Prácticamente todos los días, I see a headline along the lines of Demócratas Say Biden Needs to Talk More About X.
Aquí hay uno en el Washington Post.: “Democratic Allies Press the White House to Focus More — And Say More — on Inflation Worries.”
And another in Politico: “Democrats Want Biden to Start Swinging at Republicanos. Allies Aren’t Sure He Can.”
But when reporters (who double as frustrated political strategists) write so many stories quoting Democrats, they are often choosing to broadcast the advice or at least give it a broader platform.
And presidents with a strong standing don’t attract so many free political pointers — or such widespread skepticism in their first year that they’ll actually run for reelection.
So this wave of here’s-what-Biden-should-do pieces is a flashing neon light that he’s in trouble.
One fundamental problem, which is now becoming conventional wisdom, is that the president doesn’t drive the news agenda, leaving a void that is happily filled by other partisan media and political voices. The ceding of his bully pulpit is unusual and hard to fathom, even if it fits Biden’s vision of a return to normalcy.
The president did give a short speech and take some press questions Monday on the new virus variant, trying to send a message that the government is prepared and people shouldn’t panic (y, como siempre, please get vaccinated). That was better than what Biden did Friday in Nantucket, when he took a few short questions on the street and did not project a sense that he was in command of the situation.
But beyond messaging problems, there is also substance. While underestimating the impact of rising prices, Biden spent months trapped in legislative hell, endlessly negotiating over two mammoth spending bills whose contents remain vague to many Americans.
With the president’s approval ratings in the low 40s, a New York Times analysis dice the individual parts of Biden’s bills are far more popular than he is:
“In poll after poll, voters seem to give Mr. Biden no credit for his agenda. They say he hasn’t accomplished much. They even say he hasn’t helped them personally, even though he sent direct stimulus payments to most households and even more to parents.”
The problem is that most people don’t follow politics that closely. They may “me gusta” a policy without knowing the nitty-gritty details. Keep in mind that no ground has yet been broken from the infrastructure bill, though it will eventually create plenty of jobs and projects. And people are confused about the Medicare/child tax credit/pre-kindergarten/climate change bill, with a price tag that screams left-wing agenda and constantly shifting contents, courtesy of Joe Manchin.
The Times concludes that “trying to get ordinary voters to back a party or a candidate based on a specific policy initiative is somewhat like trying to get someone to buy something they didn’t really ask for.”
I’ve been thinking about why Biden makes so little news, beyond his aversion to interviews and embrace of terse exchanges with reporters. A major reason is that he repeats the same broad themes — unity, bipartisanship, things are getting better, don’t bet against America, get those shots — that reporters have heard again and again.
What generates headlines is a sharp jab, a provocative phrase, an attack — and Biden, unlike his predecessor, seems allergic to such rhetoric.
Politico says Ron Klain is among the top aides who want the boss to call out Republicans more often, but veteran Democratic hand John Podesta correctly notes “it’s not his style.”
That’s why we keep reading articles on what Biden needs to do, and why he keeps on doing it like a senator working with his distinguished colleagues.