Talking Points

It's more than messaging, stupid

President Biden's subordinates and well-wishers are increasingly convinced things are turning around, with veteran Clintonite John Podesta calling last week the White House's "best week since the spring." A number of Democrats previously told The Washington Post they thought Biden's numbers, and perhaps the country's problems, had hit rock bottom.

The difference? Better salesmanship! "I don't think Democrats brag enough," Montgomery, Alabama, Mayor Steven Reed told the newspaper. Now Biden is going on a victory tour touting his recently enacted infrastructure program and teasing the Democrats' social welfare package. "There hasn't been great communication about what these bills mean for people," added Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D) of New Jersey, a state where Democrats were stunned in this year's election.

Democrats have been sure messaging is their main problem ever since they started losing elections to a retired movie actor in the 1980s. "We have to pass the bill so you can find out what is in it" isn't just a clumsy quote from House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — it's part of a larger liberal mentality that if the people only understood Democratic policies, they would support them.

But much of what has brought Biden to his recent lows isn't messaging. Inflation, a migrant surge at the border, the sloppy exit from Afghanistan — whatever the merits of Biden's spending, immigration, and foreign policies, Americans see these real, observable phenomena and are concerned Biden doesn't know what he's doing. He was warned in every case, and his predictions about how all of these things would play out have so far been wrong. The very Post story in which so many Democrats complained about insufficient administration braggadocio is itself premised on the idea that Biden underestimated the country's problems.

Even many challenges that aren't strictly speaking Biden's fault — the COVID variants, the global supply chain bottlenecks, and some of what is going on in international energy markets — are tangible problems people experience far apart from whatever the well-credentialed experts or honey-tongued spinners at the White House tell them. These matters aren't mere abstractions that would be understood differently if only Democrats had better slogans.

Of course, Biden isn't at his peak as a public salesman. But that was also true when his job approval ratings were higher than they are now. They've fallen not because of Biden's persona or rhetoric but because people don't like the direction we're headed — and because Biden's answer has been to keep on going.