Biden is neither a populist nor is he popular-- a connected phenomenon. Congressional Democrats fear he's going to drag them down in the midterms. The Blue Dogs and New Dems from the Republican wing of the Democratic Party richly deserve such a fate. Four swing state Democrats-- two odious conservatives (Mark Kelly of Arizona and Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire, worst of teh 4), a moderate (Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada) and a progressive (Raphael Warnock of Georgia)-- are not just avoiding Biden; they are trying to show voters their independence from him.
Biden won all 4 states in 2020. His approval rating in each is disastrously low. In New Hampshire, Hassan has continued voting like and campaigning like a Republican. Other than Manchin and Sinema, who are overtly anti-Democrat, Hassan's probably the worst Democrat in the Senate and is the most likely Senate incumbent to lose in November. Her vote with the Republicans against raising the minimum wage probably sealed her fate. She's trying to get New Hampshire voters to forget that by stoking anti-Mexican xenophobia instead. I guess voters are supposed to think, "why vote for some crazy Republican when we already have Maggie!"
Are voters in all 4 states impervious to what Biden and the Democrats have accomplished? Pretty much. According to a report by Alexander Burns before dawn today, Biden may be touting his infrastructure bill and spending as akin to the New deal, but voters aren't seeing anything that is remotely like the New Deal. "Ambivalence among voters," wrote Burns, "stems partly from the fact that many of the projects being funded are, for now, invisible... Thirteen months after Biden signed the emergency package, that money is starting to fuel a wave of investment on city infrastructure, public services and pilot programs unlike any in decades. City and county leaders are spending confidently, boasting of the generational improvements they are making with the help of Biden’s legislation."
Getting voters excited about the American Rescue Plan is a tall order when so many are preoccupied with the price of gasoline and the cost and availability of other basic goods-- concerns the emergency-spending bill was not designed to address.
A Gallup poll in March found that more Americans said they worried a great deal about inflation than any other issue. Crime and homelessness, both targets of rescue spending, were not far behind.
The American Rescue Plan, which also funded direct relief payments to voters and health programs like vaccine distribution, has been criticized by Republicans and some economists for pumping too much money into the economy and probably contributing to inflation.
...The political predicament confronting Biden and his party was embedded in the structure of the American Rescue Plan. Within the $1.9 trillion law, a $350 billion fund for state and local governments was designed to meet a dire set of circumstances along the lines of the Great Recession: a potentially catastrophic short-term budget shortfall followed by a slow economic recovery.
Biden declared it would help states and municipalities rehire all “those laid-off police officers, firefighters, teachers and nurses.”
The $350 billion in rescue funds would be handed out by 2022 in increments, with recipients given until 2026 to spend it. That timeline was meant to gird states and cities against another economic slowdown, said Gene Sperling, the presidential adviser overseeing the rescue plan.
Yet rather than limping through a recovery, the country enjoyed the fastest economic growth in nearly four decades and saw the unemployment rate plummet. Government revenues surged across much of the country, and governors of once-beleaguered states, like California and Minnesota, announced proposals to give residents tax cuts or one-time rebates.
Some state and local government payrolls are smaller than they were before the pandemic; many municipalities face a backlog in services from courts to coroners’ offices, and they are not immune to inflation and fuel shocks.
The rescue spending still represents something of an insurance policy against a new recession. But for state and local leaders, the money is clearly something more than that.
As government revenues began returning, the Treasury Department issued guidance encouraging cities and counties to treat rescue funding as a flexible resource that could be deployed for purposes faintly related to Covid-19.
Yesterday, Jim Hightower had a message for Biden: Stop Telling People You're on Their Side and Start Showing Them You Are. Hightower's premise is the kind of transformational policy Biden instinctively shies away from: "Breaking the stranglehold that monopolistic corporations have on our economy and our people is not a job for the politically meek." Hightower is too kind to Biden, a lifelong conservative. But, in any case, Biden will never be Bernie-- the most popular national politician in America (including Obama)-- and will go down not understanding why he failed and how he could have saved himself and his party.
Hightower wrote that "For years, as ever-bigger corporate combines grabbed ever-bigger chunks of market power, America's political, media and academic establishment scoffed at critics, drowning them out with jolly rounds of 'Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.' But the concentration of corporate power can no longer be dismissed, for it's all too real. It wreaks real havoc on entire economic sectors, workaday families, communities and our nation's essential uniting value of fairness. Pontificators of the status quo can coo all the free-enterprise platitudes they want, but a rising grassroots majority (including supposedly conservative farmers and ranchers) is experiencing corporate repression firsthand. Those families are doing their own kitchen-table tabulations and realizing that the game has been deliberately rigged against them. A mad-as-hell moment is percolating at the grassroots."
Biden at least recognizes this, seems to feel people's pain and anger, and (unlike other recent Democratic presidents) has put it on his national agenda: "Capitalism without competition isn't capitalism," he recently said, "it's exploitation." All right, then: You go, Joe!
But he hasn't. Yes, he's made some good reform proposals, appointed a couple of top-notch antitrust regulators, issued a few useful procedural changes, held some closed-door White House meetings on the topic, and been willing to call out a few of the worst gougers and profiteers. That's good. But wholly inadequate. It's all inside-the-Beltway stuff, and even though Biden has been a consummate, 48-year inside player who promised that his collegial skills would let him "get things done," the people being run over just see more political talk without action. Supermarket beef prices still rise, cattle prices fall, meatpacker power and profits soar, and grassroots people keep getting bulled. In fairness, Biden has a heavy load: sour old Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Manchin-Sinema blob, the monopoly lobby, milquetoast Democrats, a clueless media corps, etc. But don't whine; get out of Washington!
Breaking the stranglehold that monopolistic corporations have on our economy and our people is not a job for the politically meek. The establishment's standard responses of loud denunciation, investigative task forces and regulatory proposals don't do anything but stall actual change. Rather, asserting democracy over plutocracy is a momentous, brawling struggle for fundamental structural repair, requiring gutsy leaders willing to go right at the bastards with unconventional outsider strategies. The key to winning is not by schmoozing McConnell and Manchin, but by going into the countryside and rallying the majority of people fed up with corporate arrogance and abuse. So, Joe...
• Go to the people. Embark on a series of whistle-stop tours to excite and enlist grassroots fighters.
• Join ranchers and workers at the Big Four meatpacking plants to dramatize and protest the abuses.
• File actions under the Justice Department's authority to break up anti-competitive combines.
• Pursue high-profile criminal charges against price-fixing executives.
• Ban stock buybacks.
• Deploy cabinet members across the country to publicize local abuses and demand stronger anti-trust laws.
• Bring small family farmers and ranchers to the White House to tell their stories and personalize the issue.
In short, stop telling people you're on their side and start showing them that you are. As historian Meg Jacobs recently put it: "Inflation is largely the result of choices that businesses make. And history shows that presidents have the power to stem inflation by taking on corporate power-- if they choose."