Forget Policy Wins, Biden Needs to Tell Voters the Story of His AdministrationRoundup
tags: political history, Joe Biden, Franklin Roosevelt
Julian Zelizer, a CNN political analyst, is a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. He is the author and editor of 24 books, including, “The Presidency of Donald J. Trump: A First Historical Assessment.” Follow him on Twitter @julianzelizer.
Democrats have to be feeling good about recent polls. It appears that former President Donald Trump and the Supreme Court have given Democrats a chance to blunt, if not reverse, the historic midterm trend that leaves the president’s party nursing significant losses. If the polls are to be believed, Democrats might just hold on to their majorities in the House and Senate, making 2022 a rare example of the party in power doing well.
The most recent data from a New York Times/Siena College poll found that Democrats are in a competitive position, with 46% of registered voters saying they back the party’s candidate for Congress in their district, compared to 44% for Republicans. This is a dramatic turnaround, given that analysts had anticipated a “red wave” at the beginning of the year. While President Joe Biden’s legislative success (most notably, the Inflation Reduction Act) has been important, the easing of gas prices, the scandals surrounding Trump and the fury over the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade has put the GOP on the defense.
For Dems, highlighting a radicalized Republican Party with a leader who is in serious legal and political trouble will be a key element of any success they achieve. This shouldn’t be particularly difficult, given that Trump has endorsed numerous election-denying candidates and made headlines in response to the Justice Department’s investigation into his handling of government records.
But being the anti-Trump party won’t be enough. If Biden wants to shape the political narrative in congressional Democrats’ favor, he will have to do more to tell the country the story of his administration.
Telling the story of a presidency is part of what leaders do. When there is immense legislative output, as we have now seen during the Biden administration, presidents have worked hard to connect the dots for voters in order to drive home how new laws will make a positive difference in their lives. This can also be a branding exercise, as shown by President Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal.”
When FDR accepted the Democratic presidential nomination in 1932, he promised a “new deal for the American people.” The phrase remained a powerful framework though which voters could understand what he was trying to do as he vastly expanded the reach of government in American life. Not only did each new program aim to ameliorate the devastating effects of the Great Depression, but the administration also sought to create a new level of security and support – through unemployment compensation, agricultural support, social security, unions and more – for working Americans.
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