An Interesting Analogy

A reader recently sent me a New York Times subscriber newsletter by Nate Cohn that drew an analogy between the upcoming Presidential race and the election in 1948. Most of us remember that election–if we remember it at all–for the iconic picture of a victorious President Truman holding up a newspaper with the headline “Dewey Defeats Truman.”

Cohn goes through a number of ways in which the run-up to that election is strikingly similar to the run-up to this November. For example, voters were sour about the economy, despite the fact that it was doing well–his subtitle was “Americans were angry with Truman because of high prices in the aftermath of World War II, even as other economic signals looked promising.”

If there’s a time that might make sense of today’s political moment, postwar America might just be it. Many analysts today have been perplexed by public dissatisfaction with the economy, as unemployment and gross domestic product have remained strong and as inflation has slowed significantly after a steep rise. To some, public opinion and economic reality are so discordant that it requires a noneconomic explanation, sometimes called “vibes,” like the effect of social media or a pandemic hangover on the national mood.

But in the era of modern economic data, Harry Truman was the only president besides Joe Biden to oversee an economy with inflation over 7 percent while unemployment stayed under 4 percent and G.D.P. growth kept climbing. Voters weren’t overjoyed then, either. Instead, they saw Mr. Truman as incompetent, feared another depression and doubted their economic future, even though they were at the dawn of postwar economic prosperity.

As Cohn notes, the parallels are striking, although today, inflation followed a pandemic rather than a war. But there was a great housing crisis caused by excess demand, as troops returned from overseas, not unlike the shortage of affordable housing that we are facing today. It was also a time of labor unrest–an unrest we are also experiencing. As Cohn reports,”The most severe inflation of the last 100 years wasn’t in the 1970s, but in 1947, reaching around 20 percent.”

Mr. Truman’s popularity collapsed. By spring in 1948, an election year, his approval rating had fallen to 36 percent, down from over 90 percent at the end of World War II. He fell behind the Republican Thomas Dewey in the early head-to-head polling. He was seen as in over his head. The New Republic ran a front-page editorial titled: “As a candidate for president, Harry Truman should quit.”

We’ve been hearing that refrain recently, as well.

In retrospect, it’s hard to believe voters were so frustrated. Historians generally now consider Mr. Truman one of the great presidents, and the postwar period was the beginning of the greatest economic boom in American history. By any conceivable measure, Americans were unimaginably better off than during the Great Depression a decade earlier. Unemployment remained low by any standard, and consumers kept spending. The sales of seemingly every item — appliances, cars and so on — were an order of magnitude higher than before the war.

Truman’s decision to desegregate the armed forces wasn’t exactly met with applause, either.

Again, the similarities are stunning. The essay proceeds to report the results of that year’s polling on a variety of issues, and calling the results “grim” would be a massive understatement. But Harry Truman won, and Cohn goes into considerable detail about the themes of his campaign, and why he eked out a victory.

What Cohn doesn’t address is the single biggest difference between Truman versus Dewey and the likely upcoming contest between Biden and Trump.

The 1948 campaign was waged between a successful but undervalued President and a legitimate and sane contender; the upcoming election will pit a successful and undervalued President against an ignorant, narcissistic, mentally-ill cult leader who is poses an existential threat to the Constitution, democracy and the rule of law.

Thomas Dewey was a traditional candidate with a respectable and relevant resume. He understood government, having served as Governor of New York. There was no reason to fear that his occupancy of the Oval Office would bring about chaos, introduce fascism and/or destroy the Republic. (And after the votes were counted, he didn’t claim he’d “really” won…)

Cohn’s analysis is excellent as far as it goes. What it fails to highlight is what we all know: the biggest asset Joe Biden has in the upcoming election is Donald Trump. I agree with the reported sentiment of a participant in a focus group (of Republicans!): If the contest is between Trump and Joe Biden,  I’ll vote for Biden even if he’s in a coma.

Today is Martin Luther King day. Every vote for Donald Trump is a vote to reject King’s dream.

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Exceeding My Expectations

I recently ran across a cartoon showing a couple of shipwreck survivors heading toward two small islands– one with palm trees, the other with an erupting volcano. One of the castaways asked the other “which one should we choose?”

The 2024 Presidential election in a nutshell. Even someone who found that first island  unappealing would have to be nuts to choose the one spewing volcanic ash. (I still can’t get my head around the millions of presumably uninformed or deranged Americans who cast ballots for volcanic ash in 2020…)

But here’s the thing: lots of people plan to vote Biden because they recognize that a vote for Trump is a vote for certain disaster. That reasoning–while sound–simply ignores the fact that Biden has been a transformative, progressive President. I loved Barack Obama, but fair is fair: Biden has accomplished far more.

I’ve previously shared  my middle son’s observation that Biden is the first person he’s voted for who vastly exceeded his expectations.

I’d attribute the mismatch between performance and public perception to lackluster oratory, except that people voted for Trump, whose pronouncements are word salads showcasing his third-grade vocabulary.

A few pundits have begun to address the persistent lack of recognition of Biden’s considerable governing skills. The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland was one. As he began,

The tragedy of Joe Biden is that people see his age, his frailty and his ailing poll numbers and they miss the bigger story. Which is that his has been a truly consequential presidency, even a transformational one. In less than three years, he has built a record that should unify US progressives, including those on the radical left, and devised an economic model to inspire social democratic parties the world over, including here in Britain.

As Freedland writes, making the case for “Bidenism” isn’t hard.

Top of the list is, characteristically, something that sounds boring but is of enormous significance: the Inflation Reduction Act, passed last year. That seemingly technocratic piece of legislation actually achieves two epochal goals. First, it hastens the day the US makes the break from fossil fuels – by making clean energy not only the morally superior option for both industry and consumers, but the financially superior one too.

It does that through a massive raft of tax breaks, subsidies and incentives all designed to encourage the production of wind turbines, solar panels, ever improving battery technology, geothermal plants and the like, along with tax credits aimed at making electric cars irresistible even to those middle-American consumers more concerned about their wallets than the burning planet.

Those who understand the threat posed by climate change–everyone from environmental activists to Goldman Sachs–has hailed the act as a “gamechanger.”

But the second goal of the legislation is almost as significant. Biden insisted that this surge in green manufacturing would happen inside the US, thereby reviving industrial towns and cities in decline since the 1980s. It is US factories that are getting the subsidies to build all this clean tech – alongside an earlier, huge package of infrastructure spending – restoring jobs to workers who had long been written off.

Bidenomics resurrects Democratic principles discarded by Bill Clinton: an activist state making serious public investments in manufacturing;”muscular regulation” of corporations; and encouragement of unionized labour.

Freedland reminds us that securing passage of this transformative legislation was remarkable, given a Senate then split 50-50 between the parties.

A new book by Franklin Foer, The Last Politician, describes how Biden, whose hands were already full with the Covid pandemic and the aftermath of the January 6 insurrection, was not content simply to be a caretaker manager, troubleshooting crises. Instead, “he set out to transform the country.”

The result is that Biden has “redirected the paradigm” of US economic life in a way that will affect Americans “for a generation”. While Obama and Clinton were “deferential to markets”, says Foer, Biden has reversed “the neoliberal consensus” in place since the Ronald Reagan era.

Biden insists–correctly–that “capitalism without competition isn’t capitalism. It’s exploitation,” and as a result, his administration is resurrecting anti-trust enforcement.  Foer writes that, “As a matter of substance, he is the most transformational president since Reagan.”

Internationally, Biden is credited with bringing stability after the chaos and dictator-coddling of the Trump years and, especially, for building and maintaining a western alliance in support of Ukraine as it defends itself against Russian imperialism. Others admire his handling of China: robust, without crossing the line where a cold war turns hot.

Freedland says Biden campaigned in “reassuring prose,”  but has governed in “radical poetry.”

Age isn’t all negative. Coupled with intellect and experience, it allows time for the development of skills. It allows people like Joe Biden to exceed our expectations.

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I Know Facts Don’t Matter…

Talk about “sucking all the oxygen out of the room…” The four indictments of Trump have consumed most of the media, masking what would otherwise be a greater emphasis on administration actions and policies, and overwhelming what ought to be applauded as the enormous success of “Bidenomics.”

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is one year old; it is central to “Bidenomics.” A recent Treasury Department analysis found that it has incentivized unusually strong business investment–investment Axios recently called a “tailwind for economic growth.”

Together with the bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the CHIPS and Science Act, the IRA has especially spurred investments in manufacturing and clean energy. According to Treasury officials, evidence shows that private investment has held up, even in the face of increases in interest rates. And the report also noted that most counties where IRA-related investments have been announced are areas where college graduation rate, employment and wages are lower. In other words, Republican, largely rural areas. 

As Heather Cox Richardson noted in a recent daily Letter, 

The IRA was the eventual form President Joe Biden’s initial “Build Back Better” plans took. It offered to lower Americans’ energy costs with a 30% tax credit for energy-efficient windows, heat pumps, or newer models of appliances; capped the cost of drugs at $2,000 per year for people on Medicare; and made healthcare premiums fall for certain Americans by expanding the Affordable Care Act. 

By raising taxes on the very wealthy and on corporations and bringing the Internal Revenue Service back up to full strength so that it can crack down on tax cheating, as well as saving the government money by permitting it to negotiate drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, the IRA was expected to raise $738 billion. That, plus about $891 billion from other sources, enabled the law to make the largest investment ever in addressing climate change while still bringing down the federal government’s annual deficit.

“This is a BFD,” former President Barack Obama tweeted a year ago.

It is a “BFD,” and it is extremely frustrating that reporting on its effects has been smothered by a combination of “it bleeds so it leads” reporting and the massive amounts of propaganda “flooding the zone” ala Bannon.

The law has driven so much investment in U.S. manufacturing that the CEO of U.S. Steel recently suggested renaming it the “Manufacturing Renaissance Act.” Manufacturers have been returning previously off-shored production to the U.S., bringing supply chains back to the U.S. And as Richardson emphasized,

These changes have meant new, well-paid manufacturing jobs that have been concentrated in Republican-dominated states and in historically disadvantaged communities. 

The IRA has also been enormously consequential to the fight to tame climate change.

Scientists Alicia Zhao and Haewon McJeon, who recently published an article in Science, today wrote that the IRA “brings the US significantly closer to meeting its 2030 climate target [of cutting greenhouse gas emissions to 50–52% below 2005 levels], taking expected emissions from 25–31% below 2005 levels down to 33–40% below.”

 Republican presidential candidates have—predictably–refused to credit the act with these results; Richardson quoted former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, who called the IRA  “a communist manifesto,” although, with their usual hypocrisy, “Republicans have been eager to take credit for IRA investments in their districts without mentioning either that they voted against the IRA or that they are still trying to repeal it.”

The Environmental Defense Fund recently issued a statement rebutting several of the Republican misrepresentations–okay, lies–about the IRA. The organization noted the difficulty of getting factual information out:

The truth takes about six times as long to reach 1,500 people as false stories do. Six. Times. Longer.

And this is from a study that is a few years old, before the global pandemic and the 2020 U.S. election — events that caused an explosion of lies online by Bad Actors.

A simple google search brings up dozens of reports from highly credible and nonpartisan sources, confirming the truly massive economic and environmental benefits triggered by the IRA, and the fact that those benefits are being felt in parts of the country that have previously been left behind.

Those reports won’t reach the millions of Americans glued to Faux News and its clones, or the other millions who have turned off the news because they no longer know what or who to believe–a situation that explains Biden’s low approval numbers.

My middle son said it best. In a conversation a while back, he said “Biden is the first President I’ve voted for who vastly exceeded my expectations.”

To quote Barack Obama, Biden’s Presidential performance has been a BFD. Too bad so few Americans understand that.

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Petty feuds, Outsized egos, and Monumental Ignorance

About a year ago, my sister urged me to subscribe to Robert Hubbell’s Substack newsletter. I did, and have appreciated his lawyerly approach to the issues we wrestle with on this blog. I’ve also appreciated the clarity of his writing–but the other day, that writing hit a new high!

Hubbell was reacting to reports that Kevin McCarthy is “warming” to the idea of impeaching Joe Biden.

I took the headline of this post from his introductory paragraphs:

Speaker Kevin McCarthy is reportedly warming to the idea of an impeachment inquiry against President Joe Biden. Do not waste time fretting over that possibility. Don’t get me wrong; such an inquiry would be an outrage of grotesque proportions. But it would be a counterproductive clown show that will further damage GOP prospects in 2024. And if recent history is a guide, Democrats will run circles around hapless, outclassed Republicans attempting to manufacture a crime out of swamp gas and wishful thinking.

          Like the Wizard of Oz—who created distractions from behind a curtain to conceal his impotence—House Republicans must distract the public’s attention from their inability to legislate. Republicans hold the majority in the chamber of Congress that must originate all spending bills, but the GOP caucus has been rendered impotent, riven by petty feuds, outsized egos, and monumental ignorance. What better way to distract attention from their shortcomings than to chase wild conspiracies that forever recede into the distance like mirages, conveniently disappearing when Democrats demand evidence to support baseless charges?

Hubbell proceeds to analyze the likely consequences of a (further) GOP descent into irrelevance and lunacy: as he notes, the grounds for impeaching President Biden are unclear (to put it mildly–perhaps just being Hunter Biden’s father?), but that really doesn’t matter to the far Right crazies pursing this approach.

Any excuse will do because the point of the exercise is to create soundbites for Fox News that contain the words “Biden” and “impeachment” in the same sentence. The vote on a resolution to initiate an impeachment hearing will further damage Republicans elected in districts Joe Biden won in 2020.

Hubbell references leaked reports coming out of a GOP caucus meeting, in which  vulnerable Republicans argued strenuously that they should not be forced to vote on a resolution to initiate an impeachment inquiry.

Hubbell argues that–given the performance of the GOP pro-impeachment House members– hearings would be disastrous for them. Among other things, Democrats would certainly call on Rudy Giuliani’s co-conspirator, Lev Parnas, who has already offered to testify that the “allegations about Hunter Biden and Burisma were fabricated with Giuliani’s encouragement.” Parnas has promised to testify that “Never, during any of my communications with Ukrainian officials or connections to Burisma, did any of them confirm or provide concrete facts linking the Bidens to illegal activities.”

The truth is that everyone, from Giuliani [to] Devin Nunes and his colleagues, to the people at FOX News, knew that these allegations against the Bidens were false. There has never been any factual evidence, only conspiracy theories spread by people who knew exactly what they were doing.

And about that laptop….Commentators familiar with the GOP’s extensive efforts to “prove” Hunter Biden’s culpability (and by implication, his father’s) have pointed out that Rudy Giuliani and the repair shop owner would inevitably have to testify under oath about Giuliani’s efforts to get Hunter Biden’s laptop from the Russians years before it turned up in the repair shop. (I have no idea where the Russians fit into this recital, but it certainly sounds interesting…at least, if one cares about the problems of pathetic Hunter Biden, who–after all–is not and never has been a government official.)

More interesting, such testimony “would require forensic experts to say that additional folders were created on Hunter Biden’s laptop after Giuliani obtained it, and months after the FBI got a copy.”

Hubbell quotes Josh Marshall of Talking Points Memo who summarizes GOP insanity:

Impeach Joe Biden? Go for it. See you at the trial. And good luck with that.

I see nothing wrong with a trial based on transparently nonsensical claims. In fact, every time Freedom Caucus weirdos hold the floor and national spotlight it hurts Republican standing. Public opinion polls and election results leave little doubt about this. Air the whole thing. Remove whatever sting it has left.

Hubbell clearly relishes the prospect of allowing the Democrats’ “skilled lawyer-legislators” like Jamie Raskin, Adam Schiff, and others the ability to torch the “incoherent yammerings of vapid culture warriors whose only strategy is to stamp their feet and shout.”

As he says, in a world where Republicans are willing to mimic those old Soviet show trials, Democrats shouldn’t fear impeachment.

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Backlash

June is Pride Month. In my family, we take folding chairs and drinks to the sidewalk to watch the parade, and we cheer the participants as they go by. The parade gets longer every year. Over the years, it has also gotten more and more mainstream, with local businesses, politicians, schools, churches and synagogues joining the clubs, gay bars and civil liberties organizations.

I began attending the parade in 2002, when there were exactly 8 entries, the parade took 15 minutes, and most gay folks were still reluctant to come out of the closet. The speed of social change on issues of sexual orientation has been one of the bright spots in America’s quest for civic equality.

I suppose we should have expected the current, fierce backlash, but–like the backlash  to women’s rights explored in my recent book–it seems so unaware, so awkwardly out of place in a society that has moved on. Polling continues to confirm that these angry Christian “warriors” are a distinct minority, but thanks to the GOP’s success in electing radical right-wingers to state legislatures, anti-gay laws continue to be passed.

This year, activist haters targeted businesses supportive of Pride . (No pun intended.)

As Charles Blow recently wrote in the New York Times,

As the L.G.B.T.Q. community celebrates Pride Month, we are besieged by a malicious, coordinated legislative attack.

There’s been a notable rise in the number of anti-L.G.B.T.Q. bills since 2018, and that number has recently accelerated, with the 2023 state legislative year being the worst on record.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, in 2023 there have been more than 525 such bills introduced in 41 states, with more than 75 bills signed into law as of June 5. In Florida — the state that became known for its “Don’t Say Gay” law — just last month, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation that banned gender transition care for minors and prohibited public school employees from asking children their preferred pronouns.

As Kelley Robinson, the president of the Human Rights Campaign, recently told me, the number of signed bills is likely to move higher: “There’s 12 more that are sitting on governors’ desks, so you could be at nearly 100 new restrictions on the L.G.B.T.Q.+ community by the end of this cycle.”

Blow compares the current legislative onslaught to the burning of a cross on a Black citizen’s lawn: an effort to frighten and cow a minority population. It is, as he says,  “a malicious, coordinated legislative attack.”

The 2023 state legislative year has arguably been the worst on record. According to HRC, this year there have been more than 525 anti-gay bills introduced in 41 states. As of June 5th, more than 75 have been signed into law, and that number is likely to increase.

The focus on trans children has been particularly despicable, since those children are incredibly vulnerable and least likely to be able to defend themselves. The decision to come after them was–quite obviously– strategic, as Blow points out.

It seems pretty obvious that the trans community is an attractive target for culture war bullies because it’s a small subset of the queer community and an even smaller subset of society as a whole.

According to a study last year by the Williams Institute at U.C.L.A., about 1.6 million people 13 or older in the United States, or 0.6 percent, identify as transgender.

Furthermore, in a 2021 survey, nearly 70 percent of Americans said they know a gay or lesbian person. Only about one in five said they know someone who is trans. That number is up but still small. That’s about the same number who said in response to a 2021 YouGov poll that they’ve seen a ghost.

Recognizing the roots of this particular backlash is critical to understand ing where it’s coming from–and where it wants to go– knowledge we need if we are to counter it successfully.

The war against trans children and the gay community generally is part of a hysterical  reaction to social change–a rejection of the improved status of Blacks, women and other previously marginalized communities. Today’s culture warriors are those who are–in William F. Buckley’s often-quoted description of conservatives– standing athwart history and yelling “stop”!

The party that was “conservative” in Buckley’s day has morphed into the party of pure bigotry in ours. A number of Democratic politicians–including the Mayor– participated in yesterday’s parade. Maybe I missed it, but I didn’t see a single Republican.

I did see huge contingents seemingly from every large local employer, and endless floats–from the police and fire departments, local schools and universities, civic organizations and LGBTQ clubs…and a crowd of thousands cheering and waving Rainbow flags. 

The immensity of that celebration doesn’t bode well for what has accurately been called the “slate of hate.”

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