The Fog and Filthy Air
Fair is foul, and foul is fair:
Hover through the fog and filthy air.
Macbeth, by William Shakespeare; Act I, Scene I
The hyperbole was flowing yesterday in the U.S. Senate. The feeble train wreck everyone saw coming finally happened. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (VRAA), the Freedom To Vote Act, and the carve out to change filibuster cloture rules all died, each on its own rickety, broken down, separate gallows. Despite impassioned speeches, the end was anticlimactic — something like Macbeth without the murders.
And the nation yawned.
Credible polling data shows the majority of Americans care mightily about one issue: the economy, and more specifically, what inflation is doing to it. Yes, they care about COVID and how schools should deal with it (for the most part they’re hyper-critical), but it’s meat-and-potato time for most. The voting rights battle barely registers. In the latest AP/NORC poll, just 6% volunteered voting laws, voter fraud, or voting issues as the top problem the government should be working on in 2022.
Yet, there they were yesterday. The Democrats. Reaching for arrows from an empty quiver. It was Otto von Bismarck, the man who engineered the unification of Germany in 1870 and served as Chancellor until 1890, who said, “Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable ― the art of the next best.” While Republicans were busy annihilating voting rights legislation (with a little help from a couple of recalcitrant folks from West Virginia and Arizona), at yesterday’s ironically timed presser, President Biden suggested it’s on to the next best. Whatever that may be.
A little pity for Joe Biden is in order. He entered the White House in January of 2021 ready to wage war with one enemy, the COVID pandemic, on two fronts: medical and economic. Our economy, with its supply chain and labor issues, was a catastrophe and getting worse. But, and it’s a big but, were it not for the pandemic that won’t quit, the economy would have been rolling along just fine, and Donald Trump would probably be the guy having dinner most nights in the White House. But Trump’s ineptness allowed Joe Biden to be the one eating in the State Dining Room, and Biden believed if he could eradicate the pandemic he’d rescue the economy from disaster. Seemed like a good plan at the time.
Events have a way of surprising newly elected presidents; think 9/11 for George W. Bush. In Biden’s case, two rude surprises interrupted his agenda, if you don’t count Republicans’ all out dedication to obstructing whatever agenda that was.
In late March, legislators in 19 states controlled by Republicans began passing laws making it harder to vote in Black and Latino communities. The pandemic had caused states to modernize voting policies with things such as drop boxes, extended early voting, liberal mail-in voting rules, etc. This had the effect of increasing turnout in minority areas and led to the election of two Democrats to the Senate from Georgia, giving the Democratic Party what appeared to be control of the Senate. So, under the guise of enhancing voter integrity (after all, the 2020 election was rigged for Joe Biden with millions of fraudulent votes), changes had to be made. Access to easy voting had to be tightened.
In response to Republican efforts to limit the vote, voting rights became a huge issue ― within the D.C. Beltway. It consumed the literati and Democratic elites and distracted the Administration from its main job: eradicating the pandemic and getting the economy moving in the right direction. It sucked Joe Biden into its vortex and, once there, he could not escape. In retrospect, this was a terrible mistake, as Bismarck could have pointed out to him.
The second surprise came later in the year when inflation began to rise. At first, the Administration, as well as most economists and the Federal Reserve, thought the rise was temporary, and would perhaps extend as long as early 2022. However, it soon became apparent that there was one thing the inflation surge was not, and that thing was temporary.
Now, having thrown every bit of political capital he had left into the doomed-from-the-beginning voting rights fight (he doesn’t even mention the Build Back Better Act anymore), President Biden is a bit chastened. Yesterday, he admitted that, despite 36 years in the Senate and eight more playing second fiddle in the White House, being President is different. He admitted that his old friend Mitch McConnell, while still a friend, is focused on one thing and one thing only: making sure his old friend Joe looks bad all the time. With friends like these....
Where does he go from here? Having now proven his colleagues in the Democratic Party are just as capable as Republicans of sticking a knife in his back, he appears to realize winning small victories is preferable to no victories. He said yesterday he’ll no longer try to eat the elephant with one bite, but will cut up his legislative goals into little pieces and try that. Oh, and the Child Tax Credit is gone, as is free tuition at Community colleges. He said he’ll leave Washington more often to speak directly to people around the country. We’ll see how that goes, but I’m not optimistic.
Moreover, there’s another train wreck on the horizon. It’s called the midterms, and it’s arriving in November of this year. If the President thinks things are tough for him now, just wait till then.
Joe Biden has become trapped in the fog and filthy air surrounding and methodically crushing the soul of his Administration.