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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Squandered opportunities

by John Brummett | September 8, 2021 at 3:25 a.m.

Democrat-Gazette online

A poll from ABC and the Washington Post came out Sunday showing President Biden's approval rating down from 50 in June to 44. His disapproval rating was 51, up nine points from June.

For comparison, Donald Trump's presidential approval rating got as high as 49 and as low as 34 while staying mostly in the 43-46 range.

Democrats on the "This Week" roundtable on ABC that morning suddenly were saying that maybe the party ought to go ahead and pass that popular bipartisan infrastructure bill and learn to take a victory lap even if Bernie Sanders' social-spending dreams were not simultaneously assured of passage.

I would never say I told anyone so. I simply would ask: You think?

Heidi Heitkamp, once able to get elected to the Senate from North Dakota as a Democrat, lamented not her party's intentions but its tone-deafness tactically. Donna Brazile, the Democratic strategist, said Democrats could do infrastructure and then separately pass that yet-unwritten "human infrastructure" bill of $3.5 trillion.

Actually, it probably can't accomplish the latter because $3.5 trillion is too big and overplays the Democratic hand from a mixed-message mandate, meaning no mandate at all, from last November. But there's no need to make the "progressives" madder than usual by telling them that yet.

The infrastructure bill got cut in half in actual back-and-forth negotiations between solution-seeking senators from both parties. Yet "progressives" are still tying the infrastructure bill to the supposed immovable magic of $3.5 trillion on the other bill, which at present is but a resolution with blank space.

It is true, and hopeful, that House Democrats have said they'll vote on the infrastructure bill from the Senate by the end of this month regardless of the other measure. But the left-wing extremists are grumbling, and the Democrats can spare only four votes unless they pick up moderate Republicans on infrastructure. They can pick those up, but they'll pay a price with the huffy left flank.

Host George Stephanopoulos, who was intimate enough with Bill Clinton to understand not making the perfect the enemy of the good, asked if Democrats, by leveraging the one bill for the other, might not mess around and get neither.

I don't remember what the panel said, but the answer is yes ... and then lose the Senate in the midterm before Stephen Breyer retires from the U.S. Supreme Court, which would wave in Mitch McConnell to decide another court vacancy should one occur and further control women's bodies.

The two Republican panelists--former New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Republican consultant Kristen Soltis Anderson--wanted to blame Biden's plummet on incompetence on Afghanistan and covid. That was half-right, Christie being right on Afghanistan and Anderson being wrong on covid. That's true at least as long as we specify "appearance of incompetence," which, in politics, is the same as incompetence.

It may be true that the Afghanistan debacle would have occurred no matter the timing and method by which the United States pulled out. But Americans pay a president to arrive at informed command of such things, and to be responsible for them. They specifically elected Biden to be competent and empathetic in the way he promised and Trump was not.

Fairly or unfairly, the fact remains that Biden did not anticipate or even remotely expect the instant Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, which goes to competence. And he appeared oblivious as things went tragically wrong with great human cost. He said things were going well. In one interview, he dismissed Afghans desperately falling from planes as something that had happened four or five days before. That's not empathetic.

The idea that Biden or his administration is to blame for the Delta variant is absurd. The Delta variant spreads because of deeply odd and seemingly mean-spirited right-wing resistance to vaccines and masks.

The poll reveals that clearly. Respondents still approve by 52 percent of Biden's handling of the virus. That's down from 62 percent in June, but a darned sight better than his approval rating on Afghanistan, which is 44 percent.

The Democrats' problems are evident. They are tactical overplays of a progressive agenda, a squandering of advantages in competence and empathy, and some of the facts and most of the appearances of the Afghanistan debacle.

The price of Democratic political malpractice is the likely loss of congressional majorities in 2022 and an improved chance the monstrous Trump returns to the White House.

John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at [email protected] Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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