Opinion | Why So Many Americans Are So Down on Biden
September 5, 2023
By Bret Stephens
Unemployment is near historic lows, and inflation has come way down. We are inflicting a strategic humiliation on Russia by arming Ukraine without putting American forces at risk. The homicide rate fell by about 10 percent across 30 cities compared with last year. Democrats defied electoral trends by holding the Senate, scoring major legislative victories and easily confirming a Supreme Court nominee.
Why, then, do only 20 percent of voters rate the economy as “excellent” or “good,” versus 49 percent who call it “poor,” according to a New York Times/Siena poll? Why are Americans overwhelmingly pessimistic about the country’s future, according to the Pew Research Center? Why does Gallup find a significantly smaller percentage of Americans have confidence in the presidency today than they did in the last, disastrous year of Donald Trump’s tenure? And why is President Biden polling dead even with his predecessor in multiple surveys despite the former president’s 91 felony charges?
In short, with everything so great, why are people so down? That’s a question that, as The Times’s Reid Epstein wrote last week, stumps the White House and its political allies, who seem to think the problem is a failure to communicate all the good news.
But there’s another explanation: The news isn’t all that good. Americans are unsettled by things that are not always visible in headlines or statistics but are easy enough to see.
Easy to see is the average price of a dozen eggs: up 38 percent between January 2022 and May of this year. And white bread: up 25 percent. And a whole chicken: up 18 percent. As for the retail price of gasoline, it’s up 63 percent since January 2021, the month Biden became president.
Yet none of these increases make it into what economists call the core rate of inflation, which excludes food and energy. The inflation ordinary people experience in everyday life is not the one the government prefers to highlight.
Easy to see is the frequent collapse of public order on American streets. In April hundreds of teenagers wreaked havoc in the Chicago Loop. Two boys were shot. A young couple was beaten by the doorway of a building on North Wabash. Yet only 16 people were arrested. Similar scenes unfolded last month in New York’s Union Square and again in Boston, where police officers were assaulted in two separate riots largely by juveniles.
In New York, there were at least 66 arrests. In Boston, just 13.
Easy to see is that the kids are not alright. The causes are many; social media companies have a lot to answer for. But so do teachers’ unions, handmaids of the Democratic Party, who pushed to keep school doors closed during the pandemic, helping themselves while doing lasting harm to children. The Biden administration spent much of its early months saying it wanted more than half of schools open at least one day per week by the 100th day of his presidency.
“It is a goal so modest and lacking in ambition as to be almost meaningless,” Politico’s Playbook newsletter noted at the time.
Easy to see is that the border crisis has become a national one. In May the administration boasted that new policies had contributed to a sharp decline in the “number of encounters” between border patrols and migrants crossing the southwestern border illegally. By August, arrests of migrants who crossed the border with family members had hit a monthly record of 91,000. In New York City alone, more than 57,000 migrants seek food and shelter from the city’s social services on an average night.
Nobody can say for certain how many migrants who crossed the border during Biden’s presidency remain in the U.S., but it’s almost certainly in the millions. In 2021 the president dismissed the initial surge of migrants as merely seasonal. “Happens every year,” he said.
Easy to see is that the world has gotten more dangerous under Biden’s watch. The president deserves credit for arming Ukraine, as he does for brokering a strategic rapprochement between Japan and South Korea. But he also deserves the blame for a humiliating Afghanistan withdrawal that almost surely played a part in enticing Vladimir Putin into launching his invasion of Ukraine and whetted Beijing’s appetite for Taiwan.
How large a part is unquantifiable. Yet it was predictable — and predicted.
Easy to see is that the president is not young for his age. The stiff gait and the occasional falls. The apparent dozing off. The times he draws a blank or struggles to complete a thought. Yet the same people yelling #ResignFeinstein or #ResignMcConnell don’t appear to be especially vocal when it comes to the president’s fitness, as if noting the obvious risks repeating a Republican talking point.
But people notice, and they vote.
Easy to see are tents under overpasses, from the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway in New York to the I-5 in Seattle. And the zombified addicts passed out on sidewalks in practically every city and town. And the pharmacies with everyday items under lock and key to prevent shoplifting. And women with infants strapped to their backs, hawking candy or gum at busy intersections. And news reports of brazen car thefts, which have skyrocketed this year.
“There is a great deal of ruin in a nation,” Adam Smith said. Not all the ruin mentioned above is Biden’s fault, and none of it is irreversible. But there’s much more ruin than his apologists — blinkered by selective statistics and too confident about the president’s chances next year — care to admit.
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Bret Stephens has been an Opinion columnist with The Times since April 2017. He won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary at The Wall Street Journal in 2013 and was previously editor in chief of The Jerusalem Post. Facebook