Biden’s problem runs deeper than pessimism

President Biden takes questions from reporters at the White House on March 31.


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President Biden’s jobs approval rating continues to plunge, hitting 33% in a New York Times/Siena College poll. The Times attributes Mr Biden’s political struggles to “a pervasive sense of pessimism” and notes that more than three-quarters of voters polled “see the United States is going in the wrong direction”. Only 26% of Democrats think the party should reappoint the president in 2024.

But pessimism does not always mean political failure. In July 2010, according to the RealClearPolitics average, 62% of Americans said the country was going in the wrong direction, and that number rarely dropped over the next two years. The unemployment rate was 9.4% 12 years ago and it is 3.6% now. Still, President Obama was unopposed in the 2012 nomination and won re-election.

He offered something that Mr. Biden seems incapable of: hope. Sounding both sunny and serious, Mr. Obama convinced voters that he understood the nation’s challenges and would work tirelessly to meet them. What sinks Mr. Biden is not mere pessimism. It is despair.

His affable smile, part of a persona that carried him through more than half a century in politics and inspired Vice President Biden’s Onion parodies as a fun-loving, road-driving rascal. muscle cars, now seems forced and pained when he makes one of his increasingly fleeting appearances. Although he’s lean and fit – how many 79-year-olds still ride bikes? – his physical and verbal stumbles make it impossible to forget that he is the oldest president ever. His reluctance to meet the press for impromptu exchanges, his tepid statements on the economy and the reversal of Roe v. Wade, and the hilarious contrast between his tortured speech and his obviously ghost-written editorials make it impossible for Americans to take away any impression other than that he doesn’t measure up, the country is run by his advisors, and they don’t know how to pull strings as well as Edith Wilson did over a century ago.

Today’s economic problems – high inflation accompanied by slow or negative growth – are reminiscent of the presidency of Jimmy Carter, when the term “stagflation” came into common usage. The political mood today is also similar.

Although Mr. Carter never actually uttered the word “discomfort”, it stuck with him because his style expressed despair. He never convinced voters that he had a plan to control inflation. He developed a reputation as a micromanager who worked hard but not smartly. The foreign policy crises in Iran and Afghanistan have made matters worse.

Pessimism might have put Mr. Carter on the ropes, but desperation cost him the 1980 election. Team Biden should take notice.

Mr. Rall is a political cartoonist, columnist and author, most recently, of “The Stringer”.

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