Biden Faces The Grim Reality Of A Disengaged Nation

Biden Faces The Grim Reality Of A Disengaged Nation

For (at least) the second time in a week, Joe Biden pitched his infrastructure plan directly to the US public, telling voters Wednesday that the proposal represents "the single largest investment in American jobs since World War II." That's quite the claim and it's probably a semblance of true. Unfortunately, politics in America is now so divisive that some voters would drop their support for a plan they otherwise like just because it's sponsored by Democrats. A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted ea
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26 thoughts on “Biden Faces The Grim Reality Of A Disengaged Nation

  1. “68% supported an initiative to replace every lead pipe in the country” That caught my eye, as it did yours. That means that 32% of Americans oppose replacing lead pipes.

    32% … is that the MAGA base? As you noted, that is a horrible indictment of our citizenry.

    1. As a wise man once said, there are no solutions, only tradeoffs.

      Lead pipes can be (and are still) used safely. They only become a problem when pH changes cause leaching, as happened in Flint, without adequate monitoring.

      Is the cost of replacing every lead pipe in the country worth prioritizing over all else? Perhaps “the MAGA base” understands opportunity cost better than most.

      1. “Adequate monitoring” costs money! It’s too easy to cut that out of budgets decimated by local balanced budget laws. Think of the long-standing opposition from folks on the right against lead paint remediation. “It’s too expensive!”

        Oh, maybe the private sector will monitor for it? Now, that is worthy of a story in the Onion!

        1. But, Bob has a point about not messing with old systems that are still doing their job. Like the vacumn system in an old car.

          The key is knowing when you have to change them just in time to preempt disaster.

          1. And more importantly the fact that we don’t really even know where the lead pipes are and we know that recent studies have shown significant lead in many municipalities already treating their water. The fact is that lead pipes aren’t safe today and never were, we just made the best of a bad situation and now we need to actually remediate it.

      2. I don’t think the “average American” gives that much thought to infrastructure, or ever did. It is too large, remote, and complex a topic. The constituency for this sort of plan is industry (money), unions (jobs), local governments (jobs), and politicians (money).

  2. This is dispiriting because I believe that it’s true. Too many Americans are intellectually lazy and our democracy may not survive the collective idiocy. It appears that Thomas Jefferson was predicting our country’s current crisis when he warned: “No nation is permitted to live in ignorance with impunity.”

  3. It’s an entirely self-inflicted tragedy. If the corporate / political class really cared to prevail against this socio-economic crisis, and in the the geopolitical confrontation with a rising China, it shouldn’t be so difficult to do things like pass the first real infrastructure bill since the GFC. It should be emphasized that this is the kind of strategy China has routinely deployed annually for more than 30 years, building hard assets at home and acquiring them abroad with their excess USD.

    It goes without saying that the GOP has not governed in any semblance of good faith in over a decade. But if the Democrats are unable to herd cats like Manchin, they can forget about governing past the midterms. There are no excuses for failure; their credibility deficit is already far too low and the public is clearly at a breaking point. Americans simply are not going to care about excuses hung on the “Senate Parliamentarian” or the filibuster.

    Democrats framing of the issue, as usual, was wrong out of the gate. They fell into the same old pay-go trap, instead of: “let’s borrow at historically low rates to invest in the future”, or making the assertion that “the investments will pay for themselves in spades in GDP” (which the GOP erroneously claimed for their tax cut, empiricism be damned), or simply “this is like fighting a war for survival, just print the fucking money or die”. The truth is, starting with Clinton, they’ve let the GOP define the terms of debate and the rules of engagement. They need to play a different game.

    The odds of right-wing populism are far greater than left-wing I think. Because right-wing populism is inherently aligned with corporate oligarphic interests, all it needs to do is coopt the public with primitive ethno-religious narratives that are immune to rationality (i.e. fascism). “Woke capitalism” that isn’t ambitious enough to “fundamentally change” anything is mostly PR that people see right through in their daily lives, if they agree with it at all.

  4. There’s a critical flaw in the idea that support for the whole package should equal the average of the support for the individual components. This isn’t necessarily true.
    As a simple example, suppose I have 5 proposals that pay me $100 and a 6th that costs me $1000, the net of accepting the bunch is a loss of $500. I’d still support the first 5 individually, but never the bundle. The same concept applies to these infrastructure proposals. Different people may each have their own “make or break” proposal that they view so negatively it potentially kills their support for the whole.

    For me, that “make or break” issue is corporate tax rate increases. It’s not that I feel we should tax corporations (or the wealthy) less, but rather that I believe we should pursue a tax that hits corporations more fairly, like a VAT tax. There’s a reason certain mega-corporations like Amazon are backing this current proposal. Obviously a VAT tax has other impacts, so I think this belongs in a larger tax overhaul including perhaps a wealth tax or reworked capital gains. I don’t see this as a topic where we can implement a mediocre policy now and then fix it later either. If our representatives take the easy path and simply revert to the 28% tax rate, they will undoubtedly consider it a success then quickly forget about the topic. I’m not okay with that.

    Back on the polling topic though, I believe it probably is true that some poll respondents voted against the package simply due to branding – It’s well known that altering phrasing and ordering or questions can impact poll results.
    I also believe our growing two-party polarization is an issue generally speaking, but see little chance of resolution unless we as a country can shift beyond the present parties and implement something like ranked-choice voting. Unfortunately, that would be disadvantageous to our incumbent representatives, so I see little chance of such a change ever happening.

  5. I brought the topic up with a fellow whose career and personal ambitions of getting big stuff built would benefit tremendously from federal funded infrastructure initiatives. He went straight into bashing Obama’s green jobs initiative offering anecdotal experiences. It stopped me cold from taking the conversation any further. He is not a dope, but rather “speak no evil” wary.

  6. “One problem is the trust deficit. Misinformation spread on social media has driven many Americans crazy, to put it bluntly”.

    Sorry, H, but that’s mostly incorrect. Facebook or Twitter have very limited effects. The one culprit for the degenerescence of the GOP is Fox News. Over 2-3 decades, Murdoch and Roger Ailes really did manage to twist American conservatism into some bizarre death cult.

    1. You’re right about Fox, obviously. But the idea that social media has had “very limited effects” is ludicrous. And this is one case where “ludicrous” is an understatement. This comment suggests you don’t know much about misinformation, foreign influence campaigns and how they operate.


        The average Fake article that we asked about in the post-election survey was shared 0.386 million times on Facebook. If the average article was seen and recalled by 1.2 percent of American adults, this gives (0.012 recalled exposure)/(0.386 million shares) ? 0.03 chance of a recalled exposure per million Facebook shares. Given that the Fake articles in our database had 38 million Facebook shares, this implies that the average adult saw and remembered 0.03/million × 38 million ? 1.14 fake news articles from our fake news database.

        ….As one benchmark, Spenkuch and Toniatti (2016) show that exposing voters to one additional television campaign ad changes vote shares by approximately 0.02 percentage points. This suggests that if one fake news article were about as persuasive as one TV campaign ad, the fake news in our database would have changed vote shares by an amount on the order of hundredths of a percentage point. This is much smaller than Trump’s margin of victory in the pivotal states on which the outcome depended.

        The consensus by researchers on social media is that, if you’re already down the rabbit hole, then, yes, fine, you’ll see plenty of fake news but it doesn’t change minds b/c people don’t put a lot of weight on it.

        For some godforsaken reason (maybe b/c people know less than nothing about politics or news), it seems Fox News, by putting news in its name and having its showmen dress like journalists, manage to get itself considered like a real news outfit and people were conned. and there’s been plenty more research.

        1. I had a much longer comment here, but I decided to exercise good judgment and forgo it. Instead, I’ll just note that I don’t think you have a solid grasp of the situation, the interconnected nature of it and the extent to which it is embedded in nearly every, single interaction you have on the internet every single day. At some point today, for example, you have unwittingly read and digested foreign-sponsored propaganda. I guarantee it. At some point this week, you will read and digest foreign-sponsored propaganda and you will be swayed by it in one way or another, ideally (for the sponsor) without realizing it. If the effect of a misinformation campaign can be quantified by academics after the fact, that is a failed misinformation campaign, by definition. The idea is to change minds in a way that cannot be detected, let alone measured, now, later or ever, by the target.

          1. Feel free to be as violent as you feel is justified with me, I’ve got thick skin.

            I’ll accept a couple of things. One, the methodology these researchers uses may be wrong and maybe the effects of a successful disinformation campaign can’t be measured. Then again they were saying the same thing about ROI of ads and look where GOOG and FB got on promising some form of measurement…

            Second, am I actually exposed to foreign propaganda? Depends on what you mean. My wife was listening to BFMTV (French business channel of some sort) and they were relaying a Marine Le Pen campaign talk. Marine Le Pen, the far right/ethno-nationalist candidate, is financed, in part, by Russian banks (on terms and for reasons that are not entirely commercial, one suspects). So have I been exposed to foreign propaganda? Yeah, kinda. But I’m not sure that’s what you meant by “social media”.

            Even if you take that Chinese official who was using a clever little piece of “whataboutism” with his reply of “I can’t breathe” to US officials berating Uighurs’ treatment, it’s not exactly misinformation or a foreign-sponsored propaganda.

            The NRA being financed by Russia kinds of fall into the same bucket. Sure, it’s Russia, a foreign adversary, trying to drive a wedge between Americans but I wouldn’t blame FB or TWTR for its successes, if any….

          2. good Le Pen reference. that’s (a lot) closer to what i mean. and the vast, vast majority of Americans have no idea how poisonous Le Pen is. but an even more close-to-home example is how many times Tulsi Gabbard’s exchanges with Kamala Harris during the Democratic primaries were shared on social media, and how quickly they were amplified. i don’t really want to elaborate on any of this more than that, though. by “good judgment” i didn’t mean that i think you have thin skin, i meant that i don’t want to unnecessarily irritate passersby or casual readers. i’ve learned that people become exceptionally uncomfortable if you suggest to them that someone or some site or some popular social media account they’ve been following for years is wittingly or unwittingly a part of a Kremlin-backed echo chamber. rather than confront such things, people will just shun the messenger (i.e., me). i’d rather try to reason with people via a fusion of socioeconomic analysis and well-written political commentary than i would go for any “home runs” by deluding myself into thinking i can convince people who don’t want to be convinced that their favorite site or Twitter account or newsletter writer is, in fact, some semblance of nefarious. i’d rather let the quality of my work speak for itself and then if people want to juxtapose it with some of the other content produced by independent outlets and say to themselves “hmmmmm, this Heisenberg guy seems pretty smart and pretty genuine, whereas these other folks actually seem kinda shady now that I think about it…” then that’s just a bonus. 🙂

  7. perhaps it’s time for the Dems to declare “War” on fake news, anti democratic propaganda, and / or misinformation … that might be what is necessary, but of course that will likely require positive results from 2022 and 2024 elections … the concentration of the media in the hands of the wealthy has aided and abetted this multi decade long process that has resulted in our democracy barely surviving (for the time being) in 2020 by a scant 44,000 votes across 3 states … when one thinks of all of Trump’s misdeeds in office, the corruption if not treason of many of his appointees and himself, coupled with the massive loss of life due to CV denial / incompetence it is surreal to think about how close he came to retaining power…truly frightening…

  8. I wonder if the forces of evil worry about what the forces of good are planning and putting into effect I think a few cracks have been found in the foundation of the Republican Party and Fox News. One can only pray they are successful.

    1. Dominion suing Fox is brillant. I wonder if more people/organisation cannot join when Fox News accidentally on purpose defame them? With a couple of sympathetic judges, maybe the forces of good could teach Murdoch some caution?

      Interesting conundrum for a judge. Would you feel justified/righteous in condemning Murdoch for libel etc. even if the facts of the case were somewhat “free-speechy”/could be construed as protected speech (journalistic “opiniating”)?

  9. I am 76, a widower that no longer has a bucket list or any real friends or intellectual companions. (My definition of a real friend is someone who would come to visit you at your worst in a hospital and chat about whatever you wanted to speak of. All other well wishers and passers by are posers. No friends at all on social media.) Over the recent plague year I have come to realize I am happy to be old because it means I only have to suffer the inhumanity of my fellow citizens for a limited time. When I expressed this sentiment to my daughter recently she became more angry at me for saying this than for anything else I had ever said. Not exactly sure why but none of the explanations for her anger seemed quite sincere. Good luck to the rest of you. As long as I remain among the living I will share whatever bits of wisdom I have attained and my other resources with those who need them more than I. Else, I shall not miss the world as it is very much.

  10. I too am 76 and I suspect your daughter will understand your state of mind better when she is 76. You’re lucky. I have no daughter to be upset with me.

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