Shoot the Messenger

I am not a member of an organized political party. I am a Democrat.

~Will Rogers

In 1980, Republican presidential nominee Ronald Reagan asked a question which many believe turned the tide in the November election.  “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?”  To make sure the answer among a majority of Americans was “NO,” he provided a statistic which became known as the “misery index.”  The calculation consisted of the sum of the inflation rate (measured by change in the consumer price index/CPI) and the unemployment rate.  In October, 1980 the misery index totaled 20.37 percent, consisting of inflation of 12.77 percent and unemployment of 7.5 percent.  Four years later, Reagan was overwhelmingly reelected, touting Reaganomics for having reduced the “misery index” by almost half to 11.66.  Though unemployment decreased by only 0.1 percent, inflation was only a third of what it was (4.26 percent) at the end of Jimmy Carter’s administration.

In case you have not noticed, every GOP candidate for the 2024 presidential nominee daily refers to the failed Biden economy.  Yet none asks, “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?”  And any reference to “misery index” is a faded memory. Why?  Because it no longer serves their purpose.  Today, the “misery index” is 7.7 percent (4.0 percent inflation and 3.7 percent unemployment), 3.96 points BELOW that at the time of Reagan’s landslide re-election.  Pun intended, when it comes to the “misery index,” Bidenomics easily trumps Reagonomics.

Speaking of Trump, maybe you wonder why he is not attacking Biden based on the “misery index.”  After all, Biden’s 2.5 years in the White House have barely moved the needle.  The index was 8.08 when Trump involuntarily left office.  While unemployment stood at 6.9 percent, his misery index number benefitted from an inflation rate 1.18 percent.  Maybe he would prefer not reminding voters why inflation was so low.  The average daily rate of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. exceeded 3,300.  Or there was a net loss of 2.9 million jobs between January 2017 and January 2021 while job growth in the first two years of the Biden Administration increased by 10.7 million. Or that no one was spending money as demonstrated by a consumer spending decline for the first time in 50 years.

Despite this available evidence, an October, 2022 ABC News-Ipsos poll of registered voters showed, by a margin of 14 points, respondents trusted Republicans to do a better job handling the economy than Democrats.  While there is some truth to an assessment the media have not given Biden’s economic accomplishments the positive attention they deserve, it is not their responsibility to do so.  That is the job of the director of White House communications and the director of communications for the re-election campaign.  They are the president’s primary messengers and they are clearly not doing their job.

Let me give you one example.  At a major intersection between two U.S. highways in Northeast Florida there is a billboard with head shots of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.  Superimposed above them are the words “Dumb and Dumber.”  It is viewed every day by workers who take either route between Amelia Island and Jacksonville while they wait for the traffic light to turn green.  Now I am not suggesting Democrats should emulate the incivility and lack of respect exhibited by MAGA-world, but they could take a clue concerning the medium.

Last week, the Biden campaign tweeted the following in response to Alabama senator Tommy Tuberville announcing that his state would receive $1.4 billion from the federal government for affordable broadband access.  “See you at the groundbreaking.”  Biden’s point, Tuberville had voted against the $555 billion infrastructure bill which authorized the project’s funding. But it was a one-day news story.  And if Biden does attend the groundbreaking, it will be another one-day news story.

What should they do?  Rent billboards on major highways in and around the communities that will benefit from the infrastructure project.  It should read.

The broadband access you’re enjoying today would not have happened if  a Republican had been in the White House or Republicans like Tommy Tuberville, who voted against funding it, controlled the U.S. Senate.
You’re welcome.  President Joe Biden.

Democrats share majority values on a number of issues including women’s reproductive right and sensible gun regulation. They do not believe in book banning or the right of one parent to decide what all children can or cannot see or do.  They do not belief a single, lower court judge should be able to overturn years of legal precedent.  Nor that Supreme Court justices should not be held to a code of ethics, as is EVERY other federal official.

I am reminded of a true story about the Apollo moon mission when engineers working on the lunar module were faced with an issue of weight versus fuel capacity.  They suggested to the project manager Thomas Kelly the vehicle did not need four large windows (the original design) if the astronauts stood closer to two smaller triangular portholes.  It would also eliminate the need for seats, another weight factor.  Kelly rejected the proposal saying, “I don’t see it.”  Instead of blaming Kelly for his lack of appreciation of their brilliant idea, one of the team members said it was their job “to make him see it.”  They did by creating a mock-up of the interior of the lunar module, sans seats.  When Kelly could experience rather than just hear about what they suggested, it made the difference

The Biden White House and campaign need to have its own “misery index.”  It should be defined as how underwater the incumbent stands on issues which polling suggests are at the forefront of voter concerns.  Especially those on which Biden and Democratic candidates for Congress are more aligned with the majority than any of their potential GOP opponents. If the current team cannot change that dynamic, it is time to put them out of their misery (pun again intended) and find messengers who can make enough voters “see it” to ensure victory in 2024.

For what it’s worth.


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