Three messages Biden should double down on before the midterms
On Tuesday, April 12, violence struck passengers on the N-Train subway in Brooklyn: 29 were senselessly injured in gun violence. Fortunately, none were killed. It does not minimize the trauma to those victims to recognize that “every tragedy has an opportunity hidden within it,” as the Dalai Lama wrote in 2014. That wisdom applies in all walks of life, including politics.
On Thursday, the Associated Press reported that “President Joe Biden is scrounging for ways to demonstrate that he’s still making progress for Americans at a time when many feel the country is heading in the wrong direction.”
Here are three message opportunities that Biden should seize if he wants to avoid a wave election that hands control of Congress to his adversaries.
Establish his own ‘tough on crime’ brand
In his State of the Union address, Biden drew bipartisan applause when he said, “We should all agree: The answer is not to defund the police. It’s to fund the police.”
Biden needs to repeat that message constantly across the country.
Whether one’s views are progressive or conservative, most of us can agree that the first duty of government is to provide public safety. An April 7 Gallup poll showed public concern about crime at its highest level since 2016.
On Tuesday, soon after the news broke of the subway shooting, Biden said on national television, “We’re not letting up until we find the perpetrator.” On Wednesday, the NYPD arrested suspect Frank James.
Biden’s quick statement was strong. To give a tough-on-crime message longer legs, however, Biden should add to federal spending for local police. Tuesday’s tragedy could be a platform to augment the $30 billion in law enforcement funding in his new budget — and to constantly remind voters that he did so.
In 1994, President Bill Clinton famously promised to add 100,000 local police officers on the streets. That promise cost $8.8 billion. Biden’s budget included “$537 million to put more police officers on the beat for accountable community policing.”
To calm his left-leaning supporters, Biden could pair added funds and his “tough-on-crime” message with his focus on gun control. On August 11, Biden announced a new regulation requiring serial numbers on some parts of untraceable “ghost gun” kits, and background checks on buyers.
Use the bully pulpit to fight inflation
Inflation reached 8.5 percent in March according to the Labor Department’s April 12 announcement. That is intolerable for a White House incumbent in an election year.
The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board wrote the same day that the public will not blame Putin for the rise. Democrats, they said, will bear the burden in the midterms.
On April 12, in Iowa, Biden announced measures to increase ethanol percentages in gasoline to boost supply and lower prices. The president said that he was doing “everything” within his power to lower prices.
But there’s another thing he should do. A president repeatedly using the bully-pulpit to press those who have greater control on inflation can register with voters in November.
In March, the Federal Reserve Board raised interest rates by 0.25 percent, the first rise in three years, with scheduled increases over the next year-and-a-half. That initial step has yet to show visible effect.
Biden can speak out frequently, prompting the Fed Governors to implement their projected moves. There is little harm in the nation’s leader identifying himself in the public mind with measures that are most likely to show results going forward.
Double down on ‘fair-share tax paying’
One other way to fight inflation is to find popular ways to pay for increased spending, including spending on the fight against crime. Biden’s 2023 budget includes a 20 percent minimum income tax on households worth more than $100 million. In 2015-16, there were 5,000 such households out of the 126 million households in the United States, or around 0.004 percent.
Biden should be broadcasting that approach. The super-rich need to pay their fair share of taxes. The country needs a populist message that keys on sharing society’s burdens rather than on dividing us geographically, educationally, ethnically or racially.
There is time to correct course on Biden’s popularity before November. He should make full use of the opportunity that bad news on crime and inflation provide.
Dennis Aftergut is a former federal prosecutor, currently of counsel to Lawyers Defending American Democracy.