Media narratives are driven by trajectory.
Things get better or worse. People rise and fall. Maybe there is an upstart sensation who threatens the establishment. Maybe there is a spectacular fall from grace. Maybe there is a comeback. Regardless of the story, the direction of movement is what matters.
Joe Biden got caught in one of those narratives: that things were going badly and people were losing confidence. Then, of course, the polls backed up that narrative, which provided a patina of proof.
But the truth is that news narratives and polls are symbiotic. The narratives help shape what people believe, which is then captured by the polls, and those polling results are then fed back into news narratives as separate, objective and independent fact.
“Joe Biden can’t catch a break” was a neat narrative. Every new disappointing data point fit snugly within it. But reality doesn’t play by media rules. It is often much more nuanced.
As the legendary football coach Lou Holtz once put it: “You’re never as good as everyone tells you when you win, and you’re never as bad as they say when you lose.”
Biden has had some bad months, to be sure, but there is no way to get around the fact the last month or so has been stellar for the administration.
On the economic front, as of Wednesday, gas prices had fallen for 50 consecutive days, down 86 cents from the record average high of $5.02 on June 14, according to CNN. The jobs market has also shown incredible resilience. Friday’s jobs report alone far outpaced expectations.
There are challenges. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, inflation increased “9.1 percent for the 12 months ending June, the largest 12-month increase since the period ending November 1981.” This doesn’t invalidate that Biden has had a good month; it only underscores the complexities of any news story.
On the legislative front, in June, Biden signed the most significant federal gun safety legislation in nearly 30 years. Two weeks ago, his big spending bill, Build Back Better, which everyone thought was dead, was resurrected in the trimmed down form of the Inflation Reduction Act. Now, all Senate Democrats have gotten behind the bill and it has passed in that body. These developments don’t erase legislative disappointments like the failure of the voter protection bill or the police reform bill, but they are victories nonetheless.
There are foreign policy wins, like the killing of the Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahri in Afghanistan, and the overwhelming vote in the Senate in favor of expanding NATO to include Finland and Sweden, a direct reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And the Russians have suggested that they are open to discussing a prison swap to free Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan, both of whom are still being held in Russian custody. Here, again, there are challenges. For instance, tensions are heating up with China, particularly after a visit to Taiwan by the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi.
Then, there is the uber issue of the Supreme Court striking down the right to an abortion. This was a gutting disappointment to liberals, and many have accused the White House of not reacting strongly enough.
But it appears that the issue has roused some otherwise disinterested or dispassionate voters and may help Democrats to hold off a massive wave of Republican wins in the midterms. We need look no further than Kansas, a state that voted strongly for Trump in 2020, but that last week voted even more strongly to keep the right to an abortion in the state Constitution.
Biden’s string of victories may not yet be enough to shift the narrative about him from spiraling to rebounding, but a fair read of recent events demands some adjustment.
The White House must also shift its messaging, from defensive to offensive. I’ve never truly bought the argument that Biden’s polling was bad because he simply wasn’t doing enough to tout his accomplishments. There were some periods where the disappointments actually seemed to carry more weight than his achievements.
But that’s not the case now, and the administration must seize this moment, and not be shy about shouting about its wins.
This is one area where Donald Trump succeeded: boasting. When he was campaigning in 2016, he claimed that if he was elected, people might even “get tired of winning.” As he put it, people would say: “Please, please, it’s too much winning. We can’t take it anymore. Mr. President, it’s too much.” To which he said he would respond: “No it isn’t. We have to keep winning. We have to win more.”
He would go through his term bragging about how anything that happened on his watch was the biggest and best.
We now know that the Trump presidency was a disaster that nearly destroyed the country, but, if a failure like Trump can crow about all he did, even when the evidence wasn’t there, then surely Biden can find a way to do a little crowing of his own, particularly during one of the most successful stretches of his presidency.
Biden, you did it. Boast about it.
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