President Biden ran on the promise to bring out country together. Yet, as Tom Friedman recently pointed out in the NY Times, the President has been more effective at strengthening bonds among our allies abroad than in healing divisions at home. With a tiny majority in the House and a 50-50 Senate split, Democrats’ slimmest possible “majority” was not a mandate to transform America.
Biden was never going to have Republicans, most of whom would rather oppose everything he supports than create compromise legislation to address critical issues in the public interest.
And sometimes in the Senate he couldn’t get all the Democrats together. Regrettably, he has too often acquiesced to the agenda and timetable of his party’s left flank (perhaps because that’s where Biden’s legacy-building heart is). He repeatedly failed to persuade them about the need to go for what is possible, so that Democrats would have a series of fresh accomplishments– after their honeymoon success in 2021 with the American Rescue Plan and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. Incremental achievements could have been built on in a potentially more supportive next Congress. There is no major legislative achievement (think Social Security and Medicare) that sprang fully formed in its first iteration.
The poorly explained and packaged Build Back Better Act was too expansive for moderate Democrats Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema, so Manchin proposed an alternative, a $1.8 trillion-dollar package. It included universal pre-K, climate change, and Obamacare expansion. But it didn’t have the important expanded child tax credit the President wanted. When negotiations stalled, Manchin withdrew the proposal, and the party… and country… got nothing. So, are the Democrats better off because they let the perfect be the enemy of the good? Even if parts of it can be revived in current Manchin- Schumer negotiations, much time and public support have been wasted.
History suggests that most mid-term elections cost Congressional seats for the party that sits in the White House. Starting last summer, it has been all downhill for the Biden administration, and the polls show it. Barack Obama’s favorability at the 2010 mid-terms was 42-43 percent, and his party took what he conceded was “a shellacking.” Biden’s favorability is about the same, and he has even less margin for error. The Democrats may well lose the House and the Senate.
What we have now, and what could seal the already predictable mid-term outcome, is perniciously high inflation, supply change disruption resulting in scarcity of products and soaring prices for food and gas, continuing and escalating Covid cases, rising crime, and Congressional paralysis.
Blame the stimulus for inflation? It surely is a contributing factor, but there are other complex reasons. Not to have acted could have triggered a Depression, and then where would we be? Biden’s got to prove a negative, namely, that without the stimulus people would have been much worse off. It may make sense, but it’s hard to sell. And now “surplus” aid to the states is being weaponized by some GOP governors running against the Administration.
So where is there good news? In last Tuesday’s Georgia primaries? Trump’s “vendetta tour” endorsements failed to push sycophantic gubernatorial and secretary of state candidates to victory over incumbent governor Brian Kemp and secretary of state Brad Raffensberger. Trump loathes both because they failed to support his 2020 efforts to “find” enough votes to steal Biden’s election in Georgia. (Trump’s candidate for Georgia attorney general also lost.)
But in other races I wonder if rooting for potentially unelectable candidates will make some races more winnable in November (think grossly flawed former Mo. Governor Eric Greitens running for Senate in the August 2 Republican primary ) or risks, in a Republican wave, putting more extremist whackos in Congress. I shudder to think that Georgia Senator Raphael Warnock could lose to Trump-endorsed former football player Herschel Walker, with a history of domestic violence, dishonesty, a tendency toward terminal incoherence.
With books to read, flowers to plant, friends and family to be with in person, it’s easy to give up on the electoral process. The Red Sox are struggling to reach the .500 mark. Do I expect them to cede the rest of their season? Somewhere in that question is the answer to perseverance in politics, the imperative to go with what we’ve got. But to keep going.