Our Best Stuff From a Bad Week for Joe Biden
Inflation is up, his voting reform agenda is stalled, and the Supreme Court ruled against the OSHA vaccine mandate.
Inflation is at a 40-year high, and his approval rating (33 percent in a new Quinnipiac poll) is at an all-time low. Still stinging from the failure (for now, at least) of the Build Back Better Act, he delivered a divisive and factually challenged speech in hopes of advancing the next item on his to-do list: voting reform. The speech was panned on both sides of the aisle, and the resolve of Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema to protect the Senate’s 60-vote threshold on most bills put the brakes on the legislation. Then, on Thursday, the Supreme Court issued a stay against the Occupational Health and Safety Administration’s vaccinate-or-test mandate for large employers. President Joe Biden had a bad week. A very bad week.
Our coverage of Biden’s speech was harsh but fair. Here is the lede of The Morning Dispatch:
“The president of the United States traveled to Georgia, made a series of false claims about the electoral process, and called on Congress to do something he knew full well it would not do.”
That sentence was true in January 2021. And after yesterday, it’s true in January 2022 as well.
We also published a fact check of the speech, and Jonah’s G-File on Wednesday (summarized below) took Biden to task for, among other things, his attempt to categorize anyone who didn’t support the package as racist.
In Uphill, Harvest and Haley broke down how voting reform fell apart, noting that Manchin and Sinema held firm on the filibuster and that there was no way forward for the bill otherwise. As for the Supreme Court decision, David and Sarah rushed to record an emergency episode of Advisory Opinions.
We are very open at The Dispatch about the fact that our reporting and analysis come from a center-right perspective. But we try to call it as we see it. What I find interesting, though, is the reaction it generates.
Often, when I tweet a Dispatch article criticizing the Biden administration’s Iran policy or the Build Back Better Act, or, say, Jonah’s G-File on the speech, someone will respond along the lines of, “That’s what you get for voting for Sleepy Joe,” or, “Isn’t what this you wanted?” or, “Bet you’re having second thoughts.” Now, I can never tell if the “you” applies to me personally or to The Dispatch collectively, but we don’t do endorsements here at The Dispatch, and I’m pretty sure we still have secret ballots here in the U.S., so these commenters are making some pretty big assumptions.
But that is really not the point of those reactions. The gist, of course, is that, “You should be sorry you didn’t support Donald Trump.”
For the record, I didn’t vote for Biden. (Or Trump.) So no, I didn’t want “this,” whatever the “this” in question is. For that matter, no one should “want” inflation, a lingering pandemic, supply chain woes, the debacle in Afghanistan, or any of the other issues contributing to Biden’s dismal approval rating, though plenty of the former president’s supporters seem happy to go full Nelson Muntz in response to his failures.
But that doesn’t mean I wanted another four years of Donald Trump, or that he would have been any better. (His administration, after all, signed the deal with the Taliban that started the ball rolling on Afghanistan.) I don’t want to rehash every scandal or abuse of power we endured during the Trump years. His behavior after losing the election was enough to affirm my belief that he doesn’t belong anywhere near the Oval Office.
As I like to say (more and more often, it seems): Two things can be bad at once. And, unfortunately, that seems to sum up the state of our politics. We have one party largely in the thrall of a man who spread lies about an election and stood by idly as his supporters attacked the Capitol. We have another that wants to spend trillions of dollars and jam through sweeping, transformational legislation at a time most Americans would be happy with stocked shelves at the grocery store and the mail showing up on time.
So if someone were to ask me what I wanted, rather than ask cattily whether I wanted “this,” I’d have a ready answer: competence. That’s all. It’s something we all should want.
Now, on to our best work from the last week. Thanks for reading.
In his speech from Georgia on Tuesday, Joe Biden pushed the Democrats’ voting reform efforts by comparing opponents of the legislation to civil rights opponent Bull Connor and Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Jonah fired back. He addresses the claims by Democrats that voting reform is needed on the national level because Republican legislatures are passing restrictive measures at the state level, pointing out that many merely undo changes that were implemented to facilitate voting during the pandemic. But he saves his real ire for the divisiveness of the speech and criticizes Biden for resorting to “casting people he disagrees with as evil racists bent on destroying democracy.” He writes: “If Biden, Schumer, and Pelosi actually cared about saving democracy and thwarting the Trumpist threat from below, or the joys of unity and bipartisanship, they’d focus on reforming the Electoral Count Act or writing a bill that could attract the votes of people like Mitt Romney. Instead, they’d rather cast Romney—who, as Sarah Isgur notes, was the first senator in American history to vote to impeach a president of his own party—as a partisan hack in league with Bull Connor and Jefferson Davis.”
“Nutpicking” is a term of art that describes taking claims by extremists and casting them as representative of an entire movement. Generally, it’s a bad thing. Not all Democrats are socialists, not all Republicans think the election was stolen, etc. But in a thoughtful essay, Paul D. Miller argues there is value in pushing back against such extremism because the most extreme voices on either side are also the most vocal and garner the most attention, distorting our already troubled and polarized political discourse. His advice? “Face down the bullies. Take confidence from the knowledge that the extremists are outnumbered; that the reasonable majority hates their tactics; and that repeated cases show that, faced with a little push-back, the ideologues cave.”
Members of the growing national conservative movement—integralists, populists, “Flight 93” Republicans—are nothing if not impatient. They seek power to impose their version of a “higher good” on society, and they don’t care if that requires limiting liberties. Fortunately, Thomas Koenig writes, the Founders anticipated such thinking. He writes about how the slow pace of American politics is a feature, not a bug, in the Constitution: “When taken together, the Founders’ insights on the dual powers of time and liberty point toward their prudence, patience, and foresight: Not every moral, religious, or cultural debate had to be won, let alone settled with the coercive power of the state, in an instant—or even, ever. Some questions and debates deserve to percolate through the public square, perhaps indefinitely.”
Now, for the best of the rest:
In the lead-up to the 2020 election, we asked a number of experts to weigh in on how a Biden administration might tackle certain issues. As we approach the one-year anniversary of his inauguration, many of them are back to weigh in on how it’s gone. First up: Abby McCloskey analyzes where Biden went wrong on childcare and family leave. Look for more pieces over the next week or two.
In Capitolism, Scott Lincicome has a few quibbles with the Biden administration’s claim that it “saved Christmas” by resolving supply chain issues. Scott explains who really is responsible for the fact that most of us were able to get most of what we needed, and points out how the administration’s moves didn’t really do much.
In last Sunday’s French Press, David kicked off a conversation about whether the U.S. is, or has ever been, a Christian nation. It drew a response from Ross Douthat of the New York Times, so David used his Tuesday newsletter to continue the conversation. This is the high level of discussion we’re trying to foster here, so be sure to give them all a read.
Michael J. Petrilli reports that the Biden administration is considering reimplementing Obama-era guidelines that could subject schools to civil rights investigations if there are any racial disparities in disciplinary outcomes. Noting that discipline issues can be tied to socioeconomic factors and not just race, and pointing out that educators and administrators are overwhelmed by dealing with the pandemic, he argues that now is not the time.
The pods! The pods! Really, don’t miss the Advisory Opinions episode breaking down the Supreme Court ruling on the vaccine mandate. David and Sarah are at their best. On The Dispatch Podcast, Sarah and Steve interview Rep. Dan Newhouse, one of the 10 House Republicans to impeach Trump. And, as for The Remnant, tell me you don’t want to listen to something titled “Monetized Jackassery.”