Joe Biden recently unveiled the term “Bidenomics” to express and encompass the positive economic news—and there’s a lot of it—that he hopes will lift him to reelection.
Also recently unveiled—not by Biden, but about him, and presumably against his preferences—is the existence of four-year-old Navy Joan Roberts, a grandchild of the president whom he has never publicly acknowledged.*
Why do I juxtapose these two seemingly unrelated developments? Because they may not be so unrelated after all. The media coverage of both tells us a lot about the political culture we inhabit today. It’s a culture that has been shaped and defined by the political right, and it works almost entirely to their advantage. In sum: We live now in a political culture where the party that is trying to uphold some standards and values gets judged and punished because it sometimes falls short of those standards and values, while the party that makes no effort along those lines gets away with everything because no one expects any better of it in the first place.
Let’s start with Bidenomics. I followed the coverage over the last several days after the president unveiled the term. It wasn’t all negative by any means. But it did emphasize the risk Biden was taking in attaching his name to an economy that, despite nearly 14 million new jobs and very low unemployment, most people still find lackluster because of inflation and its aftereffects.
Emphasizing risk isn’t unreasonable, necessarily, at a time when only one-third of people approve of Biden’s handling of the economy. At the same time, surely part of the reason that number isn’t higher, as TNR’s Tim Noah pointed out on June 30, is that to the business press all economic news is bad news: “Bad news is self-evidently bad, and good news is bad because markets or regulators will overreact and spoil everything.”
And so you have a lot of stories like this one, from The Washington Post in late June, that had various economists throwing shade on Biden’s claim that he’s transforming the economy. The piece quoted seven outside experts. Four could be called favorably inclined toward the administration, or at least not hostile, while three were hostile. But only two of the seven spoke favorably.
That’s not the Post’s fault, I guess (but maybe it is; we never know what quotes reporters left on the cutting-room floor). I’m just saying that the skepticism of this piece typifies the way the media covers Biden and economy.
Which brings me to the larger point. Biden has made a greater effort than any president in decades to shift wealth from the top to the middle class and working poor. We might live in a political culture that applauded that effort. But we don’t. We live in a political culture that is far more inclined to punish that effort as insufficient in this or that particular.
Some of that comes from liberals themselves. People on the broad left are disappointed that Biden didn’t get even more legislation passed. And that’s fine; activists should always agitate for more.
Let’s just be aware, though, of the imbalance this creates. While Biden is trying to do stuff, Republicans don’t try to do anything. Cut taxes. That’s about it. Oh, and repeal the biggest expansion of health care in half a century. But the party has no domestic economic agenda and hasn’t for years.
And because they’re not trying to do anything, nobody expects anything of them. So they skate. And on top of that, the right-wing press, which wouldn’t utter one positive syllable about Biden if the GDP grew by 10 percent while he simultaneously cured Alzheimer’s and brought democracy to North Korea, hammers at Biden relentlessly, which further advances people’s negative perceptions.
Now let’s turn to this granddaughter. I presume there are a lot of facts about this that we don’t know. We do know that she was the product of a fling Hunter Biden had with a woman while he was deep in his drug-abusing phase. He has made some provisions for the girl but isn’t in her life, and one suspects his father is supporting his son’s posture. That doesn’t seem that unusual to me, but it does feel like maybe Joe Biden, who after all has plenty of money, should set up a stipend or college fund for the child and have her to the White House a few times. Whatever.
The point is this. Biden is getting dinged, as by Maureen Dowd on Sunday, because he has made family and biography and empathy so central to his public identity, and this seems to contradict that. That criticism is fair enough—to a point.
But here is its corollary: There are no such expectations of Donald Trump. If we discovered that Trump had an unacknowledged grandchild, the media would cover it, certainly, but I doubt Dowd would be writing any columns accusing Trump of hypocrisy. Trump’s personal behavior is so low, so crude, so immoral, so rife with tawdriness and sin and misogyny and you name it that nobody expects him to behave in any other way.
So we have one man who as far as we know has been a good and decent family man all his life, and about whom we now discover this one seeming inconsistency, and he gets slammed. And we have another man who’s gone through three wives (the first one of whom once said he raped her), who has pretty obviously cheated on all of them though he denies it, who has bragged about grabbing numerous women by the p---y, and who according to a new book speculated what it would be like to have sex with his own daughter—and he’s fine, because we know he’s a creep. If we learned something new and unsettling about him, it wouldn’t be “news,” and it wouldn’t constitute “hypocrisy,” since he has no standards to begin with.
And so the mainstream media hold Democrats to a far higher standard than it holds Republicans, because the Democrats try things and sometimes fail, which is an easy “gotcha!” for the press, while the Republicans, who try nothing, can’t be “gotcha’d!” Passing an infrastructure bill, as Biden’s Democrats did, just invites scrutiny of its implementation. Whereas failing to pass one, as Trump’s Republicans did, is par for the course and by definition invites no such scrutiny. And the right-wing media, of course, holds Republicans to no standards at all.
That is today’s real media bias. It’s a bias of expectations, and it always mitigates in favor of the people of whom nothing is expected in the first place.
* This article originally misstated the granddaughter’s name.