Thinking About Things: Mr. Magoo as President and the Collapse of the President’s Poll Numbers

Thinking About Things: Mr. Magoo as President and the Collapse of the President’s Poll Numbers 

October 12, 2021

John DeQ. Briggs       

I have been thinking about the performance of our President in the wake of my article of a month ago about the debacle involving Afghanistan. Since then, the Biden Administration has been through one embarrassment after another, demonstrating a startling incompetence at managing the basics of government.  Virtually everything that the President has touched has turned to chaos; his policies have had obvious unintended adverse consequences, both economic and political.  

As I sat down to begin writing about this yesterday, the image of Mr. Magoo as President popped into my head and made itself home there, immovable.  Not only does Mr. Biden bear an uncanny likeness to the nearsighted Mr. Magoo, but both leave mayhem in their wake, and both are completely oblivious to the consequences of their actions.  The main difference is that Mr. Magoo seems always to come across as a likable nearsighted old soul who means well.  

But contrary to his appearance during the campaign of 2020, Mr. Biden now comes across as an unlovable, mean and mean-spirited person. He has transmogrified completely away from his “Lunch pail Joe” and ‘Uncle Joe” good ole plain folks persona. He has revealed himself as part of “the elite” who will tell us all not just how to live and what to do, but how to think. He also is no longer believed. Worse, he is thought to be dishonest.  And as we shall see shortly, all of this comes through with a crystalline clarity in polls released late last week, especially the Quinnipiac poll.  Here are the main specific events of recent weeks.  

 Inflation is increasing at a rate unseen in many years, having been below 1.5% for years, it has shot up since March of this year to its current monthly level of 5.4% with no end in sight, while wage growth lags behind. See inflation statistics here.   It took the minority leader of the Senate and ten Republican senators to increase the debt ceiling because the majority leader and the President simply did not have 50 Democratic votes in the senate and could not therefore lift the debt ceiling.  Astoundingly, the majority leader of the Senate – immediately after the Democrats’ problem was solved by the Republican minority leader – took the floor to condemn  Sen. McConnell.  Mr. O’Connell was also roundly criticized by the most conservative elements of his party for what will doubtless be seen in hindsight as an act of political courage and indeed statesmanship.  

I must digress for a moment. Columnists like Paul Krugman (Wonking Out: Coins and Money) and not very smart politicians like Mr Schumer all engage in faux hysteria when the debt ceiling becomes political, although in each case the outrage is reserved for Republicans. High position Democrats have been very public in their opposition to lifting the debt ceiling when it has suited their politics.  One such Democrat who cast a vote against raising the debt ceiling was current Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (during the Bush Administration, see Daily Beast Schumer Trying to Gaslight GOP on Debt).  Now, with the shoe on the other foot, he says “As default gets closer and closer to becoming a reality, our Republican colleagues will be forced to ask themselves how long they are going to keep playing political games while the economic stability of our country is at risk.” As the New York Post put it in its own inimitable style: “Square that Circle, Boychick.”  One might have thought that Mr. Schumer should have kissed Mr. McConnell for bailing Schumer out of his dilemma rather than condemning him given that Schumer was simply unable to muster even 50 democrats in favor of raising the debt ceiling.

And what of the President? Here’s what Senator Joe Biden said in 2006: “Because this massive accumulation of debt was predicted, because it was foreseeable, because it was unnecessary, because it was the result of willful and reckless disregard for the warnings that were given . . . I am voting against the debt-limit increase.”

Then there was Senator Obama in 2006: “The fact that we are here today to debate raising America’s debt limit is a sign of leadership failure. … I therefore intend to oppose the effort to increase America’s debt limit.” But at least Mr. Obama admitted his prior lack of leadership and rued what he had done. “That was just an example of a new senator making what is a political vote as opposed to doing what was important for the country,” Obama said. “And I’m the first one to acknowledge it.” 

End of digression. 

The number of illegal immigrants pouring across the southern border monthly is now exceeding 200,000, a 21 year high.  On an annualized basis, illegal border crossings now exceed the populations of Boston and Washington put together. See Pew Immigration StatsUnemployment has snuck below 5% but the numbers are still bleak in part because so many employers cannot find people willing to work, mainly because the available Federal benefits provide an incentive not to work, especially in food service.  Containers are backed up at US ports for want of enough truck drivers to take them away, hence looming shortages (again) of toilet paper and other manufactured goods are on the horizon.  

Food is also becoming in short supply. The largest increase in the Consumer Price Index this year was for meats, poultry, fish, and eggs.  They increased 8.0 percent year over year, and the index for beef rose 12.2 percent over last year.  My observation is that at local markets shelves for all goods are sporadically empty, and for the same cut of beef prices have doubled in a few months.  That is consistent with the BLS data, because all indexes have problems when consumers substitute lower quality to save money.  

Energy barely exists except to pander to greens.  We are witnessing a rapid unravelling of the energy revolution that made the United States the world’s strongest producer of energy, and it is very clear that is exactly what this Administration wants.  Its green supporters have always wanted to restrict the production of oil, gas and coal in order to drive prices up enough to make their favored “green” technologies profitable.  Their program of halting pipeline construction that would have delivered cheap natural gas; threats of regulation that are chilling investment in oil and gas production; cutting back or eliminating leasing of federal lands for oil and gas development; and promising to eliminate these fuels within 25 years has its predictable effects.  

Putting aside the unreality of the world abandoning carbon fuels within decades, and then only in part, it is no wonder the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that energy prices are up 25% this year over last. Probably less obvious but more importantly, we are turning over marketplace power in petroleum to Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Venezuela, and other countries on whom our dependence would be geopolitically unhelpful and unhealthy, to be understated about it.   What could possibly go wrong?

In the areas I have been frequenting, nearly every restaurant or retail outlet has a sign in the window apologizing for the lack of available help.  This is a complex situation amplified by huge stimulus payments, but also heavily influenced by a combination of baby boomer retirements and the unusually low birth rate in this country. Help wanted crisis.  Whatever the causes, the administration has demonstrated its obvious inability to manage the situation or even comprehend the consequences of its actions. 

Then there was the decision to continue by executive directive from the CDC the program relieving tenants from honoring their rental contracts.  The Supreme Court had already ruled that this was unconstitutional but kept the moratorium in place for two extra months to allow the administration time to come up with a lawful legislative solution.  But the Democrats on Capitol Hill could not come up with any legislative solution, and so the President, with knowledge of the illegality of the action he authorized, claimed to have “discovered” a constitutional loophole that would permit the CDC to declare rental contracts unenforceable by landlords. At the first challenge, however, the action was found to be illegal and unconstitutional, as those who kept watch on the situation, including inside the administration, knew would happen.

The Administration did little better in its handling of  the Covid situation, sending all manner of mixed messages.  On the one hand, the administration wanted to get everybody vaccinated, by and large a commendable goal.  On the other hand, in order to protect the vaccinated from the unvaccinated, we have seen a return to universal masking requirements, including in schools for children.  All of these directives and policies seem at odds with each other.  If the vaccinated are protected, why should they wear masks since they are neither at risk nor a risk to others?  If the unvaccinated are unprotected, then it would be rational that they should be required in some sensible way to avoid infecting other non-vaccinated people? For a seriously fascinating critique of the situation, see Matt Taibbi’s  Cult of the Vaccine Neurotic

In the middle of this unprecedented display of presidential management incompetence, the Administration prompted the Attorney General to issue a directive to the FBI that federal law enforcement should be deployed to investigate and prosecute the parents of school children who are supposedly “threatening” school boards over the curricula, characterizing these parents as “domestic terrorists.”  So, on the right, we had Trumpists decrying the press as “enemies of the people” and Bidenistas calling out our neighbors with children as domestic terrorists, doubtless to keep them from PTA meetings and school board meetings lest they disrupt the agenda of the teachers’ unions. 

Now, with a surprising suddenness, all of these chickens seem to have come home to roost as evidenced by a series of polls released late last week.  Virtually all of them show an astonishing collapse of confidence in the President across a broad front.  The President’s job approval rating bottoms out at 38% approval and 53% disapproval in the Trafalgar and Quinnipiac polls.  The “Direction of Country” poll is at wrong track 59%/right track 29% in the Economist and Wrong track 63”/right track 37% in the Politico pole. See Real Clear Politics polls of October11.    

The quite granular Quinnipiac poll (see link above) provides a serviceable insight into the Administration’s crisis of the moment.  While 55% of the respondent’s disapprove of the performance of the President, 45% “strongly disapprove” and only 21% strongly approve.  58% of those polled disapprove of the President’s handling of foreign policy.  He gets similar disapproval numbers in his handling of his job as Commander-in-Chief of the US military.  This seems to be a direct rebuke of both Biden’s decision to leave Afghanistan, and the incompetence of the execution of that decision. 

Commentary magazine ran a podcast late last week entitled Is he a Fool or an Idiot.  The point was made by two of the discussants that even in real time, not to mention hindsight, there never was a meaningful constituency to depart Afghanistan under any circumstances.  The Quinnipiac poll gives some heft this proposition, reflecting that only 30% of registered voters thought the US should have withdrawn all troops from Afghanistan.  Stated the other way, 70% of all registered voters disapproved of the withdrawal of all troops.  It is possible, of course, that the bungled method of withdrawal led to these poll numbers, and that if all troops had been successfully withdrawn without incident, and if the Taliban had not taken over the country even before the US departure, and if the president had not come to depend on the Taliban as his new best friends, the polling might have been different.  But that is another way of saying that if pigs had wings, they could fly.

On the question of whether the Biden Administration has been competent in running the government, 54% of registered voters say no; 44% say yes.  Strangely, on the question of whether Biden is honest, 48% of registered voters say no and only 46% say yes.  On whether Biden has good leadership skills, 55% say no, 43% say yes. On the administration’s handling of immigration, 67% disapprove while only 26% approve.  Only 24% approve of the way Joe Biden’s handling the situation at the Mexican border.  Even on taxes, where it is almost universally believed that everybody thinks that they should pay no more taxes, but that everybody wealthier should, 39% of registered voters disapprove of the administration’s policies on taxation and 54% disapprove.  Mr. Biden’s handling of the response to the Coronavirus is the only area where his approval rating (49%) is better than his disapproval rating (48%).  On the other hand, this is down from a 66% approval last Spring so his approval in this area is falling badly, but not quite as quickly as elsewhere.

Even diehard Democrats such as Charles Blow of the New York Times have this to say:

Battered on trust, doubted on leadership, and challenged on overall competency, President Biden is being hammered on all sides as his approval rating continues its downward slide to a number not seen since the tough scrutiny of the Trump administration.

But the Democratic solution to the multifaceted problems — competence, policy misdirection, and general inability to perceive even dimly the consequences of their actions — boils down to spending trillions of dollars, on what it seems not to matter.   Again, Charles Blow presents a representative view:

Maybe the Democrats will pass a massive spending bill and tout it well, and people will forget their disappointment on other issues and revel in the mound of cash the Democrats plan to spend. Maybe. There is no doubt that this country desperately needs the investments Democrats want to make. In fact, it needs even more investment than the amount Democrats have proposed.

We are seeing in real time a potentially perfect storm of: higher food and energy prices;  job losses imposed by ill-thought through COVID lockdowns;  an out of control immigration crisis; an emerging tax regime that will stifle economic growth; a petroleum policy that takes us back to the 1970’s; a resultant power shortage; and the promised giveaways (whatever they are – they are unknown) in the $4.5 Trillion + package that the administration seeks by hook or by crook.  All of this suggests more than just political distraction but rather fundamental institutional change, which is what is in fact intended.

It was not too long into the Trump administration that the New York Times ran an op-ed piece by an anonymous self-described “senior Administration official” entitled I am part of the resistance within the Trump Administration.  One wonders whether there is anybody at any level in this Administration who thinks of herself or himself as being part of a well-intended force of resistance against the incoherent and incompetent madness of the Biden Administration.  One hopes such a person will emerge, even while one doubts that the New York Times would publish any such article even if it were written.  While Substack certainly would publish it, I am not holding my breath.  

All of the circumstances suggest, and quite strongly, that the Democrats are poised to lose massively in the midterm elections next year.  With one of the slimmest majorities in history, they are unusually aggressive in their determination to defend and advance a political agenda that is disapproved by a significant majority of the electorate and across gender, color, race, religion, and even to a degree age.  On the other hand, the Republicans have demonstrated an uncanny ability to grab defeat from the jaws of victory and they already seem angling to do just that again.  Mr. Trump attacked Mr. McConnell and the 10 Senate leaders who acted responsibly to lift the debt ceiling in circumstances where absent such action the consequences could have been catastrophic.  Trump loyalists in the Senate, such as Senators Cruz and Graham, piled on Mr. McConnell in the wake of Mr. Trump’s criticism.  

The idea of Trump back on Twitter, Facebook, and on the ticket in 2024 could well scare Independents and Democrats who have little or no confidence in Mr. Biden or anyone connected with his Administration but who do not want to relive the daily drama of yet another Trump Administration.  So, just as the consequences of Mr. Biden’s incompetence have come home to roost (at least for the moment), so it should not be presumed that the national memory of the chaos of the Trump Administration will not also come home to roost in 2024.

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