In the beginning, Build Back Better wasn’t just the most expensive piece of legislation ever. The multitrillion-dollar price tag was a bargain because the bill would totally transform America, President Biden claimed.
Whatever the problem, from jobs to climate change to child care, BBB was the solution.
Then came inflation, with the White House hiding behind the fictions that rising costs were overstated and transitory. When the price of everyday consumer items jumped, a slimmed-down Build Back Better was drafted for a new assignment: Suddenly it was the cure for inflation, the president insisted.
Comes now a new COVID variant that is shaking health officials and global markets. How long until the White House claims BBB is key to surviving a new round of social and economic disruptions?
The ever-shifting rationale and price tag behind Biden’s signature legislation is an apt metaphor for the confusing incoherence of his presidency. As Winston Churchill said in a different context, “This pudding has no theme.”
What, pray tell, is the Biden presidency about? What are his convictions and where does he want to take the nation?
Merely to raise such questions at this late date signals the problem.
At his inauguration, Biden said repeatedly he wanted to unite America. “We must end this uncivil war that pits red against blue, rural versus urban, conservative versus liberal,” he said.
Yet he also rails against “systemic racism” while calling Americans good and decent people.
He said he respects the outcome in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial, but also that he is “angry and concerned” about the acquittal.
His party holds the narrowest majorities in congress, but most of Biden’s initiatives are so radical they are dead on arrival, with even Democratic moderates balking.
He says America is back to cooperating with our allies, yet pulls out of Afghanistan on an arbitrary deadline despite pleas from NATO to go slower and leave a small number of troops there. He breaks his promise to evacuate all US citizens and foreign nationals who helped our war effort, leaving their fates to the Taliban.
Virtually every time Biden mentions Taiwan and China, the White House has to “clarify” what he meant to say even as the president refuses to answer media questions.
Citing global climate change, he shuts down the Keystone XL pipeline and restricts oil drilling on federal lands, but, faced with rising gas prices, urges Russia and OPEC countries to produce more oil.
An early assessment was that Biden aimed to undo everything Donald Trump did. That view lent a certain consistency to the foolishness of throwing open the southern border, begging Iran to sign another nuclear deal and rejoining the Paris climate accord.
But that explanation no longer holds water now that Biden is reversing his reversals. Prodded by courts, he is close to reinstating Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy of having asylum seekers await adjudication there instead of being turned loose in the US.
And his Friday travel ban against South Africa and seven nearby nations over the COVID variant copies travel bans Trump imposed to stop the spread.
The reminder by Twitter users of Biden’s accusations that Trump’s bans smacked of xenophobia and racism get to the heart of the president’s flip-flops.
Indeed, while Trump was president, Biden expressed doubts about the push to develop a COVID vaccine, saying science was being left behind.
Now anyone who doesn’t get a vaccine is ignorant and unpatriotic.
Still, as the Wall Street Journal noted, 350,000 Americans died from COVID since Biden was sworn in, surpassing the number who died under Trump. Biden said last year that if Trump “had done his job from the beginning, all the people would still be alive.”
Given his record, it is no surprise that Biden’s approval rating is collapsing as the public, including many independents and some Democrats, grow weary of his tenure and pessimistic about the future. Some head-to-head polls show the former president would win a re-match.
In most White Houses, the situation would set off alarms and lead to changes. Yet the reaction of this White House was bizarre.
Suddenly there came leaks that Biden, just as he turned 79, intends to seek re-election in 2024. It was supposed to be a confidence booster, but had the opposite effect on two fronts.
First, it signaled Biden knew he was looking like an early lame duck, but his low poll numbers meant there was no public embrace. Instead, there was wide skepticism that he is mentally and physically fit for a second term.
Second, the 2024 move signaled Biden knew his ostensible replacement, Vice President Kamala Harris, is nobody’s idea of a good succession plan. So why did he ever pick her?
Meanwhile, Pete Buttigieg quickly became the flavor of the month. The Secretary of Transportation, making many public appearances because of the passage of the infrastructure bill, was getting warm and fuzzy interviews with the usual media suspects.
The White House was delighted but not Harris, whose “confidants” told Politico, “The chatter has frustrated some staffers of color who see it as disrespectful to Kamala Harris — the first black woman vice president — and think senior officials should tamp it down.”
Trump’s tenure was also rocky, of course, and his poll numbers, driven by the Russia, Russia, Russia fabrication, a ginned-up impeachment and vicious press coverage, were low for much of his term. Yet his policies on border security and the economy were successful and he was widely viewed as likely to win a second term.
The pandemic changed everything, but Biden’s record there is no better and now he faces another potential surge. Moreover, even with a sleepy, fawning press, he has no reservoir of policy success anywhere and his polls spell big trouble for his party in 2022.
“If something cannot go on forever, it will stop,” the late economist Herb Stein said. Absent major changes, it is hard to see how the Biden presidency can go on for even three more years.
A bridge name too far
Reader Justin Taylor spots unfinished business from the Cuomo era, writing: “Don’t forget to encourage the re-renaming of the Tappan Zee Bridge. Seeing that other name on the highway signs and having Siri verbally direct me to it makes me cringe.”
Surprise! NYT ‘swing’ing left
Just another day in The New York Times.
Friday’s top front page story was a call to arms about redistricting following the 2020 census, with a screaming headline that “Maps Give G.O.P. a Stranglehold in Swing States.”
The first eight paragraphs about “distorted” maps drawn by Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan amounted to a warning that Democrats were about to become permanent losers in those states.
Only in the ninth paragraph did readers get the truth:
“Gerrymandering is a tool used by both parties in swing states.”
So Democrats do it, too, but it’s only frightening when Republicans do it.
All the news that’s fit to twist.