Biden's bad week and the unreality of great expectations

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Leroy N. Soetoro

Jan 15, 2022, 6:42:33 PMJan 15

The bad news keeps on coming for President Biden. He ended 2021 at a low
point in his presidency, hoping to turn it around in the new year.

But things have only gotten worse. His spending and voting rights plans
are at congressional dead ends. Inflation remains at multi-decade highs.
The omicron variant of the coronavirus continues a rapid spread. The
Supreme Court ruled against his administration's vaccine-or-test mandate.
And there are rising threats from Russia and North Korea.

Presidents need to be able to do multiple things at once, but that's a lot
weighing down Biden. And his approval rating is suffering because of it.
Biden's average approval rating sits at about 42%, and a Quinnipiac poll
this week had it at 33%.

Numbers like that have to have the White House concerned — and Republicans

Biden acknowledged the struggles Friday, as he was set to give a speech on
failing infrastructure in the country and how the bipartisan
infrastructure law he signed in November would rebuild many bridges and

"There's a lot of talk about disappointments and things we haven't gotten
done," Biden said. "We're going to get a lot of them done, I might add.
But this is something we did get done, and it's of enormous consequence to
the country."

Considering that Democrats have the narrowest of narrow majorities in the
Senate — 50-50 with the vice president breaking ties — it's remarkable in
some respects how much they've gotten done: that $1 trillion
infrastructure bill, for example, as well as the almost $2 trillion COVID
relief bill and a diverse group of dozens of judges.

But with Democrats staring down the midterm elections with Republicans
favored to take back the House, there is tremendous frustration within the
president's party for not being able to get some big key agenda items
passed — namely his Build Back Better bill, which highlighted months of
difficult public intra-party negotiations that seemed to go nowhere, and,
of course, muscular voting rights legislation.

A tough week
It's not just the legislative frustrations like the filibuster (more on
that below); the pandemic is still raging.

Omicron's rapid spread is wreaking havoc across the country. While cases
have been milder for those who are vaccinated, hospitals are being flooded
with unvaccinated patients and schools are in disarray, trying to figure
out a Rubik's cube that keeps on changing colors.

The White House has taken heat for not being prepared for the latest surge
and for the messaging shortcomings from the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention.

Testing has been a major issue. On Thursday, Biden said the administration
would raise its purchase of COVID-19 rapid tests from 500 million to 1
billion. On Friday, Biden announced that Americans can begin ordering free
at-home tests next week.

The timeline means Americans won't receive tests until the end of the
month, at the earliest.

In an interview that aired Thursday, NBC's Craig Melvin asked Vice
President Harris whether ordering more tests should have been done sooner.
Harris didn't acknowledge mistakes, but said, "We are doing it."

"But should we have done it sooner?" Melvin pressed.

"We are doing it," Harris said.

Omicron, labor shortages, some continued supply-chain issues, severe
weather and climate change have resulted in some empty shelves at grocery
stores again.

It harkens back to the beginning of the pandemic, though the reasons are
slightly different and the sparseness not as prolonged.

But that hasn't stopped conservatives, who are champing at the bit to
regain power in Congress after this year's midterm elections, to start the
hashtag #BareShelvesBiden.

The Supreme Court's ruling striking down the administration's vaccine-or-
test requirement (a separate rule for health care workers was upheld) was
another blow to the Biden administration and a reminder of the
significance of a president being able to appoint justices.

And that's just domestic. Overseas, Russia is again posing a real threat
to Ukraine and the NATO alliance, and North Korea launched more missile
tests, leading to a brief grounding of planes on America's West Coast.

What to expect when expectations are too high
As has been well known, Democrats' priorities have mostly been held up by
two of their own senators, who continue to balk at what they see as going
too far in one way or another.

That's been the story since Biden took office, and nothing has changed. So
Biden may be rightly criticized for setting expectations too high for what
could actually get done.

Lots of politicians are guilty of that. They promise the moon during a
campaign, only to find the presidency is a rocket ship without much fuel
of its own.

"This is a dilemma of the presidency," said Brendan Nyhan, a professor at
Dartmouth, who studies misperceptions in politics. "The president has
relatively few powers. To try to overcome the limits of their powers, they
try to make a public case for that agenda."

But because their powers are so limited, Nyhan added, there is a "cycle of
hope and disappointment that recurs again and again."

People expecting that a president can do more than the checks and balances
of the system allow is something Nyhan refers to as the "Green Lantern
Theory" of politics.

The comic book hero, the Green Lantern, has a ring that can do almost
anything. The key to its power, though, is the user's own willpower.

In other words, the only thing limiting the wearer of the ring is a
failure of imagination.

But that's not how the presidency works.

"Biden is falling victim to Green Lantern-style expectations," Nyhan said.
"People expect him to be able to change votes and think the failure on
voting rights is because he hasn't tried hard enough."

Nyhan pointed out that it's equally plausible that the more public Biden
is in support of the legislation, the harder it is for someone like Sen.
Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to support it.

That's because Manchin comes from a state where Biden won less than 30% of
the vote in the 2020 election.

Big things happen with big majorities
Sweeping change is usually only passed through Congress when a president
has numbers on his side.

Think: FDR's New Deal, LBJ's Great Society measures, Barack Obama's health
care overhaul.

Those presidents had far larger majorities than Biden. In those past
Congresses, those presidents had a cushion. That luxury, that margin for
error, just doesn't exist today.

While Manchin comes from a very conservative state, the other holdout
senator on most things, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, is in a purple state
that Biden won by just over 10,000 votes.

Her calculus is likely that doing something such as eliminating the
legislative filibuster — which is, in theory, supposed to encourage
negotiation — could hurt the politically independent image she's burnished
for herself.

Of course, in practice, the filibuster, which requires 60 votes to end
debate and move to an up-or-down vote, has been abused in recent years. It
has created essentially a 60-vote standard for any legislation to pass,
which was never the intention.

Biden was a defender of the filibuster. But running into a brick wall of
Republican intransigence on voting rights — and facing a restive
progressive base that wants to see him doing something — Biden has changed

"Sadly, the United States Senate — designed to be the world's greatest
deliberative body — has been rendered a shell of its former self," Biden
said Tuesday during his speech on voting rights in Atlanta. "It gives me
no satisfaction in saying that, as an institutionalist, as a man who was
honored to serve in the Senate. But as an institutionalist, I believe that
the threat to our democracy is so grave that we must find a way to pass
these voting rights bills, debate them, vote.

"Let the majority prevail. And if that bare minimum is blocked, we have no
option but to change the Senate rules, including getting rid of the
filibuster for this."

That is not an insignificant shift for a man who served in the Senate for
36 years, has long been seen as someone who seeks compromise, and who ran
on the very notion of uniting the country.

And yet, despite Biden's move, many voting rights activists did not attend
his speech. They felt his support had come too little, too late.

That's despite it being clear from the beginning of Biden's presidency
that the votes weren't there — and still aren't — for eliminating the
filibuster. And it's not at all clear what Biden coming out against the
filibuster from the start would have made.

Too much emphasis on the politics of the personal
Biden puts a lot — perhaps too much — stock in his powers of persuasion,
both domestically and on the world stage.

The president met several times with Manchin, for example, and they seem
to have a genuine regard for one another. But Manchin hasn't budged in
moving to support Biden's multitrillion-dollar Build Back Better plan — or
eliminating the filibuster to pass voting rights legislation.

Biden thought he could get Manchin and Sinema to move toward his position
using the politics of the personal, and it didn't happen. It's simply hard
to negotiate without numbers, leverage or incentives.

One could argue that all the months of intra-party negotiations have done
is to prolong the inevitable — and air a lot of dirty Democratic laundry
that would have been better off staying in the hamper.

"People have deeply drunk from the well of presidential mythology and have
a hard time reconciling themselves to the limits of the office," Nyhan

That doesn't mean it isn't worth trying to make a public push for
legislation. There's always the chance a holdout senator could be inspired
and come around. But it rarely works, and people should moderate their
expectations, Nyhan noted.

"It's important for people to see that this pattern is structural," Nyhan
said, adding, "When the most talented and skilled politicians in the
country have this happening to them again and again, you have to realize
it's not the people, it's the institutions."

"LOCKDOWN", left-wing COVID fearmongering. 95% of COVID infections
recover with no after effects.

No collusion - Special Counsel Robert Swan Mueller III, March 2019.
Officially made Nancy Pelosi a two-time impeachment loser.

Donald J. Trump, cheated out of a second term by fraudulent "mail-in"
ballots. Report voter fraud:

Thank you for cleaning up the disaster of the 2008-2017 Obama / Biden
fiasco, President Trump.

Under Barack Obama's leadership, the United States of America became the
The World According To Garp. Obama sold out heterosexuals for Hollywood
queer liberal democrat donors.

President Trump boosted the economy, reduced illegal invasions, appointed
dozens of judges and three SCOTUS justices.
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