What’s so bad about feeling good?

Partha Chakraborty-

Partha Chakraborty

In a make-believe New York City loft lived a cabal of misanthropes, one lived her life inside a burlap sack with bare feet sticking out. Their sad tale of indolent living and delinquent minds was brought to an end by a contagion carried ashore by a stowaway toucan that arrived from somewhere in South America. Except for the few physically immune, a pervasive sickness left telltale signs on the face of those infected; and, inflicted they were by the thousands. The mark this contagion was making, however, was that of jubilation. Hard-boiled New Yorkers became visibly happy, empathetic, courteous and optimistic. New Yorkers were feeling good.

Say what?

The 1968 movie “What’s so bad about feeling good?”, starring Mary Tyler Moore, among others, ends predictably. Authorities swing into action, the rowdy toucan is canned, and a vaccine is sprayed through automobile and industrial exhaust fumes. New Yorkers revert to being the same abrasive sour puss they always were, sales of cigarettes, and alcohol return to pre-pandemic levels as people revert to a normal life of misery, till they lived unhappily never after.

Today President Biden is feeling good, really good. So much so that I hear the Feds are alleged to have sneaked in a thank you note inside the box of evidence carted away from Mar-a-Lago!!! As President Biden delivered a 24-minute speech for the “soul of the nation”, I could not but notice a definite change of mood. For the first time in my memory, President has managed to turn the mid-term from a referendum on the incumbent’s performance to a referendum on the Opponent (s)he beat in the general. Furthermore, it was about a message about the idea of America that is only just beginning. I am not the only one who heard echoes of Obama and Reagan with zero pining for days before you were born. So yes, dark Brandon is definitely shining.

President Biden accepted his nomination by evoking Seamus Heaney in Let Hope and History Rhyme. After a turbulent first, the next year was marked by learning from history to craft a coalition of hopefuls while giving as little ground as possible to his detractors.

A basic requirement for all who yearns for a higher office is to learn to read the tealeaves. Biden proved a high-performance pupil being successful in shutting down elements in his own party that once asked for defunding the police, among others, as they were never going to appeal to the vast majority, including the people for whom it was purported to benefit. In a telling obituary written in the New York Times, columnist Charles Blow called Biden’s previous speech in Pennsylvania “capstone in the crusade against the defund movement and possibly the gravestone of the movement itself”. Biden repeated a strain that resonates – “When it comes to public safety in this nation, the answer is not ‘defund the police.’ It’s ‘fund the police.” Hallelujah!

Biden has shown mastery in staying within chalk, his middle-of-the-road posture deserves praise. Joe is no puritan, and no statesperson should ever be, he is also nothing if not patient. When his “American Rescue Plan” fueled flames of inflation, he used a recalcitrant duo of Manchin-Sinema to negotiate against extreme members of his own party, wearing them down bit by bit before they knew they would get nothing if they aren’t bending. What came off it is a concoction that gives his base crumbs to keep them in the fold while limiting spending in the near-term, a strategy that will earn plaudits. The so-called “Inflation Reduction Act” probably does not do much to inflation, but it does not make it worse, according to most nonpartisan experts. It does deliver things people disaffected with the economy can support without hesitation – institution of a minimum corporate tax and letting Medicare negotiate prices for high-cost drugs. The bi-partisan CHIPS Act provides a long-due recognition of a little nudge needed to get us less vulnerable to blackmail by the Chinese. The bi-partisan PACT Act responds to the demands of our women and men in uniform. Yes, there is some pork in every one of them, but the fact that Biden could deliver a pretty packed schedule of bill-signings in recent months is an accomplishment. True to form, Team Biden turned its disadvantage – lack of a clear majority in Congress – into a weapon that chiseled an Adonis when a lump of rock was given.

On the Foreign Policy front too Biden has shown that he can learn. Afghanistan’s withdrawal was an unmitigated disaster, one year later tales of a toll on its citizens, especially women and girls, and, friends of the US on the ground, shock us. But US response to Russia’s war on Ukraine is a textbook case of how diplomacy should be done. This time US took the lead and she continues to corral friends of freedom on the side of brave citizens of Ukraine and we have not been stingy about providing all kids of support, including military. What’s more, we have been successful in staring down the Russian bear as the war reveals a hollowed-out economy in servitude of an emperor with no ribs in his bare chest. We have even been able to keep down the dragon even if we are just weeks, if not days, before she acts unhinged.

Biden’s big question mark was, and still is, the economy. As The Great Jerome of Washington faces the Herculean task of curbing inflation, he has already accepted that there will be blood. Stagflation and growth-recession are two buzzwords in everybody’s lips but they imply essentially the same subpar growth with sustained inflation. Fortunately for Biden, it is a long-drawn-out process, what consumers are observing right now are falling gas prices that softens immediate pain with second-order beneficial effects. Some of the worst affected are about to see additional easing of the pain through student loan forgiveness and prescription price relief. Peculiar of the status quo are historically low unemployment numbers, which contribute to the high consumer confidence as more people get back to the job market. Near-end of COVID restrictions means people have started to enjoy a few small pleasures. Even if continued high inflation is a definite cause for worry, strong job numbers and growth in average earnings will keep consumers happy till they don’t. To an average voter, economic woes are not as bad as they seemed a few months back even if practitioners will surely disagree.

The biggest gift that keeps giving landed on Democrats’ lap even before they asked for it. The Orange Ogre can simply not stop from putting his feet in the mouth, nor the Grand Obsequious Party stop reveling in turd he drops behind. It has gotten so bad that the National Review, the doyen of Conservative beachhead, pondered if the idea of a Congressional majority for the Republicans is a cause worth fighting for. ““But we want a Republican majority!” Okay, sure — why? To give a bigger megaphone and a better-placed monkey wrench to Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lindsey Graham? So that Lauren Boebert can have a better position on the House Budget Committee?… Donald Trump is out there right now calling for himself to be installed as president through some unconstitutional means. And Republicans act like he’s either the Second Coming of George Washington or, at worst, the wacky sitcom neighbor of U.S. politics.” You know it has gotten way over when old GOP shills are turning their noses to MAGA so openly.

One key driver in his favor that Biden did not work for, but most certainly will exploit to the max, is the Dobbs decision. Republicans had it easy for decades – they could go ahead and espouse all kinds of opposition to Roe without ever being held to account. Dobbs changes everything. Now old Roe foes are being held as real and credible threat to women’s rights, and no broken record of state sovereignty can assuage the suburban women who are so pivotal. Combined with Republicans’ stated preference for “traditional” ways of life, many on the ballot for the midterm are turning up as enemies of social causes that most Americans now agree with. All Democrats have to do is to keep their extreme voices in check as Republicans cannot help let everything hang out. So far, Democrats are doing a pretty fine job despite the blabbermouths screaming otherwise in their echo chambers.

Is this all circumstantial? Is Biden simply the beneficiary of a confluence of events? Not in the least. Biden deserves much of the accolades for identifying his team’s weakest links, pushing them to the sidelines, working from the middle to arrive at solutions that keep his big coalition together by giving bits to hold on while not giving detractors a cause cé·lè·bre to pillory him with. Is this fleeting? Some of it surely is short-term, especially when it comes to the economy, but nothing that will change before November. Democrats under Biden has proved they can govern, navigate tricky international situations with aplomb, and learn. All of this while the other side still fields town-criers who bemoan the last election and their leader promises pardon to his henchmen who broke into the Capitol with a murderous zeal if needed to change outcomes of a free and fair election.

Sixty-six days to the midterms, I predict Democrats will keep majority in both chambers of Congress, even if their majority in the House will reduce. From the midterms to the general in 2024, Democrats will find it nigh impossible to score any legislative accomplishment without a compromise, and Republicans will stand chastened as Trump and his cronies face justice on after the other. Both are causes I can raise a glass to, and so I am feeling pretty good.

Remind me again, what’s so bad about feeling good this Labor Day weekend?