How many speeches would you guess that President Joe Biden has made—since Nov. 1, say—on the landmark infrastructure bill that just got passed in Congress? How many have you heard or caught snippets of or had someone mention to you?
If your answer to the former is nowhere near the correct number (six), and your answer to the latter is somewhere closer to zero, you are not alone. Biden isn’t a major attraction, and that may be having serious consequences for his presidency. It’s a curious but persistent feature of political polling right now that while the contents of the Build Back Better plan and the just-passed infrastructure bill are quite popular, Biden—the president whose platform they advance—is not. This is an inversion of Biden’s position throughout much of the election, wherein the charms of his agenda, such as they were, seemed secondary to the personal appeal he held for voters exhausted by Trump’s bottomless need for attention. Some of the qualities that may have helped Biden win the presidency—his un-outrageousness, his contempt for drama, and his mild, reasonable, if slightly garbled affect—are injuring his ability to communicate with his constituents. (I’m exaggerating his public persona slightly here, to be clear: Biden has a well-documented temper, though it hasn’t been much in evidence during his presidency.) The president’s agenda, despite being whittled down by polarization and a wire-thin majority in Congress, may make some truly important strides. Whether he or Democrats will reap any rewards remains a question, because Biden’s messaging about their achievements isn’t getting out.
It’s not because he isn’t speaking; Biden is communicating constantly. In many of his speeches on the infrastructure bill he makes a good and persuasive case—at least on paper—for why it’s important. But he’s not making that case on paper. He’s doing it on television, and people aren’t tuning in. [Continue reading…]