Is the White House listening to you? That depends

The White House wants you to know the economy is booming, and that things have never been better.

Indeed, the American economy is growing at a healthy clip. Notwithstanding the ominous inflation figures and a workforce still substantially smaller than it was pre-pandemic, many important US economic indicators are robust. According to one estimate, US GDP growth for 2021 will end up being around 5.6 percent. Of course, these flattering numbers are the result of the weird realities of pandemic economics. Thanks to the timing of his first year, coinciding as it did with coronavirus vaccines coming online and a lot of economic activity restarting after a coronavirus-induced deep freeze, Biden boasts a superficially strong economic record.

It is technically true that, as Bloomberg editor-in-chief Matthew Winkler writes in a story that has the West Wing swooning, “America’s economy improved more in Joe Biden’s first twelve months than any president during the past fifty years.” But that is a deceptively rosy picture of Biden’s first year. As I have written before, Americans’ frustration at their economic circumstances isn’t irrational, or simply the product of a Democratic messaging problem. It’s real. Inflation and pandemic-related uncertainty, disruptions and shortages are making people’s lives harder than they would like — or than they were pre-Covid. And so long as that remains the case, Biden will not get the economic credit he and those around him seem so sure that he deserves.

There is, however, one interesting exception to the White House insistence that the US economy is in rude health: their rationale for extending a pause in federal student loan repayments. Back in the summer, Biden said that the extension to January 2022 would be the “final” one. But yesterday he announced an extension of the pause for another ninety days. Why? Because, as the president put it, “millions of student loan borrowers are still coping with the impacts of the pandemic and need some more time before resuming payments.”

Of course, the decision isn’t motivated by hard-nosed economic thinking, but by politics: dissatisfied college-educated progressives have kicked up a fuss about the end of the moratorium. Armed with polling numbers that show Biden’s popularity cratering among younger voters, they have persuaded the White House of the need to extend the freeze.

But the inconsistency in economic messaging is revealing. It says something about the group to whom this administration feels beholden. Americans without college degrees complaining about high gas prices and supply-chain problems shouldn’t trust their lying eyes. On the other hand, the concerns of overqualified and underpaid graduates (i.e. the Democratic base) must be heard, and their worries about the resumption of loan repayments are quickly allayed. You don’t even need to read between the lines to see who holds sway over the Biden White House.

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The president who saved Christmas

Early on in his presidency, Joe Biden convened a group of well-known historians — the sort that who write those bestselling biographies that collect dust on your uncle’s shelf — and allowed them to convince him that he was the next LBJ or FDR. As you may have noticed, so far at least, things haven’t really turned out that way.

A year that started with such unembarrassed comparisons to some of the greatest men in US history ends on a humbler note. The White House wants you to know that in Joe Biden’s America, Christmas presents arrive on time.

“Packages are moving. Gifts are being delivered. Shelves are not empty,” said the president at a meeting of his Supply Chain Task Force yesterday. “Take that Scrooge, the Grinch and all of the doubters,” tweeted a gleeful Jen Psaki. A historic achievement.

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Cuellar gives up on Kamala

In the latest decline in Biden-Harris relations, a New York Times piece on the travails of the vice president  is chock full of sniping from her allies about her boss. But it is the words of moderate Democratic congressman Henry Cuellar, who represents a Texas border district and is a prominent voice on immigration and border security issues, that stuck out to me. When Harris announced a trip to the southern border early this year, Cuellar got in touch with the vice president’s team offering help and advice. He never received a call back.

Of her handling of the issue, the congressman tells the Times: “I say this very respectfully to her: I moved on… She was tasked with that job, it doesn’t look like she’s very interested in this, so we are going to move on to other folks that work on this issue.”

Life of a Resistance convict

You remember Michael Avenatti. He was the media-hungry lawyer for Stormy Daniels, absurdly hyped as leader of the anti-Trump Resistance and even possible presidential candidate. In one of the steepest falls from grace in memory, the Avenatti express came to a sudden halt in 2019 when he was arrested on suspicion of (a comically incompetent) attempt to extort Nike. He was found guilty this year.

In a new Politico magazine profile, we learn about the life of Avenatti the convicted felon. Now under house arrest at his home in Venice Beach, he spent 100 days in a high security prison. When Avenatti asked the guards for reading material, they gave him The Art of the Deal by Donald Trump.

What you should be reading today

Matt Purple: I’m dreaming of a ‘problematic’ Christmas
Teresa Mull: Time for a national snow day
Jane Stannus: The finest festive fizz
Jack Shafer, Politico: There’s good news about vaccinations. Now what?
Liz Hoffman and Rob Copeland, Wall Street Journal: Youngkin’s win stokes political dreams on Wall Street
Jonah Goldberg, the Dispatch: Normal is making a comeback

Poll watch

President Biden Job Approval
Approve: 43.5 percent
Disapprove: 52.6 percent
Net approval: -9.1 (RCP Average)

Is it a problem that people are too easily offended by things others say?
Major problem: 65 percent
Minor problem: 28 percent
Not a problem: 6 percent (Pew)

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