Biden, The Lame Duck

Image by Jon Tyson.

Hundreds of Democratic candidates on federal ballots this November have tethered themselves to President Joe Biden’s political fortunes. The Democrats’ chances of keeping a majority in the U.S. House and Senate have been as weak as he is.

According to new polls, Biden has now become a first-term lame duck. Since he will not be the party’s standard-bearer in 2024, Democratic Congressional candidates can focus on winning in 2022 even if it means straying from Biden’s policies.

1. New polls

The President’s current job approval rating is down to 38.4%, from 55.8% on Inauguration Day.

A bracing new Harvard-Harris Poll finds that registered voters have now written Biden off, with 60% having “doubts about his fitness for office,” 64% saying he is “showing he is too old to be president,” and 71% concluding he “should not run for a second term.”

2. Getting worse

Things are likely to get worse as the midterm elections approach. Of course, every consumer purchase brings new evidence of inflation. Within a few weeks, we may be in a recession, too. The U.S. economy shrank by 1.6% in the first quarter of 2022. The Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank is projecting another drop, of 2.1%, when second quarter estimates come out on July 28. When the economy declines for two quarters in a row, a recession has begun, according to the common rule of thumb.

Registered voters see inflation as the “most important issue facing the country today,” and only 28% approve of Biden’s job performance at handling inflation, according to the Harvard-Harris poll.

These findings should not come as a surprise. Instead of tackling inflation, Biden has spent months trying to blame a certain someone for it.

On June 30, after a NATO meeting in Madrid, Biden told a press conference, “The reason gas prices are up is because of Russia. Russia, Russia, Russia.”

He added, “We are going to support Ukraine as long as it takes.” Later the same day, CNN’s Victor Blackwell asked White House spokesman Brian Deese, “What do you say to those families who say, ‘Listen, we can’t afford to pay $4.85 a gallon for months, if not years. This is just not sustainable.’?” Deese dug in: “What you heard from the president today was a clear articulation of the stakes. This is about the future of the liberal world order, and we have to stand firm.”

This doesn’t make sense. On the one hand, inflation is supposed to be all the fault of Russian President Vladimir Putin. But “supporting Ukraine” and “standing firm” refer to the U.S./European decisions to sanction Russia, which is what made world food, fuel, and other commodity prices soar this year. The countries that created the sanctions can also end them. And that depends on them abandoning the fantasy of sanctions leading to Putin’s downfall.

3. What can a Congressional candidate tell voters about how to get inflation under control?

Step One: The place to start is in Ukraine, by ending the fighting and dying there. The Ukrainian government should sit down with negotiators from Russia and the Lugansk and Donetsk republics and agree to peace terms. Moscow has said it is willing to negotiate. Kyiv is currently refusing to do so, but the U.S. Congress could make genuine peace talks a condition for further aid of any kind.

Step Two: Based on a negotiated peace, Congress should lift the sanctions on Russia. This would let food, fuel, and other commodities be traded freely around the world, and let international markets — and prices — settle down.

These steps are difficult but necessary. They are not the Biden policy or the Democratic party line. But for Democratic candidates, proposing a way out of inflation and war might help win an uphill race in November.

Paul Ryder has been research assistant to attorney Leonard Weinglass, Pentagon Papers Legal Defense; national staff, Indochina Peace Campaign; policy director for Ohio Governor Richard Celeste; and organizing director for Ohio Citizen Action. He is the principal author and editor of “The Good Neighbor Campaign Handbook” (2006) and co-editor with Susan Wind Early of “Tom Hayden on Social Movements” (2019).