To hear Joe Biden’s allies tell it, Democrats have found themselves in a predicament that is not of their making. Larger forces are at work undermining the governing party’s prospects. Therefore, it stands to reason that the conditions contributing to Democratic woes will eventually resolve themselves. All the president and his party have to do is sit back and watch.
That’s how, according to the Washington Post’s reporting, “many administration officials” are brushing aside a new Post-ABC News poll showing Joe Biden’s job-approval rating plummeting into the low 40s. That poll also found that Republicans enjoy a staggering 10-point advantage over Democrats when voters are asked which party they want to control Congress—the largest partisan gap favoring the GOP in the question’s 40-year history. “Privately,” the Post notes, Biden officials believe it can’t get any worse for the president. All Democrats have to do to reverse the course they’re on is nothing.
“By next year’s elections, top Democrats say, the national environment will look dramatically different,” the dispatch read. “They project confidence that the coronavirus pandemic will fade, allowing Americans to fully return to their normal lives, and that supply chain bottlenecks and inflation will also ease, allowing the economy to improve.”
That self-soothing narrative also prevents Democrats from engaging in a prescriptive analysis of the problems they have in many ways brought on themselves.
When Joe Biden entered office, the idea that the adverse conditions facing the country would suddenly dematerialize was more prevalent than it is now. Moreover, that prediction was buttressed by data. On February 1, the Congressional Budget Office released a report indicating, essentially, that the pandemic would fade, the economy would return to a pre-pandemic status quo by the middle of this year, and Americans would return to their normal lives. That report was predicated on the idea that no additional COVID-related relief funding would be injected into the economy. But on March 11, Congress passed Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which many—including the San Francisco Federal Reserve—observed has contributed to the inflationary pressures that Americans feel acutely and resent intensely.
The idea proffered by many sunny optimists–that the pandemic would recede with the advent of safe, effective, and cost-free COVID vaccine–proved untrue. And yet, the perception that the pandemic has achieved a state of endemic permanence has been fueled by the abandonment of the notion that vaccines have transformed COVID—from a force of nature into a personal choice.
By September, elite opinionmakers had begun to wage an assault against the argument that the coronavirus outbreak was transitioning into a “pandemic of the unvaccinated”—a phrase that became a common refrain among Biden administration officials. This attempt to usher in a paradigmatic revolution had failed to convince holdouts to immunize themselves. It was dismissive of those with underlying health conditions that render them more vulnerable to infection. And, lastly, it failed to account for breakthrough infections.
It was, however, true. By early October, at the crest of the Delta variant wave, a Kaiser Family Foundation study found that more than 90,000 COVID-related deaths this year could have been prevented by one of the approved vaccines. The unvaccinated made up the overwhelming majority of COVID-related hospitalizations, too. At the same time, the public health consensus shifted away from the idea that COVID could become a navigable feature of modern life. As Dr. Anthony Fauci told interviewers, “even though you are vaccinated,” you are “still capable of transmitting that infection to someone else.” He added: “I think we should be preventing people from getting sick from COVID even if they don’t wind up in the hospital.” Thus, the administration’s experiment with a psychological break from the mid-pandemic status quo met an untimely end.
The Biden administration surely deserves the least amount of blame for the pandemic’s long-tail effects on the supply chain. From the shuttering of so much industry abroad to the subsequent shortages that are rendering consumer goods scarce to reduced access to the equipment necessary to transport those goods that could reach the marketplace—no president could resolve all this with a pen stroke. Nevertheless, Joe Biden’s legislative agenda would not ease that pressure. It would, in fact, contribute to it.
Take Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda. If there is an economic theory informing the administration’s efforts to inject tons of new capital into the economy, it is that the increased demand—which is fueling inflation—will be offset by the number of new services that make it easier for Americans to reenter the workforce. There’s no indication that, for example, reduced costs for childcare services will induce the 3.4 million Americans who left the labor force for retirement to go back to work. It would, however, free up demand for other goods, which would add to the pressure on the supply chain, leading to higher prices and reduced savings.
Elsewhere in Biden’s massive social-safety-net bill, as National Review’s Iain Murray observed, are provisions designed to increase the rolls of organized labor organizations by making it more difficult to compete in the marketplace as a freelancer. The New Republic’s Timothy Noah hopefully noted that those provisions somehow survived the efforts by moderate Democrats to cut the bill down to a reasonable size. Murray notes that these provisions would have the same effect that a similar state-level measure had on California’s trucking industry; that is, to prevent owner-operators from shipping goods in deference to the Teamsters. Longshoremen, too, are the beneficiaries of pro-union giveaways in the bill that would prevent the use of automated equipment to unload container ships faster but at the expense of employment at ports. That would only further reduce efficiency at U.S. ports.
To fully internalize what the polling is telling Democrats is to accept that the public is shouting “Stop” with all the force their diaphragms can muster. But Democrats don’t want to stop. So, they’re grasping at some rationale that would allow them to continue on the disastrous course they’ve set for themselves.