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Joe Biden, Semiconductor Plant, Phoenix, AZ
President Joe Biden delivers remarks at the TSMC Semiconductor Plant in Phoenix, AZ on December 6, 2022, highlighting efforts to boost US chip production. Photo credit: The White House / Flickr

The economy is currently a liability for Joe Biden. Americans are convinced it is in the tank even though the numbers tell a different story. Can the president turn it around?

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Now that the final unemployment figures for 2023 are in, it is clear that the US economy performed unexpectedly well last year. It has added more than 14 million jobs since President Joe Biden took office, the unemployment rate has remained below 4 percent for nearly two years, the gross domestic product grew more than anticipated, and the previously rampant inflation appears to be in check.

Most importantly, it seems as though the economy will avoid a recession in spite of a series of interest rate hikes meant to combat inflation. As a result, it appears more likely now that it will experience a “soft landing” (i.e., inflation that can be reduced without major job losses). This is an outcome that many experts had hoped for but few had truly thought possible. In addition, wages (including for lower-income workers) have recently been rising at a faster rate than price increases.

All of this should be great news for Americans… especially Biden. While commanders in chief usually get too much credit (or blame) for how the economy performs, Biden should run on his economic record and point out that, under his leadership, the US made it through tough times relatively unscathed.

However, in the upside-down world of American politics, the economy right now hangs around his neck like a millstone.

There are several reasons for this. 

Most importantly, inflation really was very high at the beginning of Biden’s presidency, and consumers will always notice when prices go up. It was tough to convince Americans that the economy was great in 2021 and 2022 when they were paying significantly more at the grocery store or filling up their gas tanks. 

But that’s not the whole story. 

While the rise of inflation coincided with Biden taking office, it was actually a worldwide problem. 

In addition, the US performed much better in the last three years than many of its peer nations. 

Finally, even the conservative Wall Street Journal noted that one of the reasons why high inflation rates stuck around for so long was that many corporations were padding their profits

However, these are nuances that don’t matter to the right-wing propaganda machine, which has been reminding Americans that they are now having to pay more for their stuff than under Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump.

Of course, they are also leaving out the fact that consumers had to pay more under Trump than under President Barack Obama, but who bothers with such details when the goal is to score political points? Certainly not Fox News. 

And, because the mainstream media often takes its cues from Fox, neither did many other news outlets.

Just look at these figures compiled by Mark Copelovitch, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin:

If you want to know why Americans think that the economy is going down the drain or that the United States is already in a recession (as nearly 60 percent do), look no further than these numbers. 

Over the past three years, people reading news articles about the economy were far more likely to encounter the words “recession” and “inflation” than “unemployment/jobs” and “recovery” — even now that the former two are much less of a concern. 

In addition, Trump, with the help from his allies, has done a really good job of gaslighting Americans into believing that things were historically good during his presidency (they were not) while they are now historically bad (they are not).

At every opportunity, Biden should hammer home the point that the very same corporations that got tax breaks from Trump and the GOP then turned around and raised prices to increase their profits… just when regular Americans could afford it least.

The fact is that Trump inherited a robust economy from Obama. While the unemployment rate continued its downward trend before reaching a historic 3.5 percent before the COVID-19 pandemic, other economic indicators remained largely unchanged. 

So, while Trump presided over a good economy, there is no sign that he did anything to make it better, and certainly not “great.”

But inventing alternate realities, lying, and gaslighting the country are things Trump is very good at… while the media is very bad at pointing out what he is doing. 

However, that is only a partial explanation.

Because while Trump is a master at self-promotion (even in the face of facts and reality), Biden is absolutely terrible at it. 

Joe Biden, Bidenomics

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on his “Investing in America” economic agenda and the impact of the Inflation Reduction Act on clean energy innovation and manufacturing on August 15, 2023, at the Ingeteam, Inc. warehouse in Milwaukee, WI. Photo credit: The White House / Wikimedia

The term Bidenomics has not caught on. Even worse, it has become a punchline for conservatives who relish using the term when pointing out that many everyday items now cost much more than when Biden took office.

And while Trump is boastful, Biden is too wonkish. 

Whenever a new favorable jobs report comes out, the president should brag about his historic job creation while slamming his predecessor for losing jobs while in office. That leaves out a few details, like how those job losses came during the height of the pandemic, but if you want to defeat Trump, you have to fight fire with fire… and voters are apparently too dumb, distracted, or gullible to separate fact from fiction. 

At every opportunity, Biden should hammer home the point that the very same corporations that got tax breaks from Trump and the GOP then turned around and raised prices to increase their profits… just when regular Americans could afford it least.

And the president needs to do this fast because ground lost (or ceded) is difficult to win back against someone like Trump, who has an entire propaganda machine in his back. 

Sure, he is not going to convince Fox News viewers, but Biden needs to reach out, and tout his accomplishments, to independents, new voters, and minorities, i.e., the people he needs to win,  

If he can’t figure out how to make the economy an asset on the campaign trail and not a liability, then the millions of jobs that were created under his stewardship won’t be enough to save his own.

Author

  • Klaus Marre

    Klaus Marre is a writer, editor, former congressional reporter, and director of the WhoWhatWhy Mentor Apprentice Program. Follow him on Twitter @KlausMarre.

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