Why Are Dems Feeling So Miserable?

Joel BellmanBy Joel Bellman

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Why Are Dems Feeling So Miserable?
Last May I wrote in this space that President Biden will be our nominee next year (barring, of course, any intervening calamity); that a third party wouldn’t and shouldn’t be a factor; that it’s the Republicans, not us, who should worry about their presidential prospects; and that it was folly for Dems to chase a new shiny object since an internal challenge to an incumbent has never succeeded before, and won’t succeed this time. And in the “History Repeats” department, I wrote, back in August 2020 that, “As the November election draws closer, progressives unhappy with Joe Biden and conservatives disappointed in Donald Trump may feel tempted to cast about for alternatives.” So how are those pronouncements looking this week? Well, Biden’s polling is still disappointing. I tend to trust FiveThirtyEight’s aggregate poll results, so what do they indicate? Biden’s approval rating is still under water, 41.4%/53.6%, a spread of 12.2%, pretty much where he’s been stuck all year, but at least it’s better than a year ago before inflation began to abate. And by the way, at this point in his presidency Donald Trump’s net approval rating was worse. For Dems, this ought to be maddening because by every measure, the economy is now in far better shape than where Trump left it. The graphic of economist Arthur Okun’s Misery Index, the sum of inflation and unemployment rates, tells the story. It’s lower than it’s ever been since Biden took office, down 44.47% from last year, nearly pre-pandemic levels. Yet the media, intentionally or not, keep reinforcing the false Republican narrative that the economy is terrible, Biden is incompetent, things have never been worse, that the “average American” has never had it so hard. I say it “ought to be maddening” because the good economic news should be motivating all good Dems to get out there and brag about our president’s accomplishments. Instead, we’re mired in the Slough of Despond because our incumbent is three years older than the likely Republican nominee. As for fitness: At his last physical in February, the 6’ Biden had dropped six pounds over the previous year and weighs in at a lean 178 lbs., with a BMI of 24.1 (better than me, and I hit the gym 3-4 times a week). And The Former Guy? At 6’2”, he tips the scales at 244 lbs. with a BMI of 30.8, which is clinically obese. And of course, like everything else, he lies about both his height and weight. Factor in the candidates’ respective diet and exercise regimens, and that ought to put the whole comparative health-and-vigor thing to rest for good.
The Lure of Third Parties
In that August 2020 column, I also warned against the lure of the third parties’ siren songs, noting that they’ve never successfully elected a president, and only succeeded in harming the candidate closest to them by uselessly siphoning off votes. In May, I scoffed at any third-party prospects this year, dismissing Andrew Yang’s Forward Party as an irrelevant non-starter. But in the meantime, the entity “No Labels” has resurfaced as a potential threat.

The group has been around since 2009, and its founding chairman is former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman. He bolted the Democratic party in 2006, only six years after running on Al Gore’s presidential ticket, to run for Senate re-election as an independent when it became clear he would lose his Democratic primary. He barely won his three-way race that fall, but as his 2012 re-election approached, he was so unpopular with state voters by 2011 (31% approval rating, and only 24% wanted him to run again) that he retired instead.

Only months after leaving the Senate, Lieberman joined the white-collar criminal defense law firm of long-time Trump attorney Marc Kasowitz, who during the Russian election interference investigation, once famously threatened one of his critics in an email, “Watch your back, bitch,” among other expletives. Lieberman was later one of Trump’s top candidates to replace fired FBI director James Comey, and helped Trump’s Secretary of Education nominee Betsy DeVos win confirmation. He’s also done lobbying for Indian gaming and a partially state-owned Chinese tech company. As if those associations weren’t enough to send you screaming out of the room, No Labels is toying with the idea of running Joe Manchin as its presidential candidate.
No Labels says coyly that, “it depends,” whether they’ll actually field a presidential ticket, but polling suggests any third-party effort to the left of the Far Right is bound to hurt Biden by eating into his potential support. It’s no coincidence that many previous big-ticket Republican donors, like Justice Clarence Thomas’ pal Harlan Crow, are helping to underwrite No Labels’ ballot qualification effort, which has landed them on 10 state ballots so far. The group calls itself a “movement,” not a political party, and it’s registered with the IRS as a social-welfare organization. But for purposes of ballot qualification, they’re legally a party, which suggests a lack of candor at best, and at worst, outright duplicity.

Then we have Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., the pro-Putin anti-vaxxer who claims that Russia is “acting in good faith” in Ukraine and blames American “provocations” for pushing Ukraine into the war. A July article in Forbes ticked off a farrago of Kennedy’s conspiracy-mongering, among them that the CIA helped assassinate his uncle, JFK, in 1963; that COVID was bioengineered as a weapon to target Blacks and Caucasians, and that Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese people enjoy enhanced immunity; that Ukrainian biowarfare labs are collecting Russian and Chinese DNA to help us target victims by race; that the Republicans stole the 2004 presidential election through fraud in Ohio; that maybe somebody other than Sirhan Sirhan assassinated his father at the Ambassador Hotel; and on and on. His campaign manager is the quixotic former congressman and two-time presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich. But despite drawing campaign donations from some tech-bro contrarian dilettantes like Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, Elon Musk, and a clutch of others, his polling support has tumbled from 20% to 13% and will likely drop further before he bows out.
Finally, we come to The Former Guy, who since my last report has been indicted in three more states, and now faces:
Criminal charges in New York for filing false financial disclosures to conceal hush-money payoffs to porn star Stormy Daniels
Criminal charges in Florida for hoarding and mishandling classified documents and obstructing justice;
Criminal charges in Washington D.C. for conspiracies to defraud the United States, to obstruct federal government and congressional proceedings to collect, count and certify the election results, and to deprive voters of their rights;
Criminal charges in Georgia for a wide-ranging racketeering-type conspiracy to tamper with the vote and overturn the lawful victory for Joe Biden.

Meanwhile, the Michigan attorney general has filed felony conspiracy charges against members of the fake slate of Trump electors, in a state that Joe Biden won, and the New York attorney general has sued Trump’s company alleging that it defrauded lenders and insurers by deliberately overvaluing its assets. And further civil actions related to the E. Jean Carroll rape case—which she has already won—continue.

The Republican electorate seems hell-bent on re-nominating this twice-impeached adjudicated rapist—“as many people commonly understand the word ‘rape,’” in the words of the trial judge, U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan—who is currently under dozens of criminal indictments, who still denies the 2020 election results, and who, according to some tough legal analysis by constitutional experts, may even be ineligible for any future public office under the Fourteenth Amendment’s Section Three “insurrection or rebellion” clause.

Yet the best Democrats can manage is an anemic 41.4% approval rating for Biden and carping about the “political baggage” of the first woman of color to serve as vice president.
What’s wrong with this picture? Nothing American voters can’t fix—if we want to.
Joel Bellman

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September 1, 2023