This has been a good week for Pres. Joe Biden. There are indications that he may have concluded that he’s done enough to placate the hard-left in his party and now he’s going to move back to the center.
This week Biden dusted off a fight against cancer that he started as Vice President, made it a point to meet with New York Mayor Eric Adams on an anti-crime agenda and used U.S. military power to knock off an IS leader. Nice work, Joe.
One thing any president gets to do is steer the conversation. It has been painfully obvious for months that as long as Biden talked about Build Back Better or voting rights all he was doing was emphasizing the fissures in his own party and highlighting his own impotence.
Moreover, the priorities of hard-left activists are not the priorities of the bulk of American voters. If asked, people will say they want the specific good stuff in BBB, but when asked an open-ended question about what’s important to them right now, none of that stuff makes the cut nor does voting rights. Will people take free child care if it’s offered? Sure, but what they really worry about right now is inflation, crime, security — more immediate daily concerns.
While cancer may not be listed as one of those immediate concerns, it’s always in the background. Everyone’s life has been touched directly or indirectly by the disease. There is nothing but political upsides for announcing a stepped up fight against it. This is very much out of Bill Clinton’s playbook after he got his back end handed to him in the 1994 mid-terms. He gave up trying to remake the American health care system and started talking about stuff like parental controls on television sets.
Killing the IS leader was important, not just for taking out the bad guy, but to make up for some of the damage Biden did by withdrawing from Afghanistan. That was always going to be a humanitarian disaster (and has proven to be just that), but it was also a huge strategic mistake. It no doubt emboldened Vladimir Putin in his aggressive moves toward the Ukraine and Xi Jinping in his moves to shut down democracy in Hong Kong and to threaten Taiwan.
And the pivot to a focus on crime is long overdue. We’ve been singing the praises of Adams since his election last fall. He’s showing Democrats the way on this issue: show voters it’s a priority for you and that you’re willing to get tough first and then incorporate some of the long-term police and criminal justice reform agenda later.
Elements of Build Back Better may yet return. It’s simply a question of what Sen. Joe Manchin will support. While the Democrats’ two big voting bills are dead, a more important bipartisan effort to clarify the merely administrative role of Congress in counting electoral votes is very much alive. And, of course, there’s the Supreme Court nominee out there. Biden should go for the least controversial choice possible.
But what’s important is that those things have faded to the background for awhile. Americans aren’t looking for “a political revolution” or “big systemic change.” They want incremental progress and stability and they want their leaders to focus on issues that are important to them. If Biden continues to be seen as a president who wants to beat cancer and get tough on both domestic crime and international terrorists, well, that just may be a winning formula for November.
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