The Unpopular Mr. Biden

Whoever said a President who tries to redistribute wealth wins friends?

Above: President Biden at UN Conference on Climate Change, Nov. 1. Photo courtesy NY Times

It’s not going out on a limb to propose that a poll reflects equally on the group being polled as it does on the person or institution(s) being polled.

And it’s not going out on a limb to require of the reporting of a poll, some context as to the tone and atmosphere from which a group of us are plucked and asked some pretty silly questions.

The recent hand wringing on Biden’s sinking approval rating deserves more scrutiny than the American public is being offered.

What the reporting on these “latest polls” in particular reveals is what the polls don’t show.

1.America has not looked kindly on her leaders who have attempted to redistribute wealth.

Look no further than the tenure of FDR (32). As much as FDR was admired, Eleanor his wife and First Lady, and Henry Wallace, his Vice President were popularly reviled. Leave it to Eleanor and Henry — not the President — for America’s tilt towards redistributing wealth, eg. for “letting Commies into the government.”

2.Copy that and baste with a tradition of America isolationism: America fails to look beyond her shores.

Is Angela Merkel all that popular for allowing refugees to resettle in Europe and for demonstrating climate justice leadership — the two stark failures of current American Congressional deliberations? No, we prefer our political excuses and mea culpas stop at our shores.

3.Approval — the question, how much we approve of the President — conflates man and office.

So ironic, isn’t it, to compare Mr. Biden’s ‘approval’ rating with 45’s?

This conflating has permeated our collective reasoning: we can fondly remember ‘having a beer with Bush (43).’

4.Copy that and frost with a blindness to institutional reckoning.

Instead of contrasting Biden’s approval rating with his predecessors, compare to Congress’s current approval rating (low twenties) or the Supreme Court’s current approval (low twenties).

5.Wrap these ‘naggings’ in a blanket of “fake assessment” (1) and President Biden doesn’t look so bad.

Which reveals that America is losing an opportunity for channeling its future, to restoring what has been lost: our dignity, our prominence on the “world stage,” our fairness, our decency.

So what specifically are we avoiding?

1.A moment of self-reflection: We are disappointed in Biden.

Biden was elected because the alternative was unimaginable. We didn’t have to swallow our past anymore. Biden offered that option and 80 million of us grabbed it. Of course we are disappointed. We bought the reflection.

Now we are living with it.

2.A moment of admitting we are disaffected: we don’t like where we are, we don’t like the struggle ahead, and someone else is blameworthy.

‘Biden is not that much better than 45,’ begs the question that as a nation of souls we have not evolved that much since 45. Biden can remind us how much. His is the “empty vessel” of our pretenses.

3.A news-bait moment.

On any given evening, 1.2 million of us are watching Steve Kornacki and company gyrate on MSNBC. Over at Fox News it’s not much better — 2 million. Which means that the rest of the country is doing something else.

Apparently, not being distracted.

4.A reckoning moment: we don’t like redistribution of wealth.

As hard as this may sound, we fear that if our society fares better for all, we risk losing our status for some (cite “Veil of Scarcity”). We forget that Shay’s Rebellion was basically a mob incited insurrection. In Tulsa’s insurrection, the mob got a hold of bombs and planes. On 1/6 the mob brought bear spray and ropes for lynching.

In each case a mob, not a grievance, wreaked violence. The Dow rose January 6 and for most of January 2020. Government offices stayed open. Babies were born.

“This is a transformative moment,” our redistribution-wealth cheerleader hails as he attempts to corral his party around promises that helped get him (and them) elected.

And we respond, ‘what a crappy job, you’re doing.’

5.An “unsettling” moment.

Above: “Civil War,” MSNBC, image by author)

Here’s how I spent part of last night. I didn’t watch Steve Kornacki gyrate. I watched “Civil War” (MSNBC Special Report) with the picture off. I didn’t need to see the faces. I wanted to hear America speaking. And what I heard was “equilibrium.” repeated again and again and again. That “equilibrium”was a cherished state of being. Not the ‘namaste’ variety equilibrium. We are not in Yoga Class. No, the equilibrium these souls were speaking to is the sum meaning of struggle and sacrifice.

An approval rating attempts to, but fails to clarify our “unsettledness.”

Consider that Alexis De Tocqueville reflected on ‘equilibrium’ and America not too long ago. Permit me this summation:

America is so young and that is a good thing… and also ‘taken for bad,’ too often.

De Tocqueville’s travels revealed a young nation whose formation was ingrained by the attempt to right Europe’s dynastic wrongs.

We didn’t have much time for self-reckoning.

We bought slaves at market.

A “Presidential approval rating” is not a deep dive into America’s psyche. A President won’t stoke ‘equilibrium.’

We are making sure of that.

November 3


1-’We confirm what we refuse to acknowledge.’ Cf. Raden. Aja, “Consensus, Control and the Illusion of Truth,” Chapter 7, The Truth About Lies (2021). The works of Erving Goffman also deal with “mutuality” and other forms of implicit/explicit pretense.