expand criminal justice reform. These are small items, compared with the larger impasse. But they’re a start.

Ok, so we have here a statement that “divisions have worsened” and that the GOP has “rebuffed nearly all…overtures” but since a single Democrat Senator thinks “there’s more room left for bipartisanship” so….what, then? Nothing is stopping Coons from working to pursue bipartisan legislative outcomes, I would note. Could Biden try harder? Sure. Just like better is always better one could always try a little harder. But of this wishful thinking on bipartisanship seems to assume that if Democrats just really, really, really want to pass legislation, they can will it so. A nice sentiment, but how in the world can an analyst who has written about US politics for decades (he is an associate editor at WaPo and has been reporting on American politics at the elite level since I was in elementary school) be this facile? (Is it any wonder we, as a country, don’t understand our own politics?).

Note: the Republicans see no advantage in working with Democrats, after all the mid-terms are coming and legislative success redounds to the party in power, not the minority (assuming anyone actually pays attention to legislative outcomes). Moreover, the Republicans are currently engaged in a rhetorical war to undercut the 2020 election (and to more broadly attack confidence in voting in the United States). Let’s not forget, the Republicans don’t even want to cooperate about investigating the attack on the US Capitol.

This isn’t fertile ground for bipartisan legislative projects.

Beyond even that, we are in a multi-decade polarization of the party system that has made legislating more and more difficult (especially given the growth of procedural filibusters in the Senate, among other issues).

Let’s return to the two major pieces of legislation passed in the first year of the Biden administration and start with the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 that was passed in March. This was early in the administration and was as far away from the mid-terms as you could reasonably be. It was a bill aimed at helping Americans with the pandemic. Surely, the stuff of bipartisan bonhomie, yes?

Well, the bill passed the House 219-212 with zero Republican votes in favor. It passed the Senate 50-49, with zero Republican votes.

If that bill was not going to get any bipartisan support, why in the ever-loving Hell does Ignatius think that the ground is fertile for bipartisan cooperation in a mid-term year? And why in the world is he quoting McConnell about bridging divides?

The infrastructure bill was the closest to a triumph of bipartisanship that we have seen on Biden’s agenda. It passed the Senate 69-30 and the House 228-206. A grand total of 19 Republican Senators and 13 House Republicans voted for the bill, which was basically money to be spent on infrastructures in the states (for which some of the no votes then took credit for the spending in their districts!).

But, sure, if Biden would just want to be bipartisan a bit harder, the dam would break in Congress.

The Ignatius column also made me think of this tweet from a few weeks ago:

This is utter Green Lanterism of the type that really frustrates me, but that is pervasive in discussions of American politics. It assumes someone will more willpower would be more successful. I would love to know how President Warren would somehow be able to force Manchin and Sinema to behave differently. Not only is this an assumption that makes no empirical sense, but it is also an example of the tendency, which is inherent to presidentialism, to personalize politics. If only we had Person X, it would all be different! Such thinking ignores the roles played by institutions as well as by parties.

Back to the column:

The Biden administration has been a good steward. As White House officials argue, they have lowered unemployment, vaccinated 200 million people and cut child poverty. Biden hasn’t delivered on uniting the country, but he has succeeded on many other things.

But successful presidencies carry a sense of political momentum, going from success to success. Sadly, President Biden has lost much of that forward drive. It’s time for a restart, with less shouting and more of Biden’s trademark common sense.

It is stuff like the bold above (emphasis mine) that just makes me crazy in the sense that does Ignatius think that there is some magic that Biden (or any president) could deploy to bring unity in a year after the four years prior (and in the middle of an ongoing pandemic that itself is part of the divide). I mean, yes, Ignatius is correct, Biden has failed to unify us, but did anyone with two neurons to rub together think that he would be able to do so?

The last time the country was unified was in the days after 9/11 and that was because of the biggest terrorist attack in our history, not because George W. Bush was a uniter, not a divider. I would note that he used that unity to get us involved in two massive wars of choice that did not pan out well (but that is a different conversation).

We need analysts who look beyond wishful thinking if the broader public is to truly understand our constitutional system. We also need analysts whose criticism and solutions aren’t based on magic. More than anything we, as a country, need to stop looking at presidents like they are all there is to understand about our government–because that is at least partly how we keep getting into these messes.

Perhaps most importantly, we have to stop chasing the rainbow of bipartisanship as if at its end there is a pot of gold with all the legislative outcomes we need. It is okay if parties govern and pursue their agendas and then have the voters decide if they like those outcomes or not. Of course, for that really to work we need to get rid of the filibuster, so that parties can govern when they have the seats (and it would help if we didn’t have elections every two years, but that isn’t going to change, nor are a lot of other problems with our system). But the notion that if we just wished hard enough and magicked it up somehow that we would all just find the happy place of unity and happy bipartisanship is a fantasy that needs to be shelved with e fairy tales, not with the serious political science texts.

FILED UNDER: *FEATURED, Joe Biden, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Moosebreath says:

    “Biden hasn’t delivered on uniting the country”

    Murc’s Law strikes again. Only Democrats can make changes to unify the country. Republican positions are set in stone.

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  2. Gustopher says:

    Some twit on the internet:

    My first thought when I woke up this morning is that none of this shit (CDC, Manchin, Sinema, BBB tanked, no prioritization of voting rights) would have been tolerated in a Warren presidency.

    If Warren had some magical sway over Manchin and Sinema she would have used it even from the Senate — she’s a very enthusiastic supporter of BBB and voting rights.

    I love Warren. I supported her in the primary. She’s exactly the person who speaks best to me — she’s incredibly persuasive to a semi-progressive mainstream Democrat. But if she spoke best to people like Manchin and Sinema, she would have won the primary.

    Elizabeth C. McLaughlin Needs to get over herself. This sort of “my candidate was perfect, if only people could have seen that” is just dumb. And it’s more of a BernieBro thing anyway.

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  3. Gustopher says:

    The last time the country was unified was in the days after 9/11 and that was because of the biggest terrorist attack in our history, not because George W. Bush was a uniter, not a divider.

    I don’t even think that would work now. If Republicans won’t rally around a common cause like covid, they won’t rally round responding to terrorists.

    7
  4. Sleeping Dog says:

    What’s wrong with Biden? Well he’s Joe Biden and he is exactly what he’s been his whole career. If you were expecting Lyndon Johnson, you are delusional. Now Joe has brought up FDR and many expected a newer deal. FDR didn’t deliver the New Deal during his first year in office and not even his first term.

    With regard to USICA. If I were Pelosi and Schumer, I’d have it setting on the back burner as well. This is a great piece of legislation to let R’s vote against if they dare as we swing into the homestretch to the mid-terms. If it passes it’s a tout-able win, if R’s stymie it, Dems can demagogue it.

    Short of another 9/11 the country won’t be united like then, but in the next few weeks Russia may very well invade Ukraine and that will effect the dynamic in Washington. Capitol Hill has been awfully quiet on what is unfolding in eastern Europe, probably because few senators and reps have a clue on how to react.

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  5. sam says:

    ” If only we had Person X, it will all be different! ”

    King Stork is in the wings.

    2
  6. Scott F. says:

    @Gustopher:
    What you’ve said. I’m actually confident that Warren is trying to sway Manchin and Sinema using any tactics available to her. They are simply unswayable.

    4
  7. Scott F. says:

    Biden has failed to unify us, but did anyone with two neurons to rub together think that he would be able to do so?

    If I’m honest, I actually thought Biden could unify us* if he could get vaccines broadly distributed quickly and get some foundational economic bills passed. What I didn’t expect was that establishment Republicans would pass on the golden opportunity an election loss and second impeachment provided to quash Trumpism and that they would choose instead to sabotage the economy and allow large scale death in order to own the libs. I thought the Obama years were Peak GOP Nihilism. I was so very wrong.

    *”Us” meaning a popular majority – uniting with the true believer MAGAts was and is a waste of time. Screw ‘em.

    6
  8. Andy says:

    I think the problem is more fundamental – it’s about expectations management. And the reality is that Biden is the key player in setting those expectations. After all, no one, particularly Ignatius, forced Biden to set ambitious goals for his agenda and then spend political capital for six months trying to get it passed when it was pretty clear early on that it wasn’t in the cards.

    He could have taken a “win” from the two major pieces of legislation that were passed and those two would be normally be considered way more than enough to be considered a big success. Instead many Democrats, including Biden, decided to set the expectations much higher, thinking that Biden was in some kind of FDR moment. And now Biden specifically and Democrats generally are finally coming to realize that their goals were too ambitious. And Biden’s reaction to this was to give a very weird speech arguing that anyone opposed to it is the moral equivalent of Jefferson Davis.

    You criticize Ignatius for “magical” thinking about bipartisanship when it was Biden that campaigned on it. So your subhead, “Some pundits have high standards” is wrong – the standards and expectations were set by Biden and other Democrats.

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  9. Kathy says:

    Well, maybe it’s this simple:

    In brightest day, in blackest night,
    no disunity shall escape my sight.
    Let those who worship Cheeto’s might,
    beware my power, Joe Biden’s light!

    3
  10. @Andy:

    You criticize Ignatius for “magical” thinking about bipartisanship when it was Biden that campaigned on it. So your subhead, “Some pundits have high standards” is wrong – the standards and expectations were set by Biden and other Democrats.

    This is not unfair, although I expect politicians to over-promise (whether they should or not is a different discussion, and for the record, I would prefer not).

    None of the absolves Ignatius and his compatriots who have written similar columns for a rather long time, does it?

    8
  11. Mimai says:

    It is stuff like the bold above (emphasis mine) that just makes me crazy in the sense that does Ignatius think that there is some magic that Biden (or any president) could deploy to bring unity in a year after the four years prior (and in the middle of an ongoing pandemic that itself is part of the divide). I mean, yes, Ignatius is correct, Biden has failed to unify us, but did anyone with two neurons to rub together think that he would be able to do so?

    I carry no water for Ignatius. And (h/t Gischer) yet it was Biden who campaigned on unity. It’s not like the Republicans have changed since his campaign. And surely, as a long-time insider, Biden is/was well-aware of the Republicans’ modus operandi.

    We need analysts who look beyond wishful thinking if the broader public is to truly understand our constitutional system. We also need analysts whose criticism and solutions aren’t based on magic. More than anything we, as a country, need to stop looking at presidents like they are all there is to understand about our government–because that is at least partly how we keep getting into these messes.

    Yes! And we also need presidential candidates to stop feeding us such magic. And presenting themselves as all there is to understand about our government.

    The obvious rejoinder is that campaigns are about selling a vision that will secure them votes. Hence, a little magic is to be expected.

    To this I would say, substitute “votes” with “clicks” and there you have political columnists.

    A symbiotic relationship if there ever was one.

    [ETA: Andy beat me to the punch. Note to self: refresh before posting.]

    3
  12. @Mimai: I suppose my basic response, kind of like to Andy, is that I don’t necessarily disagree, but I also expect politicians to be politicians. They are going to over-promise.

    It is also not at all out of bounds to point this out.

    But I am not sure how any of that absolves analysts for falling for such nonsense.

    4
  13. OzarkHillbilly says:

    It’s always easier to destroy a thing than it is to build it.

    7
  14. Or, more directly, to not assess the promises in context.

    Neither McConnell nor the GOP (nor our institutions) is going to allow “unity” and Ignatius (and others) should be able to see that.

    8
  15. Mimai says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    You expect politicians to be politicians. I do too.

    I think where we might see things differently is what we expect of columnists.

    And to be clear, your post is entirely within bounds. At least as I see them.

    4
  16. Mimai says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I agree that McConnell et al aren’t going to allow unity.

    I also agree that Ignatius should see that. (I suspect he does, but columns must be written… see previous post about expectations)

    And certainly if Ignatius should see that, so too should presidential candidates.

    2
  17. @Mimai:

    I think where we might see things differently is what we expect of columnists.

    Fair enough. We both expect columnists to column. I suppose I hold out a vain hope that some of them will learn to be better analysts.

    3
  18. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Andy:
    @Mimai:

    Build the wall!
    Make coal great again!

    politicians are politicians, on the campaign trail they are aspirational and we’re deluded if we take it serious. You’re both exhibiting trollism.

    7
  19. Scott F. says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    I suppose my basic response, kind of like to Andy, is that I don’t necessarily disagree, but I also expect politicians to be politicians. They are going to over-promise.

    I can‘t say it‘s unfounded in light of our current political climate, but I find the characterization by yourself, Andy, and Mimai of Biden‘s agenda as over-promising a profoundly demoralizing resignation.

    The US is the economic and cultural engine of the world, yet a measured response to a global pandemic (the American Rescue Plan) and some arrears spending on our neglected roads, tunnels, and bridges (the infrastructure bill) is the best “big wins“ we can hope for. All the while, any action against imminent doom from climate change, modest child tax credits, inclusion of hearing benefits in Medicare, universal pre-K, and the protection of voter’s rights in the face of rising authoritarianism is far too much to ask.

    There are a great number of things for a citizen to be disappointed by in this American moment. For me, Biden’s aspiration that the US could operate on a par with other first world nations isn’t one of them.

    10
  20. Michael Cain says:

    So far no one has mentioned that the House committees don’t like USICA, have their own quite different take on how to approach the perceived problem(s), and that last month Pelosi and Schumer set up a conference committee to try to reach some sort of agreement.

    1
  21. gVOR08 says:

    @Gustopher:

    I don’t even think that (a major terrorist attack) would work now. If Republicans won’t rally around a common cause like covid, they won’t rally round responding to terrorists.

    I fear your right. We used to have a norm of politics ending at the waters edge. More immediate than an attack, no matter what happens in Ukraine, and no matter how Biden responds, the GOPs will treat it only as an opportunity to score points against Biden. As they are with 1/6.

    After 9-11 Democrats supported the president, even when they should have known better. But when conservatives talk about unity, they never mean that they’re offering to concede anything, only that we should drop all that rights and inequality and democracy and AGW nonsense and line up behind them.

    3
  22. @Scott F.:

    but I find the characterization by yourself, Andy, and Mimai of Biden‘s agenda as over-promising a profoundly demoralizing resignation.

    Speaking for myself, the over-promise I am largely referring to is delivering unity, which strikes me as a near-impossibility in a year (or likely impossible for some time).

    I also find Ignatius’ faith in bipartisanship to be poorly placed.

    4
  23. @Scott F.: But I will also say, that yes: one shouldn’t hope for much. The system is hard to navigate by nature of its design and polarized parties make it almost impossible, especially given the behavior of the GOP of late.

    2
  24. wr says:

    @Andy: “And Biden’s reaction to this was to give a very weird speech arguing that anyone opposed to it is the moral equivalent of Jefferson Davis.”

    Gosh, imagine anyone saying that politicians who are deliberately disenfranchising anyone who doesn’t vote for them and is hijacking elections boards to fill them with people who have promised to overturn elections that don’t go their way and have claimed the right to simply invalidate any election their guy doesn’t win is like Jefferson Davis or Bull Connor!

    How could he ever have gone there?

    14
  25. Monala says:

    @Andy: your comment:

    Instead many Democrats, including Biden, decided to set the expectations much higher, thinking that Biden was in some kind of FDR moment. And now Biden specifically and Democrats generally are finally coming to realize that their goals were too ambitious. And Biden’s reaction to this was to give a very weird speech arguing that anyone opposed to it is the moral equivalent of Jefferson Davis.

    …is disingenuous. Biden isn’t likening people to Jefferson Davis for not supporting his FDR-esque social spending agenda. He’s criticizing them for limiting voting rights—you know, the very things that the former Confederates and purveyors of Jim Crow did.

    9
  26. gVOR08 says:

    @Scott F.:

    *”Us” meaning a popular majority – uniting with the true believer MAGAts was and is a waste of time. Screw ‘em.

    Thank you for that. Dems should talk about saving everyone from the MAGA dark side, and work to improve their lives along with everyone else’s. But we should recognize that some portion of them cannot be saved, they can only be marginalized.

    1
  27. wr says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: “I also find Ignatius’ faith in bipartisanship to be poorly placed.”

    Oh, sure. Next you’ll be doubting that Manchin and Sinema are sincere about wanting to reach bipartisan consensus with the Republicans.

    6
  28. Mimai says:

    @Sleeping Dog:

    politicians are politicians, on the campaign trail they are aspirational and we’re deluded if we take it serious.

    Aspirational? Hmm… That’s not the first or second or third adjective that comes to mind. But I allow for differing perspectives. Actually, I embrace the difference.

    You’re both exhibiting trollism.

    I’ve never purposefully trolled before. But again, methinks we have a different definition of trollism.

    I may be of a certain mood today. Which is reflected in my post. I too have taken columnists to task for all sorts of things, including those raised in the OP.

    If I’m being very generous to myself (if not me, then who?), I might say that in posting on this thread, I am calling myself to account for my past posts ripping on columnists. See also my post the other day about Friedman.

  29. gVOR08 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    This is not unfair

    Actually, it pretty much is. It’s always Murc’s Law. Democratic candidates should run for office without ever overpromising, and apparently accept that they’ll never win. I never see people like Ignatius demand that GOPs set realistic expectations. Or just stop lying like rugs. No one seems to expect any better of GOPs than that they’ll promise Mexican paid walls and tax cuts that will reduce deficits and create jobs.

    7
  30. Scott F. says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    Realistic expectations, sure. But, I would say hoping for the basic governance of an advanced society and hoping for a stand to be taken against rising authoritarianism are minimal asks.

    I find Ignatius’ faith in bipartisanship to be poorly placed as well. I agree with you on the magical thinking and the “Biden isn’t willing it hard enough” canard. I’m just not resigned to the death spiral of poor design and bad behaviors US politics finds itself in now. And I’m really disinclined to hold it against any political actor who aspires to reverse the tide.

    1
  31. gVOR08 says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    We both expect columnists to column. I suppose I hold out a vain hope that some of them will learn to be better analysts.

    The only study I recall seeing of the accuracy of pundits was done many years ago as a class project by a HS Civics class. They culled old columns by maybe a dozen national columnists looking for testable predictions. IIRC Krugman scored best and Cal Thomas worst. They saw a strong correlation between income from punditry and accuracy, a negative correlation. The theory is that you succeed in the business of punditry not by telling truth, but by finding an audience and telling them what they want to hear. I fear the incentives don’t work toward making them better analysts. And I’ll note in passing that George Will has made a lot of money.

    3
  32. Mimai says:

    @gVOR08: I post this not to pick a fight. Nor am I disagreeing with your broader point. And yet a quick google search (“david ignatius trump promises”), returns this as the first hit. I stopped there.

  33. @Monala:

    Biden isn’t likening people to Jefferson Davis for not supporting his FDR-esque social spending agenda. He’s criticizing them for limiting voting rights

    Agreed.

    It is the Mitch McConnell remix that makes the Jefferson Davis comment about opposing Biden.

    I have a post I am working on that topic as well.

    3
  34. @gVOR08:

    The theory is that you succeed in the business of punditry not by telling truth, but by finding an audience and telling them what they want to hear. I fear the incentives don’t work toward making them better analysts.

    Indeed.

    2
  35. Gustopher says:

    @Steven L. Taylor: Joe Rogan is (somehow) the best living example of this.

    I remain baffled by his appeal. He was fine on Newsradio, but I thought he was playing a character.

    I suppose that if someone is playing a character with the same first name as themselves it’s likely that it’s because they are too dumb to learn to respond to a different name and they aren’t playing a part…

    3
  36. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    As he chases support from progressives in his own party, he has failed to craft versions of his social spending package and voting rights legislation that he could pass with fragile majorities.

    Still in all, I do see the point that Ignatius and others are making. If Biden had just told The Squad and the rest of the Progs to GFT and offered a compromise with no social spending and no voting rights in it, he would have been successful at getting it passed.

    It all seems so simple once you analyze it.

    4
  37. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Mimai: Your selected post would seem to potentially show that a significantly important feature of punditry is to find fault with whatever administration is in office. Now, I’m cynical enough to be willing to ride that horse to the next watering hole. My question: Am I riding alone, or do I have company?

    1
  38. Matt Bernius says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Speaking for myself, the over-promise I am largely referring to is delivering unity, which strikes me as a near-impossibility in a year (or likely impossible for some time).

    100% this. And there were a LOT of left leaning pundits who at the time the promises were made speculated that they were a pipe dream (at least on any signature issue).

    Sadly they were right.

    And on the other hand, I don’t know what else Biden could have said at the time, especially as he was courting crossover votes (and very well might have believed he could do it, despite all the evidence against it from how years as VP).

    There is one other thing to consider: Team Biden never expected the narrow take back of the Senate and that fundamentally changed the calculus.

    6
  39. Moosebreath says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    “And on the other hand, I don’t know what else Biden could have said at the time, especially as he was courting crossover votes”.

    I think there’s a lot to this. While there aren’t a lot of crossover votes, what Biden said was exactly what they want to hear. So it’s not surprising he said this, just as Obama and Clinton did before him in their campaigns. Democrats who don’t say this tend to lose in close races.

    4
  40. gVOR08 says:

    @Matt Bernius:

    especially as he was courting crossover votes

    I expect he was. But Biden also struck me as doing a good job of not motivating GOP turnout. Rove was right that they’re all turnout elections now. And Bitecofer is right that negative partisanship drives turnout. Biden could lay low to avoid triggering GOPs and depend on TFG to trigger Dems

  41. Ken_L says:

    Biden was elected with a mandate to “bridge a divided country, lower the temperature, dial down the perpetual air of crisis in our politics.”

    This was really astonishing dishonesty from a leader of the party which maintains that Biden is the greatest criminal in American political history; a man who gained office as the result of massive fraud. The party leader held an election rally today promising to make the so-called “Stolen Election” the central issue in the mid-terms, and McConnell thinks it’s Biden who should – or can – “lower the temperature”? Give me a break.

    Biden’s fundamental error was in allowing Senigma and Manchin to take credit for the “bipartisan” roads’n’bridges boondoggle while the BBB bill slowly expired. There should have been one bill, processsed under reconciliation rules. The manic determination to demonstrate that it was possible to get a few Republicans to vote for a major bill was impossible to understand then, and remains so now.

    2
  42. Jay L Gischer says:

    @Mimai: Thanks! For the h/t (even though it seems you meant Andy) and for spelling my name right! It’s amazing how many people get it wrong.

  43. Lounsbury says:

    @Sleeping Dog: Kevin Drum and checking with a brief Google rather highlights the error of Personality Analysis (I suppose the Lefty version of the generally conservative Great Man): Mr Johnson had the largest majority as per (http://acsc.lib.udel.edu/exhibits/show/89th-congress/democratic-majority) since 1936.

    The 1964 election gave the Democratic majority the most lopsided plurality in history and created a Congress with the largest Democratic majority since 1936.

    The basic maths of either parliaments or Congresses say that with a razor thin majority and with standard voting maths, one can not achieve more than what the swing vote allows.

    The problem for much of the US Left is it seems you have completely blinded yourselves to the real operations needed, and focus on some easy high profile symbolic posts, and ignore or lack the discipline to sustain a retail politics that counter-acts the opposition’s ground game. Regardless of whether they play dirty pool or not,

    Mr Andy has the wise comment:
    @Andy: expectations management was rather badly done. Badly indeed. Not for the campaign, that was well-calibrated obviously. Rather for the actual operations from Jan 2021, it appears too much of campaign spin was pushed ahead sans a good eye on managing down expectations. Perhaps a Hail Mary, if that’s the right idiom, but… needs recalibration.

    @Scott F.: if wishes were fishes. Grand declarations and a habitual American grandiosity as to one’s role doesn’t change actual political mechanics internal to the congress for passing actual legislation.

    Focus on infra and broad things has a chance of building wins and if the Democrats Left spent rather less time raging at the Democrats Centre and rather more time focusing their fire on the real root of their problem, the Reactionary Right (not conservative, stop labelling Reactionary as conservative, you need to split off the ideas) and ground games – well maybe better results. You rather need your Centre as it is clear that Lefty Left doesn’t win outside of where it is winning already.

    1
  44. Tony W says:

    Republicans destroy things, Democrats clean up the mess while Republicans complain about how long it is taking.

    This has been the pattern my entire adult life. I can’t believe the Ds still fall for it.

    I long for a D president who stops pretending we’re going to have comity and unity and instead starts playing the same hardball that the other side is playing.

    What, exactly, is the point of being in elected office if they aren’t going to do anything with the power?

    Where is Lyndon Johnson when we need him?

    3
  45. Mimai says:

    @Jay L Gischer:
    The h/t was for you. To acknowledge your conjunction choice and consistency.

    And the (mis)spelling thing is something I’ve lived with my entire life too. So while I’m resigned to it, I’m also vigilant about getting it correct for others.

  46. wr says:

    @Tony W: “I long for a D president who stops pretending we’re going to have comity and unity and instead starts playing the same hardball that the other side is playing.”

    I don’t understand why Biden isn’t going around the country making speeches saying “The Democrats gave you the child tax credit, which immediately lowered child poverty more than fifty percent. We want to renew it, but the Republicans are voting in a block to stop it. Because they don’t care if your children go hungry, and long as their billionaires get a tax break. They fight against a fair minimum wage because their donors are making billions by paying a fraction of what it actually costs to survive, and if you want to quit because your life is worth more than seven dollars an hour, they’re going to put so-called work requirements on your health care to force you to go back to work for that pittance — because that’s what their billionaire donors are paying for.”

    And on in that vein. Let’s see some real populism.

  47. Jim Brown 32 says:

    @wr: This. You and I would not agree fully on actually governance policies—but it good to see some on the left recognizing that its not *really Republicans–its their donors that are providing the sheet music they play from.

  48. @wr: Part of me agree with this. But, I will note that like Jim Brown 32, I live in a deeply red place (as a state, far more red than Florida, in fact). And a lot of the beneficiaries of these policies with whom I am acquainted don’t want government handouts. It does raise the question of what an efficacious message looks like.

  49. @Lounsbury:

    I’m afraid your prescription will be tough. The priorities of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party are quite different from those of most Americans. You can’t appeal to both simultaneously and President Biden can’t afford to alienate the progressive wing of his own party.

  50. Dude Kembro says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker:

    If Biden had just told The Squad and the rest of the Progs to GFT and offered a compromise with no social spending and no voting rights in it, he would have been successful at getting it passed.

    It all seems so simple once you analyze it.

    This is indeed a simple take, and not in a good way. The assumption that antagonizing progressives would be consequence free, that they have no power to disrupt Biden’s agenda or to shape public opinion is very strange.

    Biden would be much worse off politically were he at loggerheads with Bernie, Warren, AOC, and with public opinion in the country’s biggest population centers. One of Biden’s successes is that the left isn’t as hostile to him as it was towards Hillary, and that his party is unified behind him and his agenda.

  51. Dude Kembro says:

    @David J Schuler:

    The priorities of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party are quite different from those of most Americans.

    Misleading. The Democratic Party is almost 100% unified behind Biden’s “progressive” priorities, which also poll at supermajority levels. Biden ran on these priorities and won 7+ million more votes than his opponent. These priorities have passed with a majority of the House vote, and the 48 senators who would vote them into law represent millions more Americans than do the 51-2 senators who are obstructing progress.

    Biden’s problem is a clueless media and a dysfunctional and undemocratic political system, not progressives or a lack of majoritarian support.