“The test of a first-rate intelligence,” F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” Fitzgerald wrote that in 1936 in an essay called “The Crack-Up.” At the time, the US economy was coming out of the Depression. A Democratic administration was expanding the reach and influence of the federal government, notably into areas of the economy where it did no good, and war was on the horizon. On the bright side, inflation in 1936 was 1.46 percent and GDP was growing at 12.9 percent per year, which is even higher than the capitalists of the CCP have recently claimed for China.
FDR held all those ideas in mind at the same time, touted the good news over the bad and carried first the public, then the Republicans and then much of the world into a better and freer future. President Biden is now touting his own good news but convincing no one. He boasts of the fastest rate of job creation and the lowest unemployment rate in American history. He claims credit for the rise of the Dow Jones index, the rollout of the vaccine and the revival of the economy. So why can’t Biden carry his own party in the Senate, let alone public opinion?
In his first year, Biden’s poll numbers have collapsed more spectacularly than any president’s since Jimmy Carter — and then some. The US economy grew by 5.7 percent in 2021 — the best gains, on paper, since 1984. Yet in January 2022, a Pew Research survey found that 78 percent of American were “dissatisfied with the way things are going in the country today.” The percentage of Democrats who liked how things were going fell from 47 percent to 29 percent over the course of Biden’s first year in office. A bipartisan majority, 62 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans, feels “fearful” when they consider the state of the country. Is the problem the president and his party, or is it, as the Democrats seem to believe, time to elect a different public?
Normality, the magic that this president was supposed to bring, has not been restored. There is nothing normal, let alone acceptable, about an administration that is both deaf to the voters’ needs and unable to contrive an alternative fix. This administration is exquisitely sensitive on cosmic issues like the future of the planet — so sensitive that it has chosen to undo the US’s energy independence without creating a serious alternative — yet it is resolutely tin-eared about the everyday basics such as the prices of gasoline and beef or the notion, radical in some quarters, that education should be conducted in person. No wonder the public doesn’t share in the president’s joy.
In the last weeks of 2021, when the administration was queried about supply-chain problems, price rises and the signs of a coming rise in the rate of inflation, the first official response was that the supplies in question were luxury goods, there was no inflation and the Peloton classes should shut up. In late January, by which time the Federal Reserve had all but confirmed that it would raise interest rates in March, President Biden responded to a question about inflation from Fox News’s Peter Doocy by ruminating over an open mic that Doocy was a “stupid son of a bitch” for asking.
We would be lying, dog-faced pony soldiers if we did not allow that President Biden is a blunt speaker, and that President Trump frequently coarsened the tone. But Trump seems to have been aware of his effusions of hot and sour air; they often seemed like strategic releases, rather than the accidental discharges of venomous vapors from an addled inner monologue. We admit that putting a man with the expression of a cow that has just received a bolt from a stun gun onto the podium is a bold, if risky, strategy for restoring a sense of spontaneity to the sleepy, staged simulacrum of democratic debate that is the White House press conference. And we cherish the moments of mumbling malapropism and downright comedy that ensue. But, like the hospital patient asked how he feels after the operation, it only hurts when we laugh. The president of the United States is failing to fill the office, and it is painful to see.
It may well be, as Scott Fitzgerald said, hard to hold two opposing ideas in the head at the same time. President Biden frequently struggles to hold one idea in his head at any time. The last glimmers of thought that emerges from his mental fog are not compassion or care, but snarling peevishness. Perhaps this explains why his own public has given up on him: fewer than half of Democrats now approve of their man’s performance. The midterms are not a foregone conclusion, even if Biden’s irresponsible attempt to discredit their reliability in advance had the air of a doomed man adopting the brace position. Either the administration faces reality and addresses real concerns — or it faces a wipeout in November.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s March 2022 World edition.
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