Op-Ed: One year into his presidency, Biden’s accomplishments have been short-changed
For four years, the phrase “infrastructure week” was a punchline. A metaphor for the abysmal failure that was supposed to be Donald Trump’s signature legislative achievement.
It took Joe Biden less than a year to make good on a transformational piece of legislation that will reshape America’s cities, towns and communities. If Biden achieved little else for the rest of his term, the enactment of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act would be enough to cement his record for tangibly improving the lives of Americans.
And yet, I can’t help but think that Biden has been short-changed in how his first year has been framed by the mainstream media, which has largely been guided by the playbook of politics-as-usual.
President Biden’s legislative failures have clouded his presidency. Ahead of the midterms, he’s looking to reframe his accomplishments and temper high expectations.
In the 2016 campaign, the media gave Trump the equivalent of $2 billion in free media coverage. During his presidency, the White House press briefings, when they happened, were aired live on every cable news network, despite the fact that they were littered with outright lies and deceptions. The very few times that Trump managed to restrain himself, he was rewarded with embarrassing praise.
For the better part of the summer and fall of 2021, the Beltway press bombarded audiences with inside-baseball process stories parsing every twist and turn of the infrastructure legislation, fanning the flames of the “Democrats in disarray” narrative.
As the focus shifted to the Build Back Better plan and voting rights legislation, the media narrative largely gave the Republican Party’s unanimous obstruction a free pass. The Jan. 18 edition of Politico’s Playbook led with the phrase, “Senate Democrats resume their doomed push on voting rights and election reform…” Axios featured the headline “Biden’s epic failures.” Biden’s forceful speech on voting rights in Atlanta was overshadowed by the media’s fixation on the GOP’s faux indignation. What the media needs to remember is that the only reason why they are issues in the first place is because of the Republican Party — a party that has made the conscious decision to withdraw from democracy.
Even though Biden’s approval rating is at 43%, running from your party’s agenda is not a winning strategy.
I am not suggesting that the mainstream media adopt the propaganda-level machinations of the GOP-media sphere. But I do think media institutions have huge influence in shaping public perception and how that perception is weaponized by the anti-democratic forces in America.
Consider this passage from an Associated Press story that was published recently: “Former President Donald Trump, who regularly pilloried the media, did 92 interviews in his first year in office, more than two dozen of those with friendly interlocutors at Fox News. But Trump also held lengthy sessions with ABC News, the Associated Press, the New York Times, Reuters and other outlets whose coverage he impugned throughout his presidency.”
Missing from this “analysis”? The fact that during his four years in office, Trump made more than 30,500 false or misleading claims, otherwise called lies. By this point in his presidency, Trump had made 2,140 false or misleading claims.
Would Biden be better off with the media if he did 92 interviews, each and every one of them full of blatant lies? Is there a single person in this country who worries about how many interviews Biden has done or is it more likely that Americans care about the roads they drive on every day and the pipes carrying their drinking water?
For decades, we’ve heard the familiar refrain, “it’s the economy, stupid.” So, let’s look at the economy under Biden: Jobless claims are at their lowest levels since the 1960s. The 2021 job increases were the largest on record. Unemployment dipped below 4%, a historic drop from the 6.2% rate Biden inherited just a year ago. The S&P 500, the metric the last guy used to measure success, hit new record highs 70 times, finishing up 29%. The Dow Jones and Nasdaq were up 19% and 21% respectively. Economists are predicting that the growth will continue at the fastest pace since 1984.
Of course, inflation is concerning, but the way the media is framing things, you would think that our economy is mired in a Great Depression, when we’ve come through the biggest job creation in a year in the country’s history.
There is no question that we live in challenging times. A growing economy doesn’t overshadow the assault on democratic processes or the continued and changing COVID pandemic.
There are clearly times when Biden and his administration will fall short — either because he fails to read the desires of the broad electorate or because he can’t get enough support for popular policies through the bitterly partisan, narrowly divided Congress. His missteps and failures are fair targets of media criticism.
But the media needs to understand that the Republican Party’s obstruction of Biden policies cannot be severed from its embrace of Trump’s Big Lie about the stolen election. The GOP isn’t engaged in policy debates about how to benefit American lives. Instead, its leaders, both at the state and federal level, are spending much of their time trying to weaken democratic processes. Every media story that fails to come to grips with this reality helps promote that anti-democracy agenda.
Kurt Bardella is a contributing writer to Opinion. He is an advisor to the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. He is a former senior advisor to Republicans on the House Oversight Committee. @KurtBardella
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