Politics is similar to a market. A given political figure’s value (strength) is priced in frequent polls that measure his popularity. Political commentators talk about a president’s “political capital”.
In the 1990s, the Democratic political adviser James Carville said: “I used to think that if there was reincarnation, I wanted to come back as the president or the pope or as a .400 baseball hitter. But now I would like to come back as the bond market. You can intimidate everybody.”
In the case of President Biden, it is almost as if his staff has a short position in his value. With apologies to those who have never shorted a stock or bond, it is not a market move that anticipates the stock or bond will do well. Indeed, if it does well, you lose money.
In politics, losing can be circumstantial and self-inflicted. Former President Trump lost to Covid, a circumstance, but then acted as if he knew what to do, self-inflicted. President Biden, as a candidate, knew he couldn’t keep up with Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren on the Left of his Party so he campaigned from his Party’s Center. He became President and abandoned the Center for the Left notwithstanding paper-thin margins in the Congress. Along with the mishandling of the departure from Afghanistan his beginning pointed to his future.
Now he is blaming his inability to get things done on two moderate Democrat Senators in his Party. He has chosen to lead like the President of an advocacy organization who can raise money using the currency of passion.
In recent weeks he lost the necessary Congressional support on his Build Back Better legislative package and his attempt to federalize voting rules. Plus on Wednesday was told by a majority of the Supreme Court that a universal mandate on employee vaccinations was unconstitutional. And, all the while, poll after poll has measured shrinking popularity.
Starkly, one year into his presidency he already seems a lame duck. And this is at a moment when negotiations with Russia and relatedly the European Union might well turn on the President’s perceived strength. If I was advising the President, I would outline a doable path back to the Center.
Sit down with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senators Manchin and Sinema and reach compromises that will attract Republican Senators from the group that supported the infrastructure bill that was truly bipartisan. But first bring on staff Democrats who know how to work the halls of Congress with its fractious politics. If the President is overruling those kind of staffers among his current advisors, the Nation is in real trouble.
I did not vote for either Presidents Trump or Biden. But all of us by fact of our citizenship are signed up for democracy. Biden won and will continue to be our President for the next three years. His beginning has been unfortunate; I hope he will find his footing. But at present, with the midterm elections looming, one of his new counselors should be James Carville; he knows how political markets work.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al writes on themes from his book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.