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Column: Forget the royals and Dr. Seuss. It was a good news week

President Biden signs a bill in the Oval Office.
President Biden signs the $1.9-trillion COVID relief bill Thursday.
(Andrew Harnik / Associated Press)

“I hate to lose more than I love to win,” Jimmy Connors, the tennis champion, once said.

With this gem of self-knowledge, Connors identified his own “loss aversion” — a cognitive phenomenon first named in 1979 by Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky in an academic paper on decision-making in the presence of risk.

Loss aversion is closely related to the so-called negativity bias, which makes us sponges for bad news and DEET for good. Loss aversion and negativity bias cause us to overreact when we lose $100 and underreact when we luck into the same hundo. It’s what makes painful memories indelible while joyful ones slip away. It’s what makes us brood on every sharp word from our loved ones and forget every word of praise.

Maybe these biases explain why many political observers spent the last week muttering about Dr. Seuss and the British royal family. It’s not worth rehashing these parlor-game “controversies.” Suffice it to say that the week, for some, was not complete until you plunged yourself into rage about “Scrambled Eggs Super!” and the queen of England.

Whichever side you took in these Trending Topics, you had to be hopping mad about it. Humans are such freaks. Could it be that all that blind fury was a perverse attempt to ignore the great news all around us?

“There’s a lot going on right now, and a lot of it is good, and I don’t even know how to deal with that,” Rachel Maddow admitted on MSNBC the other day.

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“I don’t even know how to process that anymore. I don’t have the right neurons.”

(Here’s my own case study in loss aversion. My heart raced when I couldn’t find that Maddow quote — I know I saw it somewhere but where where where — but when I found it, I barely noticed and moved on.)

So let’s try to rev up the right neurons and face the good news, however uncomfortable that might be.

First off, the astounding COVID-19 vaccines are coursing through the population. Nearly 20% of Americans have had at least one dose. The country is also well on its way to producing enough supply in the next 10 weeks for every adult to be vaccinated.

“If we have a surplus, we’ll share it with the rest of the world,” President Biden added this week.

Second, Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act into law Thursday, a day earlier than planned. Not only does the gargantuan package put $1,400 into most Americans’ wallets as early as next week; it’s also the biggest anti-poverty bill in a generation. It aims to cut child poverty in half and make healthcare cheap, even free, for those who can least afford it.

Even some Biden skeptics are praising the president for bringing government largesse to the poor, the working class, education and children. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the iconic democratic socialist of Vermont, raved about it: “The most significant legislation for working people that has been passed in decades.”

“If history is written by the winners, then the most marginalized should be writing this page in history,” the arch-progressive Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) said Wednesday.

Maybe Biden is not the stickler for status quo some worried he’d be. “We all grow,” said House whip James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.). “During the campaign, he recognized … if you are going to address COVID-19’s impact, you have to address the economic disparities that exist in this country.”

Even some Republicans in Congress, who voted unanimously against the American Rescue Plan bill, wanted to get a piece of the springtime glee. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) nailed it on Tuesday: “Our Republican colleagues who — they say no to the vote, and they show up at the ribbon-cuttings or the presentations.”

Indeed. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) sang the new law’s praises on Twitter hours after the final House vote on it. He lauded the aid for restaurants — survival funds for small businesses — as if he’d had something to do with it. He didn’t. Just four days earlier, he had voted against the bill.

The best news of all may be what a Politico/Morning Consult poll turned up this week: Fully 75% of registered voters either strongly or somewhat support Biden’s relief package. When was the last time three-quarters of us agreed on anything?

What do you know — there’s bipartisan support for money.

For a nation in anguish — beaten down by disease, death, inequality and the coup attempt of Jan. 6 —the vaccines, Biden’s turn to progressivism and the far-reaching American Rescue Plan should bring happiness beyond all hope. This time it’s not a victory for left over right, royals over plebes, green eggs over ham. It’s a victory for the safety net and public health over poverty and affliction.

As hard-wired as we seem to be for bad news, we have to adjust our eyes. We might even have to adjust our neurons. Something good is happening, and we can learn to love to win again. As Rep. Clyburn says, “We all grow.”

@page88


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