More stories

  • in

    Trump Missed the Part About No Do-Overs

    Bret Stephens: Gail, I know we don’t typically talk about office politics, but sometimes it’s hard to avoid — as when our friend and colleague Nick Kristof leaves us to run for governor of his home state of Oregon. Our readers ought to know what an incredible guy he is behind the scenes.Gail Collins: Bret, I am extremely proud to say that when I was the editor of this section, I lured Nick over from the news side to be a columnist.One of his early projects was to write about the vile goings-on in a remote African country. I can’t remember all the details. But it involved a short plane ride that cost about $10,000 because he was barred from entry and had to be flown in by a brave pilot who claimed to be transporting a barrel of wheat.Bret: Now you’re going to see Nick’s opponents accuse him of flying private.Gail: I was of course impressed by the work, but the small, evil part of my brain thought, “Wow, this guy is going to cost me a fortune.” Then I started getting his bills for the long trek through Africa that followed, and they were like, hotel: $2; dinner: $1.25.Bret: Nick is one of the few people I know who actively seeks out opposing points of view, which only makes him hold his own with greater depth and zero rancor. He and I probably disagree on 95 percent of policy issues (OK, Oregon lefties, make that 100 percent). But I never missed his columns because there was always something important and interesting to learn from them.Also, accounts of Kristof family holidays fill me with a sense of both awe and deep parental inadequacy.Moving from the inspiring to the debased, what do you think the chances are that Mitch McConnell or Kevin McCarthy will ever challenge Donald Trump on his claims of election fraud?Gail: Well, about the same as my chances of competing in the next Olympics.Bret: Your chances are better.Gail: Watching the rally Trump had recently in Iowa, I was sort of fascinated by his apparent inability to focus on anything but the last election. Don’t think a 2020 do-over is at the top of anybody else’s list of priorities.Bret: It would be nice to think that his obsession with 2020 is solely a function of his personal insecurities. But there’s a strategy involved here, which is hard to describe as anything less than sinister. Within the Republican Party, he’s making the stolen-election fantasy a litmus test, which Republican politicians defy at the peril of either being primaried by a Trump toady or losing vital Trump voters in close elections. At the national level, he’s creating a new “stab in the back” myth to undermine the legitimacy of democracy itself.Of course Joe Biden’s job performance so far isn’t helping things.Gail: About our current commander in chief: Biden’s moving into troubled waters — through no fault of his own — as chances grow of strikes or some kind of work stoppage everywhere from the cereal industry to tractor factories. He’s vowed to be “the most pro-union president” in history. Am I right in guessing that’s not something you’d look forward to?Bret: Anyone remember a certain politician from the late 1970s named James Callaghan? He was the U.K.’s Labour prime minister during the “Winter of Discontent,” when the country seemed to be perpetually on strike. Those strikes were the proximate cause of Margaret Thatcher’s election in 1979, which is something the Biden administration might bear in mind before getting too close to the unions.Gail: Did I ever tell you that long ago, in days of yore, I was president of the union at a small paper in Milwaukee? We only formed it because the publisher was a truly evil guy who’d threaten to write editorials denouncing local businesses unless they invested in advertising. Went on strike and the publisher closed down the whole operation.Bret: He sounds like Mr. Burns from “The Simpsons.” You went on to bigger and better things.Gail: This is a prelude to saying that I think unions are critical to protecting the nation’s workers, but well aware that they don’t protect everybody who needs it.Bret: I still think the most pro-worker thing the White House can do is get the infrastructure bill passed. Biden dearly needs a political victory, especially one like infrastructure that will divide Republicans while keeping Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema on the Democratic side, as opposed to the social spending bill that unites Republicans and alienates those two.Gail: I’ll refrain from pointing out that Sinema appears to be the captive of big-donor business interests and that the climate change part of Biden’s bill is now under pressure because of Manchin’s ties to Big Coal.Instead, remind me how you came around to be on the side of Big Spending.Bret: I love your concept of “refraining.”In my perfect world, the federal government would be about one-third the size that it is today and we would privatize and regulate functions like the Post Office, Amtrak and Social Security. But we live with the reality of big government and a Democratic presidency, so I’d prefer my tax dollars to go into investments that produce blue-collar jobs in the short term and long-term returns in public utilization. Plus, a lot of our infrastructure could really use a major upgrade: Just think of New Jersey.Gail: Ah, New Jersey. Sending you sympathy, which you’ll have time to appreciate while caught in traffic jams and train backups.Bret: In the meantime, it looks like the commission Biden appointed to study reforms for the Supreme Court was divided on the idea of adding new justices. The commission also seemed lukewarm on other ideas, like term limits for justices. Personally, I’m pretty relieved, but some of my liberal friends seem to think this was a lost opportunity.Gail: I’d like to be on your side when it comes to court appointments. Having one arm of government that takes an apolitical, long-term view of the world is definitely desirable.I hate to say one more time that I remember when …But I remember when both parties regarded Supreme Court appointments as something special; everybody tried to join hands in search of candidates who were wise and willing to rise above short-term partisan concerns.Well, at least that’s what they said. And even pretending to be bipartisan is better than nothing.Bret: Forty years ago, Sandra Day O’Connor, Ronald Reagan’s first nominee, was confirmed by the Senate in a vote of 99-0. The vote for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Bill Clinton’s first nominee, was 96-3. Since then, things have pretty much gone to hell.Gail: Mitch McConnell ruined the tradition by refusing to hold hearings on Barack Obama’s nominees. I truly doubt we’ll ever be able to return to the old ways. And if so, we should do some reorganizing. That might include term limits of maybe 18 to 20 years.Bret: I would quarrel a bit about whether the blame lies solely with Mitch. Some of us remember Harry Reid, when he was Senate majority leader, blocking qualified judges nominated by George W. Bush. But I also think a 20-year term-limited appointment to the high bench wouldn’t be the worst thing.Gail: By the way, speaking of long-running arguments, I see the New York City Council is thinking about tossing Thomas Jefferson’s statue out of City Hall. We’ve talked about this before, but any change in your feelings about whether we should withdraw that kind of honor from founding father slaveholders?Bret: My mind’s unchanged. If you’re going to get rid of Jefferson’s statute on that account, then why not get rid of the statues of George Washington, since he was also a slaveholder? For that matter, why not start a campaign to rename both the national capital and the state? This is the kind of dumb, symbol-chasing leftism that can only wind up helping Trump.Gail: Not arguing for renaming all the George Washington stuff, but it’d be nice to have a state named after, say, Susan B. Anthony.Bret: Anthony’s home state of Massachusetts should consider it. It would relieve the commonwealth of the sin of cultural appropriation and is also a lot easier to spell.We should be able to see our founders’ profound flaws while also honoring the fact that they established a republic in which the principle of human liberty and equality were able to take root and flourish as nowhere else, and in which the concept of a “more perfect union” is written into the Constitution. In the context of the late 18th century, that was an extraordinary step forward.Gail: Jefferson’s always been one of my least-favorite founders — his attitude toward women could be creepy even by 18th-century standards.Bret: Him and J.F.K. and a few other presidents I could mention.Gail: My rule is that big names of the past should be honored on the basis of their main thing — I’m OK with giving Columbus a holiday to commemorate his life as an explorer, as long as we spend a good part of it recalling his slaughter of Native Americans.Bret: Agree entirely. And preserve the names of Ohio’s capital and the Upper West Side’s premier institution of higher learning in the bargain.Gail: What bothers me about the Virginia founding fathers is that although they made inspiring speeches about liberty, most of them were focused on protecting their state institutions from federal intervention. Particularly plantation life and culture, which included slaves.The New-York Historical Society may be willing to take Jefferson’s statue on a “loan” and that seems like a good plan.Bret: That’ll give us something to keep arguing about.Gail: In the meantime, I’ll honor Jefferson for the Declaration of Independence. Always appreciate somebody who’s good with words. Which is why I enjoy our conversations, Bret. Bet I wouldn’t have nearly as much fun going back and forth with Thomas J.Bret: Nor I with Susan B.The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram. More

  • in

    How Democrats Should Sell Themselves to Avoid Electoral Disaster

    More from our inbox:Children’s Painful LossesMy Exercise Ethic  Cristina DauraTo the Editor:Re “Can Democrats Find a Winning Message?” (column, Sunday Review, Oct. 10):Ezra Klein’s discussion of David Shor’s predictions about impending disaster for the Democratic Party in upcoming Senate elections was both fascinating and frustratingly incomplete.For one, he did not discuss the specific seats in play and in jeopardy in 2022 and 2024. Surely local issues and the attractiveness of individual candidates will play some role in the outcome.Second, if a decent part of the Biden agenda finally becomes law and if the pandemic wanes, isn’t there a reasonable prospect that a significant piece of the electorate will want to keep it going? We keep hearing how popular infrastructure renewal and long-overdue safety net improvements are.Perhaps the ingrained disadvantages that Democrats face in the electoral system can be overcome by people feeling better about their lives. Messaging may well be less of a factor than Mr. Shor fears.Larry SimonbergBronxThe writer was a spokesman for Mayor Ed Koch of New York from 1983 to 1989.To the Editor:I’ll tell you why David Shor is wrong, like many of the consultants I’ve encountered who often have a brand rather than a unique skill: 1) Focus groups and polling aren’t real life. 2) Human beings are irrational actors and their motivations shift unpredictably. 3) Most voters don’t vote for issues; they vote for candidates who appear powerful, in charge and decisive.Donald Trump explains all of these things. Most of the issues he spotlights are unpopular in polling and focus groups, yet he got more than 70 million votes in 2020 and is quite likely going to win in 2024. Democrats need passionate, vital candidates, not reactive data jockeys.David BillottiRockville, Md.The writer is a communications consultant.To the Editor:The Trump base is not reclaimable by Democrats. Donald Trump exposed the undercurrent of anger, fear and racism lurking in our country and made expressing those feelings acceptable within the Republican Party. Worse, he prodded that base to vote. And there is every reason to believe that will happen again.The Democratic Party’s only hope is to appeal to moderate, traditional and rational Republicans who have already abandoned Mr. Trump and his minions. Policy communication alone doesn’t hold the power that David Shor thinks it does. Accomplishment is what is needed.The Democrats need to coalesce behind President Biden’s agenda, abandon the extreme progressive wish list, and pass the infrastructure and Build Back Better legislative initiatives. Then, and only then, will they have a product the American people are ready, maybe even eager, to buy.Jay AdolfNew YorkTo the Editor:As a 45-year marketing and communications professional, I think the messaging of the Democrats for the last 10 years has been feeble and chaotic. There has been no consistent, simple messaging from the Democratic National Committee. In contrast, the Republicans have had the discipline to do exactly that, albeit poisoned with lies.You want a winning message to combat the Big Lie about the stolen election? Start a campaign with a catchy slogan like “Trump has done zilch for you,” and hammer that message home over and over again.This is a battle over hearts and minds. These voters have been lied to, used as pawns, as dupes. It’ll take time, but once they get it, they will react in fury against Mr. Trump.Randolph W. HoblerNorwalk, Conn.To the Editor:Did I read this article correctly? Democrats need to hide who they are in order to win elections? What a damning, unintentional self-indictment.Richard SybertSeattleChildren’s Painful LossesAmethyst, 5, and a portrait of her father, Erin Tokley, a Philadelphia police officer who died from Covid-19 in March.Laurence Kesterson/Associated PressTo the Editor:Re “120,000 Children Lost Caregivers to Covid” (news article, Oct. 8):I am usually a pretty stoic person, but the enormousness of pain reflected by the story about 120,000 children who have lost a parent or caregiver broke me.To think there are Americans running around screaming about the injustice of being asked to get a vaccine or wear a mask while the smallest shoulders among us are bearing the heaviest of burdens really makes you wonder what has happened to the soul of our country.Have we become so callous and vicious with one another that a tragedy like this is not enough to bring us together so we can fight this scourge as one?Michael ScottSan FranciscoMy Exercise Ethic  Ping ZhuTo the Editor:Re “Unable to Walk, She Needed to Run” (Science Times, Oct. 5):Elisabeth Rosenthal’s confession that her running is “more spiritual than pragmatic” struck a chord with my exercise ethic. As a longtime daily runner — three miles around the block with our fox terrier, Socks — I understand Dr. Rosenthal’s need to run, even after an accident.After two hip replacements, more than a decade ago, stopped my daily runs, I began substituting other exercise. It doesn’t work — not the elliptical, a bicycle or weight training.The only close relative to running I have found is aquafit classes. The thumping music and smiling water compatriots allow a mental escape from the daily grind and anxieties of living. But it’s a facsimile, not the real gold standard.So I wish Dr. Rosenthal a rapid return to running and to recapturing the “emotional sustenance running provides.”Mary Lake PolanNew Canaan, Conn. More

  • in

    Democrats Work to Sell an Unfinished Bill

    As President Biden and his allies in Congress work to whittle down the size of their ambitious domestic plans, Democrats must sell a bill without knowing precisely what will be in it.ALLENTOWN, Pa. — When Representative Susan Wild, Democrat of Pennsylvania, accompanied Jill Biden, the first lady, to the Learning Hub, a newly established early education center whose walls were covered with vocabulary words in English and Spanish, on a recent Wednesday morning, Ms. Wild’s constituents were frank about the many unmet needs in their community.Jessica Rodriguez-Colon, a case manager with a local youth house, described the struggles of helping families find affordable housing with rent skyrocketing. Brenda Fernandez, the founder of a nonprofit focused on supporting formerly incarcerated women and survivors of domestic violence, explained the challenges of ensuring homes were available for those who needed them.Dr. Biden had a ready answer: “It’s a big part of the bill,” she said, turning in her seat to Ms. Wild. “Right, Susan?”Ms. Wild quickly agreed. The sprawling $3.5 trillion social safety net and climate package that the House compiled last month would address everything raised during the discussion. It would devote more than $300 billion to low-income and affordable housing, provide two free years of community college and help set up a universal prekindergarten program that could help places like the Learning Hub, which serves about 150 children and families through Head Start, the federal program for preschoolers.But left unmentioned was the uncertainty about whether any of that would survive and become law. A month after the House put together its bill, President Biden and Democrats in Congress have trimmed their ambitions. Facing unified Republican opposition and resistance to the cost of the measure by a handful of centrists in their party, led by Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Democrats are now working to scale back the package to around $2 trillion to ensure its passage through a Congress where they hold the thinnest of majorities.For Ms. Wild and other Democrats facing the toughest re-elections in politically competitive districts around the country, the ambiguity surrounding their marquee legislation makes for an unusual challenge outside of Washington: how to go about selling an agenda without knowing which components of it will survive the grueling legislative path to the president’s desk.Polls show that individual components of the legislation — including increasing federal support of paid leave, elder care and child care to expanding public education — are popular among voters. But beyond being aware of a price tag that is already shrinking, few voters can track what is still in contention to be part of the final package, as the process is shrouded in private negotiations.Representative Susan Wild, Democrat of Pennsylvania, during an interview in Allentown on Wednesday.Mark Makela for The New York Times“We don’t want to be having to come back to people later and say, ‘Well, we really liked that idea, but it didn’t make it into the final bill,’ — so it’s a challenge,” Ms. Wild said. “As the bill’s size continues to come down, you may be talking about something at any given time that’s not going to make it into the final product.”To get around Republican obstruction, Democrats are using a fast-track process known as reconciliation that shields legislation from a filibuster. That would allow it to pass the 50-50 Senate on a simple majority vote, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting a tiebreaking vote.But it would still require the support of every Democratic senator — and nearly every one of their members in the House. Democratic leaders and White House officials have been haggling behind the scenes to nail down an agreement that could satisfy both Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema, who have been reluctant to publicly detail which proposals they want to see scaled back or jettisoned.Congressional leaders aim to finish their negotiations in time to act on the reconciliation bill by the end of October, when they also hope to move forward on another of Mr. Biden’s top priorities, a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill that would be the largest investment in roads, bridges, broadband and other physical public works in more than a decade.“As with any bill of such historic proportions, not every member will get everything he or she wants,” Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, wrote to Democrats in a letter ahead of the chamber’s return on Monday. “I deeply appreciate the sacrifices made by each and every one of you.”It remains unclear which sacrifices will have to be made, with lawmakers still at odds over the best strategy for paring down the plan, let alone how to structure specific programs. The most potent plan to replace coal and gas-fired plants with wind, nuclear and solar energy, for example, is likely to be dropped because of Mr. Manchin’s opposition, but White House and congressional staff are cobbling together alternatives to cut emissions that could be added to the plan.Liberals remain insistent that the bill — initially conceived as a cradle-to-grave social safety net overhaul on par with the Great Society of the 1960s — include as many programs as possible, while more moderate lawmakers have called for large investments in just a few key initiatives.In the midst of the impasse, rank-and-file lawmakers have been left to return home to their constituents to try to promote a still-unfinished product that is shrouded in the mystery of private negotiations, all while explaining why a Democratic-controlled government has yet to deliver on promises they campaigned on.“I try to make sure that people know what I stand for, what my positions are, what I want for our community,” Ms. Wild said in an interview, ticking off provisions in the bill that would lower prescription drug costs, provide child care and expand public education. “But if it’s not guaranteed, I also try to make sure people understand that, so they don’t feel like I’ve promised something that’s not going to happen.”“That doesn’t always work,” she added. “Because you might think that something something’s in the bag, so to speak, and then all of a sudden, the rug gets pulled out from under you.”Karen Schlegel, who is retired, waited outside, hoping to see Dr. Biden in Allentown on Wednesday.Mark Makela for The New York TimesKaren Schlegel, 71, who waited outside the center with a mix of protesters shouting obscenities and eager onlookers waiting for a glimpse of Dr. Biden, said she remained in full support of Mr. Biden’s agenda. She blamed congressional Democrats for delaying the president’s plan.“He would be doing better if he had some support from Congress,” she said, carrying a hot pink sign professing love for both Bidens. “They better get a hustle on.”Even Dr. Biden, as she trailed from classroom to classroom to watch the students engage in interactive color and shape lessons — and perform an enthusiastic penguin-inspired dance — avoided weighing in on the specifics of the bill.“We already started when Joe got into office, and that’s what we’re fighting for,” Dr. Biden told the group, pointing to the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill that Democrats muscled through in March as evidence of the success of their agenda. “I’m not going to stop, nor is Joe, so I want you to have faith.”For lawmakers like Ms. Wild, time is of the essence. Many Democrats are already growing wary of the prospects of beginning their re-election campaigns, before voters have felt the tangible impacts of either the infrastructure bill or the reconciliation package.They will have to win over voters like Eric Paez, a 41-year-old events planner, who wants Democrats to deliver and has little patience for keeping track of the machinations on Capitol Hill standing in their way.“I need to come home and not think about politicians,” Mr. Paez, said, smoking a cigarette and waving to neighbors walking their dogs in the early evening as he headed home from work near the child care center. “They should be doing what we voted them in to do.” More

  • in

    U.S. Regains Seat at U.N. Human Rights Council, 3 Years After Quitting

    The Trump administration called the 47-nation council hypocritical and said it was vilifying Israel. The Biden administration says the U.S. can be more effective as a member.The United States on Thursday regained a seat on the United Nations Human Rights Council, which the Trump administration abandoned in 2018 because of what it called the body’s hypocrisy and anti-Israel prejudice.In seeking to rejoin the 47-member council, the Biden administration, which has taken a far more supportive stance toward the United Nations than its predecessor, argued that American interests would be better served if the United States were a member seeking change from within.The United States won a three-year term for one of 18 open seats on the council, starting in January, in a vote by the 193-member General Assembly.Based in Geneva, the council is regarded as the world’s most important human rights body. While it has no criminal enforcement or sanctioning powers, the council can undertake investigations that help shape the global image of countries. It can also exert influence on their behavior if they are deemed to have poor rights records.But the council has a wide array of critics who argue that many of its elected members are human-rights abusers themselves, pointing to examples like China, Russia, Cuba and Venezuela. The presence of such countries on the council, critics say, undercuts the legitimacy of its work.Many also object to a permanent item on the council’s agenda concerning rights abuses in the Palestinian territories, which has become the basis for its numerous resolutions condemning Israel.The Biden administration’s success at rejoining the council may now bring about a test of its stated goal of strengthening America’s human-rights advocacy around the world. Many conservative Republicans opposed rejoining, and there is no guarantee that the United States will not withdraw from the council again, should a Republican win the White House back in 2024.“The Council provides a forum where we can have open discussions about ways we and our partners can improve,” Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken, who announced the intent to rejoin the council in February, said Thursday after the election results.“At the same time, it also suffers from serious flaws, including disproportionate attention on Israel and the membership of several states with egregious human rights records,” he said. “Together, we must push back against attempts to subvert the ideals upon which the Human Rights Council was founded.”Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke by video message to the United Nations Human Rights Council last year.United Nations, via Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesAs if to underscore the challenges cited by Mr. Blinken, several countries with poor or questionable human-rights records also won seats on the council on Thursday, among them Cameroon, Eritrea, the United Arab Emirates and Honduras.With its return to the Human Rights Council, the Biden administration further reversed its predecessor’s moves toward American isolationism.President Biden has revived U.S. membership in the World Health Organization, re-entered the Paris climate accord and restored funding to U.N. agencies that had been cut. Those agencies include the United Nations Population Fund, a leading supplier of maternal health and family planning services, and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, which assists Palestinians classified as refugees.Despite the revived U.S. engagement, diplomats and rights groups in Geneva did not foresee an easy return to the kind of influence wielded by the United States at the Human Rights Council during President Barack Obama’s tenure.The United States faces a more assertive China that is pushing back aggressively at criticism of its repression in the Xinjiang region and is pressuring economically vulnerable countries into supporting initiatives that shift attention away from civil and political rights.The United States, by contrast, is short of diplomatic staff in Geneva to promote its human rights agenda. President Biden’s chosen ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva is still awaiting congressional confirmation, and he has yet to nominate an ambassador to the Human Rights Council.Under the voting system for open seats in the Human Rights Council, slates of candidates are divided into five geographic regions, and any member of the General Assembly is eligible to run except those completing two consecutive terms on the council. Voting is by secret ballot. A simple majority of 97 votes is needed to win. In cases where the number of candidates exceeds the number of open seats, the biggest vote-getter wins.This year, however, the number of candidates from each region equaled the number of that region’s open seats, meaning none of the seats were contested. Rights groups outside the United Nations called that part of the problem.“The absence of competition in this year’s Human Rights Council vote makes a mockery of the word ‘election,’” Louis Charbonneau, the U.N. director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement ahead of the vote. “Electing serious rights abusers like Cameroon, Eritrea and the U.A.E. sends a terrible signal that U.N. member states aren’t serious about the council’s fundamental mission to protect human rights.”The other newly elected or re-elected members included Gambia, Benin and Somalia from the African group; Qatar, Kazakhstan, India and Malaysia from the Asian group; Argentina and Paraguay from the Latin America and Caribbean group; Luxembourg and Finland from the Western group; and Lithuania and Montenegro from the Eastern Europe group.Nick Cumming-Bruce contributed reporting from Geneva, and Lara Jakes from Washington. More

  • in

    Democrats Can’t Just Give the People What They Want

    Over the 20-year period from 1970 to 1990, whites, especially those without college degrees, defected en masse from the Democratic Party. In those years, the percentage of white working class voters who identified with the Democratic Party fell to 40 percent from 60, Lane Kenworthy, a sociologist at the University of California-San Diego, wrote in “The Democrats and Working-Class Whites.”Now, three decades later, the Democratic Party continues to struggle to maintain not just a biracial but a multiracial and multiethnic coalition — keeping in mind that Democrats have not won a majority of white voters in a presidential election since Lyndon Johnson’s landslide victory in 1964.There have been seven Democratic and seven Republican presidents since the end of World War II. Obstacles notwithstanding, the Democratic coalition has adapted from its former incarnation as an overwhelmingly white party with a powerful southern segregationist wing to its current incarnation: roughly 59 percent white, 19 percent Black, 13 percent Hispanic, and 8 percent Asian American and other groups.William Julius Wilson, a sociologist at Harvard, put the liberal case for the importance of a such a political alliance eloquently in “Rising Inequality and the Case for Coalition Politics”:An organized national multiracial political constituency is needed for the development and implementation of policies that will help reverse the trends of the rising inequality and ease the burdens of ordinary families.Biden won with a multiracial coalition, but even in victory, there were signs of stress.In their May 21 analysis, “What Happened in 2020,” Yair Ghitza, chief scientist at Catalist, a liberal voter data analysis firm, and Jonathan Robinson, its director of research, found that Black support for the Democratic presidential nominee fell by 3 percentage points from 2016 to 2020, and Latino support fell by eight points over the same period, from 71 to 63 percent.At the same time, whites with college degrees continued their march into the Democratic Party: “The trends all point in the same direction, i.e., a substantial portion of this constituency moving solidly toward Democrats in the Trump era.” Among these well-educated whites, the percentage voting for the Democratic nominee rose from 46 percent in 2012 to 50 percent in 2016 to 54 percent in 2020. These gains were especially strong among women, according to Catalist: “White college-educated women in particular have shifted against Trump, moving from 50 percent Democratic support in 2012 to 58 percent in 2020.”In a separate June 2021 study, “Behind Biden’s 2020 Victory,” by Ruth Igielnik, Scott Keeter and Hannah Hartig, Pew Research found thatEven as Biden held on to a majority of Hispanic voters in 2020, Trump made gains among this group overall. There was a wide educational divide among Hispanic voters: Trump did substantially better with those without a college degree than college-educated Hispanic voters (41 percent vs. 30 percent).Biden, according to Pew, made significant gains both among all suburban voters and among white suburban voters: “In 2020, Biden improved upon Clinton’s vote share with suburban voters: 45 percent supported Clinton in 2016 vs. 54 percent for Biden in 2020. This shift was also seen among White voters: Trump narrowly won White suburban voters by 4 points in 2020 (51-47); he carried this group by 16 points in 2016 (54-38).”Crucially. all these shifts reflect the continuing realignment of the electorate by level of educational attainment or so-called “learning skills,” with one big difference: Before 2020, education polarization was found almost exclusively among whites; last year it began to emerge among Hispanics and African Americans.Two Democratic strategists, Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin, both of whom publish their analyses at the Liberal Patriot website, have addressed this predicament.On Sept. 30 in “There Just Aren’t Enough College-Educated Voters!” Teixeira wrote:The perception that nonwhite working class voters are a lock for the Democrats is no longer tenable. In the 2020 election, working class nonwhites moved sharply toward Trump by 12 margin points, despite Democratic messaging that focused relentlessly on Trump’s animus toward nonwhites. According to Pew, Trump actually got 41 percent of the Hispanic working class vote in 2016. Since 2012, running against Trump twice, Democrats have lost 18 points off of their margin among nonwhite working class voters.In an effort to bring the argument down to earth, I asked Teixeira and Halpin three questions:1. Should Democrats support and defend gender and race-based affirmative action policies?2. If asked in a debate, what should a Democrat say about Ibram X. Kendi’s claim that “Standardized tests have become the most effective racist weapon ever devised to objectively degrade Black and Brown minds and legally exclude their bodies from prestigious schools?”3. How should a Democrat respond to questions concerning intergenerational poverty, nonmarital births and the issue of fatherlessness?In an email, Teixeira addressed affirmative action:Affirmative action in the sense of, say, racial preferences has always been unpopular and continues to be so. The latest evidence comes from the deep blue state of California which defeated an effort to reinstate race and gender preferences in public education, employment and contracting by an overwhelming 57-43 margin. As President Obama once put it: ‘We have to think about affirmative action and craft it in such a way where some of our children who are advantaged aren’t getting more favorable treatment than a poor white kid who has struggled more,’ There has always been a strong case for class-based affirmative action which is perhaps worth revisiting rather than doubling down on race-based affirmative action.Teixeira on Kendi’s arguments:It is remarkable how willing liberal elites have been to countenance Kendi’s extreme views which ascribe all racial disparities in American society to racism and a system of untrammeled white supremacy (and only that), insist that all policies/actions can only be racist or anti-racist in any context and advocate for a Department of Anti-Racism staffed by anti-racist “experts” who would have the power to nullify any and all local, state and federal legislation deemed not truly anti-racist (and therefore, by Kendi’s logic, racist). These ideas are dubious empirically, massively simplistic and completely impractical in real world terms. And to observe they are politically toxic is an understatement.The left, in Teixeira’s view,has paid a considerable price for abandoning universalism and for its increasingly strong linkage to Kendi-style views and militant identity politics in general. This has resulted in branding the party as focused on, or at least distracted by, issues of little relevance to most voters’ lives. Worse, the focus has led many working-class voters to believe that, unless they subscribe to this emerging worldview and are willing to speak its language, they will be condemned as reactionary, intolerant, and racist by those who purport to represent their interests. To some extent these voters are right: They really are looked down upon by elements of the left — typically younger, well-educated, and metropolitan — who embrace identity politics and the intersectional approach.In March, Halpin wrote an essay, “The Rise of the Neo-Universalists,” in which he argued thatthere is an emerging pool of political leaders, thinkers and citizens without an ideological home. They come from the left, right, and center but all share a common aversion to the sectarian, identity-based politics that dominates modern political discourse and the partisan and media institutions that set the public agenda.He calls this constituency “neo-universalists,” and says that they are united by “a vision of American citizenship based on the core belief in the equal dignity and rights of all people.” This means, he continued,not treating people differently based on their gender or their skin color, or where they were born or what they believe. This means employing collective resources to help provide for the ‘general welfare’ of all people in terms of jobs, housing, education, and health care. This means giving people a chance and not assuming the worst of them.How, then, would neo-universalism deal with gender and race-based affirmative action policies?“In terms of affirmative action, neo-universalism would agree with the original need and purpose of affirmative action following the legal dismantling of racial and gender discrimination,” Halpin wrote in an email:America needed a series of steps to overcome the legal and institutional hurdles to their advancement in education, the workplace, and wider life. Fifty years later, there has been tremendous progress on this front and we now face a situation where ongoing discrimination in favor of historically discriminated groups is hard to defend constitutionally and will likely hit a wall very soon. In order to continue ensuring that all people are integrated into society and life, neo-universalists would favor steps to offer additional assistance to people based on class- or place-based measures such as parental income or school profiles and disparities, in the case of education.What did Halpin think about Kendi’s views?A belief in equal dignity and rights for all, as expressed in neo-universalism and traditional liberalism, rejects the race-focused theories of Kendi and others, and particularly the concept that present discrimination based on race is required to overcome past discrimination based on race. There is no constitutional defense of this approach since you clearly cannot deprive people of due process and rights based on their race.In addition, theories like these, in Halpin’s view, foster “sectarian racial divisions and encourage people to view one another solely through the lens of race and perceptions of who is oppressed and who is privileged.” Liberals, Halpin continued, “spent the bulk of the 20th century trying to get society not to view people this way, so these contemporary critical theories are a huge step backward in terms of building wider coalitions and solidarity across racial, gender, and ethnic lines.”On the problem of intergenerational poverty, Halpin argued thatReducing and eradicating poverty is a critical focus for neo-universalists in the liberal tradition. Personal rights and freedom mean little if a person or family does not have a basic foundation of solid income and work, housing, education, and health care. Good jobs, safe neighborhoods, and stable two-parent families are proven to be critical components of building solid middle class life. Although the government cannot tell people how to organize their lives, and it must deal with the reality that not everyone lives or wants to live in a traditional family, the government can take steps to make family life more affordable and stable for everyone, particularly for those with children and low household income.Although the issue of racial and cultural tension within the Democratic coalition has been the subject of debate for decades, the current focus among Democratic strategists is on the well-educated party elite.David Shor, a Democratic data analyst, has emerged as a central figure on these matters. Shor’s approach was described by my colleague Ezra Klein last week. First, leaders need to recognize that “the party has become too unrepresentative at its elite levels to continue being representative at the mass level” and then “Democrats should do a lot of polling to figure out which of their views are popular and which are not popular, and then they should talk about the popular stuff and shut up about the unpopular stuff.”How can Democrats defuse inevitable Republican attacks on contemporary liberalism’s “unpopular stuff” — to use Klein’s phrase — much of which involves issues related to race and immigration along with the disputes raised by identity politics on the left?Shor observes that “We’ve ended up in a situation where white liberals are more left wing than Black and Hispanic Democrats on pretty much every issue: taxes, health care, policing, and even on racial issues or various measures of ‘racial resentment’, ” before adding, “So as white liberals increasingly define the party’s image and messaging, that’s going to turn off nonwhite conservative Democrats and push them against us.”The result?“The joke is that the G.O.P. is really assembling the multiracial working-class coalition that the left has always dreamed of,” Shor told Politico in an interview after the election in November.On Oct. 9, another of my colleagues, Jamelle Bouie, weighed in:My problem is that I don’t think Shor or his allies are being forthright about what it would actually take to stem the tide and reverse the trend. If anti-Black prejudice is as strong as this analysis implies, then it seems ludicrous to say that Democrats can solve their problem with a simple shift in rhetoric toward their most popular agenda items. The countermessage is easy enough to imagine — some version of ‘Democrats are not actually going to help you, they are going to help them’.Bouie’s larger point is thatThis debate needs clarity, and I want Shor and his allies to be much more forthright about the specific tactics they would use and what their strategy would look like in practice. To me, it seems as if they are talking around the issue rather than being upfront about the path they want to take.Shor’s critique of the contemporary Democratic Party and the disproportionate influence of its young, well-educated white liberal elite has provoked a network of counter-critiques. For example, Ian Hanley-Lopez, a law professor at Berkeley, recently posted “Shor is mainly wrong about racism (which is to say, about electoral politics)” on Medium, an essay in which Lopez argues thatThe core problem for the Democratic Party is not too many young, liberal activists. The fundamental challenge for Democrats is to develop a unified, effective response to the intense polarization around race intentionally driven by Trump and boosted by the interlocking elements of the right-wing propaganda machine.Haney-Lopez agrees thatDemocratic messages alienate voters when they are predicated on a sense of identity that voters do not share. For instance, “defund the police” and “abolish ICE” are deeply connected to a story of the police and ICE as white supremacist institutions that oppress communities of color. In turn, this story depicts the country as locked into a historic conflict between white people and people of color. It thus asks white voters to see themselves as members of an oppressive group they must help to disempower; and it asks voters of color to see themselves as members of widely hated groups they must rally to defend. This framing is acceptable to many who are college educated, white and of color alike, but not to majorities of voters.But, in Lopez’s view,Shor weds himself to the wrong conclusion. As the Ezra Klein piece reports, Shor “and those who agree with him argue that Democrats need to try to avoid talking about race and immigration.’” This is Shor’s most dangerous piece of advice to Democrats. For Shor, this has become an article of faith.Lopez argues that the best way to defuse divisive racial issues is to explicitly portray such tactics as “a divide-and-conquer strategy.”The basic idea, Lopez wrote,is to shift the basic political conflict in the United States from one between racial groups (the right’s preferred frame) to one between the 0.1 percent and the rest of us, with racism as their principal weapon. In our research, this race-class fusion politics is the most promising route forward for Democrats.Steve Phillips, the founder of Democracy in Color (and, like Haney-Lopez, a frequent contributor to The Times), goes a giant step further. In an email, Phillips argued that for over 50 years, “Democrats have NEVER won the white vote. All of it is dancing around the real issue, which is that the majority of white voters never back Democrats.” Even white college-educated voters “are very, very fickle. There’s some potential to up that share, but at what cost?” The bottom line? “I don’t think they’re movable; certainly, to any appreciable sense.”Phillips wrote that hisbiggest point is that it’s not necessary or cost-efficient to try to woo these voters. A meaningful minority of them are already with us and have always been with us. There are now so many people of color in the country (the majority of young people), that that minority of whites can ally with people of color and win elections from the White House to the Georgia Senate runoffs,” noting, “plus, you don’t have to sell your soul and compromise your principles to woo their support.In his email, Phillips acknowledged that “it does look like there has been a small decline in that Clinton got 76 percent of the working class vote among minorities and Biden 72 percent. But I still come back to the big picture points mentioned above.”On this point, Phillips may underestimate the significance of the four-point drop, and of the larger decline among working class Hispanics. If this is a trend — a big if because we don’t yet know how much of this is about Donald Trump and whether these trends will persist without him — it has the hallmarks of a new and significant problem for Democrats in future elections. In that light, it is all the more important for Democratic strategists of all ideological stripes to spell out what specific approaches they contend are most effective in addressing, if not countering, the divisive racial and cultural issues that have weakened the party in recent elections, even when they’re won.Saying the party’s candidates should simply downplay the tough ones may not be adequate.The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram. More

  • in

    John Yarmuth of Kentucky, House Budget Chairman, Announces Retirement

    Mr. Yarmuth, the lone Democrat in his state’s congressional delegation and a key proponent of President Biden’s domestic agenda, said he would not seek re-election.WASHINGTON — Representative John Yarmuth of Kentucky, the lone Democrat in his state’s congressional delegation and the chairman of the House Budget Committee, announced on Tuesday that he would not seek re-election in 2022.Mr. Yarmuth, who is playing a leading role in shepherding President Biden’s sprawling domestic agenda through Congress, is the first senior House Democrat to say he will not run in the midterms, when Republicans are widely believed to have a good chance of wresting the majority.In a video circulated on social media, Mr. Yarmuth, who will be 75 at the end of the current Congress, said he was leaving because of “a desire to have more control of my time in the years I have left” and to spend more time with his family.He also faced the prospect that his Louisville-centered district could be redrawn this year, potentially leading to a more difficult re-election race, though Mr. Yarmuth told reporters later on Tuesday that he was confident the district “won’t change significantly.” Even if he were to prevail, he would face the loss of his committee chairmanship if Democrats lost the House.“I know that on my first day as a private citizen, I will regret this decision, and I will be miserable about having left the most gratifying role of my professional life,” Mr. Yarmuth said in the video. “But I also know that every day thereafter, I will find other ways to help my fellow citizens, and I will be more confident that the decision I announced today is the right one.”He has held his seat since 2006 and has been the only Democrat in the congressional delegation since 2013.Mr. Yarmuth is among the most high-ranking Democrats set to depart Congress at the end of 2022, joining a trickle of rank-and-file lawmakers who have decided to seek a different political office or vacate a district that is likely to change significantly once state officials redraw them using data from the 2020 census.“In Chairman John Yarmuth, the Louisville community and indeed all Americans have had a fierce and extraordinarily effective champion for their health, financial security and well-being,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California said in a statement. With his retirement, she added, “the Congress will lose a greatly respected member, and our caucus will lose a friend whose wise counsel, expertise, humor and warmth is cherished.”In his role leading the Budget Committee, Mr. Yarmuth helped oversee passage of the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief package in March, which he called the proudest moment of his congressional career. He has also drafted the $3.5 trillion budget blueprint that Democrats pushed through over the summer to pave the way for Mr. Biden’s signature domestic bill addressing climate change, expanding health care and public education programs and increasing taxes on businesses and wealthy individuals.Asked by reporters on Capitol Hill about the reaction to his announcement, Mr. Yarmuth said “it’s been overwhelming — I’ve been doing my best to keep it together all day.” More

  • in

    How Democrats Can Save Themselves

    Normally the political party that loses an election goes through a period of soul-searching and vigorous internal debate, while the winning party embraces a smug certainty about its own inevitable multigenerational dominance. In 2021, though, the roles are reversed.The widespread belief that Donald Trump was, in some sense, the real winner of an election that he lost has succeeded in pre-empting a Republican debate about why the Democrats captured the White House last year. Meanwhile, the Democrats, despite their control of the Congress and the presidency, are increasingly the ones arguing as though they’re already in the wilderness.The Democrats’ angst strikes me as a healthy development for liberalism. One problem with the emergency thinking that Trump inspires in his opponents — and one reason to resist it — is that it occludes real understanding of the political conditions that put him in power, and that might do so again. This is what you saw happen to the Democrats after 2016: The sense of being lightning-struck sent the center-left wandering into a maze of conspiracies, a haunted wood where villains like Vladimir Putin and Mark Zuckerberg loomed larger than the swing voters they had lost and savior figures like Robert Mueller were supposed to unmake Trump’s power for them.Only the party’s left, its Bernie Sanders wing, fully developed a more normal theory of the 2016 defeat, trying to understand Obama-Trump voters in the context of globalization and deindustrialization as well as racism, fascism and Putinist dirty tricks. But this created a fundamental imbalance in the party’s conversation: With the Sanders faction trying to pull the party toward social democracy and the establishment acting as if its major challenges were Russian bots and nefarious Facebook memes, there was hardly anyone left to point out the ways that Democrats might be in danger of moving too far left — and the writers who did so were generally dismissed as dinosaurs.So it was up to Democratic voters to exert a rightward tug on their party — first by saving the party from the likely disaster of nominating the intelligentsia’s candidate, Elizabeth Warren, and ultimately by putting up a nominee, Joe Biden, whose long career as a moderate gave him some distance from the “Great Awokening” that swept liberal institutions in 2020.Now, though, with the increasing awareness that Bidenism is probably not a long-term strategy, we’re finally getting the fuller argument that should have broken out after 2016 — over what the Democrats can do, and whether they can do anything, to win over the working-class and rural voters alienated by the party’s increasingly rigorous progressive litmus tests.A key player in this argument is the pollster and analyst David Shor, whom my colleague Ezra Klein interviewed for a long essay last week, and who has emerged — after a temporary 2020 cancellation — as the leading spokesman for the pragmatic liberal critique of progressive zeal.This critique starts with a diagnosis: Democrats misread the meaning of Barack Obama’s 2012 victory, imagining that it proved that their multiracial coalition could win without downscale and rural white voters, when in fact Obama had beaten Mitt Romney precisely because of his relatively resilient support from those demographics, especially across the industrial Midwest. And this misreading was particularly disastrous because these voters have outsize influence in Senate races and the Electoral College, so losing them — and then beginning to lose culturally conservative minority voters as well — has left the Democrats with a structural disadvantage that will cost them dearly across the next decade absent some kind of clear strategic adjustment.From this diagnosis comes the prescription, so-called popularism, glossed by Klein as follows: “Democrats should do a lot of polling to figure out which of their views are popular and which are not popular, and then they should talk about the popular stuff and shut up about the unpopular stuff.”You will note that this banal-seeming wisdom is not an ideological litmus test: Where left-wing ideas are popular, Shor Thought would have Democrats talk about them more. But where they are unpopular, especially with the kind of voters who hold the key to contested Senate races, Democrats need a way to defuse them or hold them at a distance.Thus a “popularist” candidate might be a thoroughgoing centrist in some cases, and in others a candidate running the way Bernie Sanders did in 2016, stressing the most popular ideas in the social-democratic tool kit. But in both cases such candidates would do everything in their power not to be associated with ideas like, say, police abolition or the suspension of immigration enforcement. Instead they would imitate the way Obama himself, in his first term, tried to finesse issues like immigration and same-sex marriage, sometimes using objectively conservative rhetoric and never getting way out ahead of public opinion.Which is easier said than done. For one thing, the Democratic Party’s activists have a different scale of power in the world of 2021 than the world of 2011, and the hypothetical “popularist” politician can’t make their influence and expectations just go away. For another, as my colleague Nate Cohn points out, Obama in 2011 was trying to keep white working-class voters in the Democratic fold, while the popularist politician in 2022 or 2024 would be trying to win them back from the G.O.P. — a much harder thing to achieve just by soft-pedaling vexatious issues.At the very least a Democratic strategy along these lines would probably need to go further along two dimensions. First, it would need to overtly attack the new progressivism — not on every front but on certain points where the language and ideas of the progressive clerisy are particularly alienated from ordinary life.For instance, popularist Democrats would not merely avoid a term like “Latinx,” which is ubiquitous in official progressive discourse and alien to most U.S. Hispanics; they would need to attack and even mock its use. (Obviously this is somewhat easier for the ideal popularist candidate: an unwoke minority politician in the style of Eric Adams.)Likewise, a popularist candidate — ideally a female candidate — on the stump in a swing state might say something like: I want this to be a party for normal people, and normal people say mother, not “birthing person.”Instead of reducing the salience of progressive jargon, the goal would be to raise its salience in order to be seen to reject it — much as Donald Trump in 2016 brazenly rejected unpopular G.O.P. positions on entitlements that other Republican rivals were trying to merely soft-pedal.But then along with this rhetorical fire directed leftward, popularists would also need go further in addressing the actual policy concerns surrounding the issues they’re trying to defuse. Immigration is a major political problem for Democrats right now, for instance, not just because their activists have taken extreme positions on the issue, but because the border is a major policy problem: The effects of globalized travel and communication make it ever-easier for sudden migrant surges to overwhelm the system, and liberalism’s shift away from tough enforcement — or at least its professed desire to make that shift — creates extra incentives for those surges to happen under Democratic presidents.So in the long run — especially given climate change’s likely effect on mass migration — there is no way for Democrats to have a stable policy that’s pro-immigration under the law without first having a strategy to make the American border much more secure than it’s been under the Biden administration to date. How to do that humanely is a policy challenge, but if you really want to court voters for whom the issue matters, you have to take the challenge seriously — because the problem makes itself salient, and it isn’t going away.It’s worth nothing that even this combination — attack progressive excess, show Obama-Trump voters that you take their issues seriously — is still a somewhat defensive one. As Cohn notes, when Trump reoriented the Republican Party to win more working-class votes, he made a sweeping and dramatic — and yes, demagogic — case that he would be better than Hillary Clinton for their interests and their values. Democrats have specific ideas that poll well with these voters, but it’s not clear that even a sweeping “heartland revival” message could actually reverse the post-Trump shift.But even a strictly defensive strategy, one that just prevents more Hispanic voters from shifting to the Republicans and holds on to some of Biden’s modest Rust Belt gains, would buy crucial time for Democrats — time for a generational turnover that still favors them, and time to seize the opportunities that are always offered, in ways no data scientist can foretell, by unexpected events.The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook, Twitter (@NYTOpinion) and Instagram. More

  • in

    The Democrats Are in Danger of a Midterm Rout

    The Democrats are staring down real danger.They just aren’t getting enough done. They aren’t moving quickly enough on President Biden’s major campaign promises.The warning signs are all around.Democrats are still wrangling over their infrastructure and social spending bills. And the longer the fight drags on, the uglier it looks. Washington watchers are right — to a degree — to say that this is simply the way that large legislation is worked through. It’s a slog.In the end, I believe that the Democrats will have no choice but to pass something, no matter the size, because the consequence of failure is suicide. Democrats must go into the midterms with something that they can call a win, with something that at least inches closer to the transformations Biden has promised.But the budget isn’t the only issue.There is still a crisis at the border. In August, the Pew Research Center noted that the U.S. Border Patrol had reported “nearly 200,000 encounters with migrants along the U.S.-Mexico border in July, the highest monthly total in more than two decades.”That’s the largest number since Bill Clinton was president.The handling of Haitian immigrants was a particular blight on the administration, and the images of officers cracking their reins like whips will be hard to erase from memory.Furthermore, the Senate parliamentarian has advised Democrats against including a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and other undocumented immigrants in their spending bill. It is not clear if Senate Democrats will try to get around the parliamentarian’s nonbinding ruling, but 92 legal scholars have called on them to do just that.As for police reform, negotiations on that legislation completely fell apart with customary finger-pointing as the epilogue.The president has said that, “The White House will continue to consult with the civil rights and law enforcement communities, as well as victims’ families to define a path forward, including through potential further executive actions I can take to advance our efforts to live up to the American ideal of equal justice under law.”But executive orders are severely limited when it comes to state and local policing, and any order one president issues can be rescinded by the next.Then there is the massive, widespread assault on voting rights rolling out across the country, what some have rightly referred to as Jim Crow 2.0.As the Brennan Center for Justice put it earlier this month, “In an unprecedented year so far for voting legislation, 19 states have enacted 33 laws that will make it harder for Americans to vote.”And yet, it is still not clear if there are enough votes in the Senate to pass voter protections, Senator Joe Manchin hasn’t agreed to change filibuster rules which would allow Democrats to pass the legislation on their own, and Biden has yet to throw his full weight behind the fight to preserve the franchise from Republican assaults.Not to mention that Covid is still killing far too many Americans. The surge of cases during Biden’s first year ate away at any optimism about the development and administration of vaccines.Democrats have been unable to deliver much to make their voters happy, and their major agenda items have been stalled in Congress for so long that many of those voters are growing impatient and disillusioned.As a result, many recent polls have shown Biden’s approval ratings plummeting to the lowest level of his young presidency: According to a recent Quinnipiac University poll, 38 percent of respondents approved of Biden’s job performance, but 53 percent disapproved.More than half disapproved of his handling of the economy, the military, taxes, and foreign policy, and nearly 70 percent disapproved of his approach to immigration reform and the situation at the Mexican border. Only his handling of Covid received a smaller disapproval rating, of 50 percent.As Quinnipiac University polling analyst Tim Malloy put it, “Battered on trust, doubted on leadership, and challenged on overall competency, President Biden is being hammered on all sides as his approval rating continues its downward slide to a number not seen since the tough scrutiny of the Trump administration.”Black voters continue to be Biden’s strongest supporters on many of these metrics, but even their support seems disturbingly soft.Maybe the Democrats will pass a massive spending bill and tout it well, and people will forget their disappointment on other issues and revel in the mound of cash the Democrats plan to spend. Maybe. There is no doubt that this country desperately needs the investments Democrats want to make. In fact, it needs even more investment than the amount Democrats have proposed.But even if they succeed in passing both the infrastructure framework and the social spending bill, those investments may come too late to discharge growing dissatisfaction. An unpopular president with slipping approval numbers is an injured leader with little political capital to burn.Biden is better than Trump, but that’s not enough. People didn’t just vote for Biden to vanquish a villain; they also wanted a champion. That champion has yet to emerge.The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips. And here’s our email: letters@nytimes.com.Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook and Twitter (@NYTopinion), and Instagram. More