Reprinted with permission from Press Run
Viewing the world through the prism of the GOP, Politico announced President Joe Biden's speech to Congress Wednesday night, where he presented a sweeping, optimistic view for America's rebound from Covid-19, was a big win…for Republicans. Pushing the absurd storyline that Biden's speech hurt him because it highlighted his agenda (he's been trying to keep it hidden?), Politico declared the GOP had seized the night. Or, as its headline announced, "Biden Gives Republicans What They've Been Waiting For."
That is some tortured logic. Especially considering that people who watched Biden's First 100 Days speech loved it, as he outlined new initiatives for cheaper childcare, smoother roads, faster internet, and promised to combat climate change.
The Politico misstep this week didn't occur in a vacuum. The Beltway press hasn't figured out how to cover the low-key president, who so clearly does not crave attention or insert himself into every news cycle. Journalists mistake Biden's No Drama persona as him being some sort of placeholder figure. Just 25 percent of Biden's early news coverage from mainstream media outlets has been positive, according to a new study from Pew. Yet Biden keeps posting big win after big win — a vaccination rollout that's become the envy of the world, an economy that's roaring back to life, and signing into law the largest social spending bill in U.S. history.
Politico actually posted this April headline: "How Good News Could Complicate the Biden Agenda." Apparently, too much good news is bad news for the White House.
Let's face it: If Biden were a Republican and had posted the same jaw-dropping first 100 Days, the Beltway press would be marveling at his accomplishments and crowning him a political phenomenon. They'd also be making the case for why he was the next Ronald Reagan, whom the media still tout as a universally loved, master communicator.
Back in the early 1980s, the Beltway press fell all over itself praising the new Republican president, showering him with fawning coverage that set the tone for his eight years in office.
"When Ronald Reagan arrived in January 1981 to begin his term as the fortieth President of the Unite States, he was blessed to inherit a national press corps that had long since abandoned the mildly adversarial posture of the late Nixon years in favor of a more deferential attitude towards conservative ideology and authority," Mark Hertsgaard wrote in his seminal book on Reagan and the press, On Bended Knee. "It's hard to say whether White House cajoling or news media self-censorship was the stronger goad in producing the extremely friendly news coverage that greeted the Reagan administration in 1981."
He noted, "While top Reagan officials later affirmed that press coverage of the administration had been fair and balanced throughout the first term, both [David] Gergen and [Mike] Deaver cited these first six months as an especially friendly time."
Truth is, Reagan's first 100 Days were nowhere near as successful as Biden's. Consider:
• 200 million vaccine shots have been administered to Americans.
• A recent Pew poll found that a stunning 72 percent of Americans, including 55 percent of Republicans, say Biden has done an excellent job managing the Covid vaccination.
• Biden has witnessed unprecedented growth on Wall Street, better than any of his predecessors going to back 70 years.
• Jobless benefits have fallen to their lowest of the pandemic.
• Retail sales recently soared 10 percent as Democratic-backed stimulus checks hit bank accounts.
• Biden has promised to cut greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030, and rallied world leaders in the process.
• His $2.2 trillion infrastructure proposal remains widely popular with voters.
Yet, Biden is still often met with media shrugs. The New York Times recently claimed, "Joe Biden never captured the hearts of Democratic voters in the way Barack Obama once did." This, just months after Biden scored 81 million votes, more than any candidate in American history.
ABC News tweeted this GOP-friendly take over the weekend: "BREAKING: 52% of Americans approve of Pres. Joe Biden's first 100 days in office—the third-lowest of any president at that milestone since Harry Truman."
First of all, a recent Pew poll had Biden at 59 percent, which put him on par with George Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush at their 100 Days mark. More importantly, Biden is immediately 15 points more popular than his Republican predecessor, but ABC decided to pretend Biden's polling numbers are weak.
In terms of Biden's overall approval, his current, solid-but-not-spectacular numbers should to be put in context. We've entered such a polarized era in American politics that the days of a sitting president coasting along at 65 percent are a relic of the not so distant past, simply because across-the-aisle support is so rare today. It didn't used to be. Just 20 years ago, W. Bush snagged 39 percent support among Democratic voters during his first 100 days in office.
Understandably, Democratic voters resisted Trump's radical and corrupt presidency in a nearly uniform manner. Now Republicans consistently oppose Biden's center-left presidency simply because he's a Democrat.
Despite that extreme polarization, Biden's approval ratings remain sturdy as his agenda wins bipartisan support. We're watching a president who goes deep each time he comes to the plate. The press covers him like he's hitting singles.
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