Liz Peek: Biden Needs to Put Aside His Fixation with Race

Poor Joe Biden. Nothing seems to move the needle. His approval ratings are still stuck in the mud and neither the president nor his team seems able to turn around the Titanic.

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It’s not for lack of trying, or creativity. The First Cat announcement trended on Twitter and got a nice plug from NBC News. Unfortunately for Team Biden, the headlines over Dr. Jill’s latest pet (Willow, if you’re interested) faded quickly.

Biden even tried retracing a popular gambit from the campaign trail, making an unscheduled visit to an ice cream store recently; he was no doubt disappointed that sampling frozen treats in mid-winter failed to excite the press corps.

Of more consequence, the announcement that Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer would soon retire set the president up to make history by appointing a Black woman to the court. The New York Times and other reliable sources furiously debunked speculation that the White House had purposefully leaked the news to generate a positive news cycle, almost guaranteeing that such a behind-the-scenes effort took place.

Though the Sunday shows dutifully focused on the upcoming court nomination, the reality is that a new liberal replacing an existing liberal vote on the bench is not riveting. Also, the president pretty much gave away his “aha!” moment by promising to nominate a Black woman last year when competing for the African American vote days before the South Carolina primary.

The list of candidates is short; there will be dutiful speculation about which female jurist the president will elevate, but it will not quell anxieties over more pressing issues, like rents spiking 20% or more in some markets and gasoline prices rising by almost half.

The search and subsequent confirmation process is also a downer for Biden in that Republicans are unlikely to give the nominee the Brett Kavanaugh treatment; they won’t indulge in disgraceful character assassination, thus eliminating any hyped-up charges of racism that could energize Democrat voters.

Even worse for the president, the public’s patience with Biden’s use of identity politics to drive hiring has come to an end. A recent ABC News/Ipsos poll shows 76% of Americans, including over half of Democrats, think Biden should consider “all nominees” for the position on the court; a mere 23% approve of his narrowing the field to only Black women.

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The truth is, Joe Biden is running out of ideas and also running out of gas. The deflation of the commander in chief is visible day by day and was especially on view recently when he traveled to Pittsburgh, as part of his new plan to Get Out More and tell Americans How Well Things are Going.

The outing got off to rocky start when several Pennsylvania Democrats suggested that, like Stacey Abrams recently in Georgia, they had “scheduling conflicts” that would prevent them joining Biden. Democrats across the country are increasingly nervous about attaching their campaigns to an unpopular president, and several are keeping their distance.

It continued to underwhelm as Biden attempted to tout his multitrillion Build Back Better proposal which has been stymied by Sens. Krysten Sinema, D-Ariz., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. Biden’s pitch sounded tired, as though even he was losing faith in the glories of his enormous spending program. He mentioned BBB only a couple of times, sometimes appearing to confuse that stalled agenda item with other bills before Congress.

Biden’s audience seemed tired, too, applauding only sporadically and mainly when the president called out local politicians or projects. They’d heard it all before.

Biden continues to argue that his multitrillion-dollar plan would not cost a penny, would reduce the deficit and would – amazingly – also curb inflation.

All those arguments have been widely debunked as inflation has accelerated in the wake of trillions in government spending, but Biden soldiers on, still offering up the endorsement from “14 Nobel laureates in economics [who] wrote to me, telling me that it will also diminish the impact of inflation.”

In fact, those economists were suggesting that in the long term, some investment in human and physical capital might ease inflationary pressures. Pushed by fact-checkers to corroborate Biden’s optimism that the spending plan could soon provide relief to the millions of Americans struggling with soaring costs of groceries or housing, many have backpedaled.

Daniel McFadden from the University of California at Berkely wrote, in response to a query from the Washington Post, “increasing current government deficits by a shakily financed BBB could add to [general inflationary expectations.] Others were equally non-committal.

Biden spent much of his address reminiscing about his ties to Pittsburgh and the good old days when the town was a union stronghold and steel-making powerhouse, reminding his audience, “Some of you have been around long enough to remember how this city lost 100,000 steel jobs between 1970 and 1990.”

The union workers in the audience might also remember that Biden, first elected to the Senate in 1972, was in Congress during those years. They might recall that he voted to normalize trade with China in 2000 by allowing that country to join the World Trade Organization, a measure that facilitated those job losses. Biden also voted in favor of NAFTA in 1994 when Bill Clinton was president and more recently backed the Trans Pacific Partnership treaty until someone told him that “free trade” – i.e., sending jobs overseas – was no longer popular.

Biden’s rambling “memory lane” speech in Pittsburgh will not drive people to vote for his party in November or reboot his presidency. As Step One in the reset program he laid out in his recent press conference, it was a dud.

We cannot wait to see Step Two, the importation of new “experts” to give him advice. I could do that for free. Biden needs to put aside his fixation with race and attend to issues that matter most to voters: inflation, rampant crime and our broken border. In reality, it could be too late.

Liz Peek is a former partner of major bracket Wall Street firm Wertheim & Company. Follow her on Twitter @lizpeek.