Biden’s plight (on Foreign Affairs) -DAWN

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A JEST in the legal profession features a wily child who murders his parents and contrives to throw himself at the mercy of the court, pleading he or she is an orphan. In politics, where it seems impossible to shame anyone anymore, this ludicrous ploy has become an everyday occurrence. The culprit responsible for inflicting harm cites the injuries he caused as evidence of his victim’s lack of merit.

The US Republican Party has based its entire campaign strategy on blaming sele­cted targets for the obstructions they themselves impose on them. Alas, it turns out in the US that this tactic works well, especially if the citizenry hasn’t been paying much attention to current events or disregarding facts that get in the way of their favourite tales. Of course, it helps Republicans (and allies in the Democratic camp) if the corporate mass media plays along.

As a ‘scene of the crime’, one can scan the antagonistic reporting on Joe Biden’s two major spending bills, comprising the first infrastructure programme since Roosevelt’s New Deal to shore up America’s crumbling infrastructure, and tacking on as well social welfare features in the Build Back Better bill. All this new spending was to be paid for by tax hikes on corporations and the rich, whose wealth vastly expanded over the last five decades and rocketed further during the pandemic.

No one forgives failure, even if rivals are to blame.

The American public widely approves both objectives, and the targeted tax hikes, but you’d never guess it from monitoring the media. If tycoons manage to wriggle out of paying, then these overdue programmes, which, by the way, are designed to improve the productive capacity of both physical and human capital (as economists call them), might turn out to be a bit inflationary, but whose fault would that be? In the universe of post-Trump US politics, Biden somehow is to blame for it all.

The US stock market, buttressed since the 2008 crash by decreed near-zero interest rates, rose from $38.5 trillion at the outset of the pandemic to $55tr today, an increase of 42 per cent in a year and a half. Apart from this situation, the investor class, with embarrassing ease, successfully used its legislative muscle to strip Biden’s programmes by half or more and today still strives to defeat the second and more social welfare-oriented bill. Meanwhile, mutual funds assets soared by 30pc in a year because money is riskily searching for a higher return than the nothing that banks and bonds offer. Clearly, investors calculate that government will be compelled to bail them out again. What they won’t invest in is infrastructure or the American people, so government must.

The blatant Republican Party bet is that a recently passed but weakened infrastructure bill will throw enough cash at their donors but not enough immediate benefits to average citizens, and thereby stoke grassroots discontent to enable Republicans to take control of Congress next November. Republican strategists, in short, expect to be richly rewarded for blocking solutions to problems they instigated or worsened. They may well be right. Is the US becoming an insane asylum, or not?

Both spending bills were mutilated by a pair of conservative Democratic Party senators, who, given a 50-50 Senate split, hobbled the legislation despite favourable majorities for the bills not only among Democrats but in their home states. Instead of using Joe Biden’s plight as a teaching moment about the heinous power of money over democracy, the media narrative instead hails ‘moderates’ for standing up against 48 fellow Democratic senators of a supposedly more feckless nature. Hardly a word of the good that bills can do (especially in their original formulation) has leaked out.

Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema are encoiled in donor (especially energy and pharmaceuticals) money and fumble about trying to justify sabotaging the Demo­crats’ chances in the 2022 mid-terms. Nei­ther exhibited any qualms about voting for a military spending hike. Republican Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell scarcely can believe his luck in conjuring two opportunists among the Senate Democrats who are poised to wreck their own party.

Still, the media storyline is that no one forgives failure, even if opponents are actually to blame. This story is a highly resonant cultural trope; according to treasured US myth, the true American individualist has absolutely no excuses for shortfalls, no matter how much the deck is stacked against them. So the only way for Biden to attain a semblance of success, according to pundits, is to embrace the ‘bipartisanship’ already forced upon him, a game exclusively for chumps. The American electorate did not vote for bipartisanship in 2020 and are unlikely in 2022 to forgive Biden if he fails to come through on progressive programmes, and largely because they have nowhere to go except back to Trump. That may be lunacy, but it is American politics.