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Democrats, Wake the Hell Up!

President Biden has amassed a historic record in his first term. Why aren’t he and his party bragging about it?

Biden at a labor union rally in Philadelphia
Hannah Beier/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Biden at a labor union rally in Philadelphia on June 17

Nobody seems to have noticed this, but over the course of the spring, the country’s four leading freight rail carriers agreed to grant the vast majority of their workers paid sick days.

Everybody remembers what happened last December. The workers threatened to strike over such days, among other issues. President Biden, generally very friendly toward labor, made it illegal for the workers to strike. He was criticized by unions and workers and fellow Democrats and liberal media outlets, this one included.

None of that criticism was wrong at the time. But it wasn’t the end of the story. The Biden administration, chiefly through Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and then–Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, kept imploring the rail companies to come around. Of course the unions took the lead, but the administration’s support was crucial. Last week, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers issued a statement that included these two sentences from Railroad Department director Al Russo: “We’re thankful that the Biden administration played the long game on sick days and stuck with us for months after Congress imposed our updated national agreement. Without making a big show of it, Joe Biden and members of his administration in the Transportation and Labor departments have been working continuously to get guaranteed paid sick days for all railroad workers.”

I want to focus on two points here. The first is that these stories don’t stop developing just because cable news stops paying attention. Joe Biden when elected was the most pro-labor president since Harry Truman. He was that last December. And he is that today. He and his appointees have proven it again.

The second has to do with Russo’s phrase “without making a big show of it.” It’s understandable that the administration and the unions wanted these negotiations to take place out of the limelight. But still, somehow, “without making a big show of it” pretty much describes the Biden administration and the entire Democratic Party. And they’d damn well better wake up.

Biden has been a terrific president. The big legislation. The way he played Kevin McCarthy on the debt deal. The global leadership against Putin. The plain human decency restored to the White House after four years of self-obsessed thuggery. Oh—the 13 million jobs created since he took office, which is more jobs in 28 months than created under any other president, in all of our history, in a full four-year term.

I bet you didn’t know that last fact. The president and his administration mention it, as in this press statement. But do they crow about it? Do congressional Democrats crow about it? What percentage of the American electorate do we think knows this fact—2, 3? And let me ask you this. If a Republican president had accomplished that, what percentage of voters would know it? A hell of a lot more, because congressional Republicans and the propagandists on Fox and elsewhere would be saying it every day, several times a day.

Democrats are walking around in some state of somnolent indifference about Joe Biden. They need to snap out of it. From senators and House members on down to state and county committee members, they have a huge fight on their hands. Go look at the Biden-Trump polls. They’re neck and neck, or margin of error at best. And the media, of course, which just can’t shake the #demsindisarray default narrative, no matter how huge a hot mess the congressional GOP is, invariably touts the outliers that show Trump ahead. But the point is, a Biden-Trump race, or a Biden-anyone race, will be down to the wire.

A nincompoop conspiracy theorist is facing Biden in the Democratic primary. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is a right-wing loon who spoke last week at a Moms for Liberty summit. Though he is not, in fact, “polling at 20 percent,” which has somehow become the accepted shorthand of the “liberal” media (it’s more like 15, and Biden is 50 points ahead), he’s still something of a threat, and the media will continue to promote his presence in the race. And it will probably do the same, to a lesser extent, with Cornel West, who has thrown in with Putin sympathizer Jill Stein (West has denounced Putin’s war in Ukraine, but his campaign website also calls for disbanding NATO, which would effectively free Putin to behave with impunity in his “near abroad”).

And most perniciously of all, Biden might face a challenge from the “center,” from Joe Manchin or someone else, under the banner of No Labels, which is a sham operation—Mark Penn and Nancy Jacobson’s revenge vehicle against the party that has given Penn the boot. If Manchin runs, he’ll get enormous coverage.

Why does the media promote these campaigns? Partly because of the #demsindisarray reflex. But the press has that reflex because Democrats let things happen that way. There’s no central message that everyone repeats. And there’s far less touting of the administration’s accomplishments than there ought to be.

This is a key point that has to do with a core difference between liberals and conservatives. Liberals have a list of 50 things they want government to do, and they want those things done fast and to completion. Conservatives have a list of about two things they want government to do: Cut taxes, and punish people they disapprove of morally. For a presidential administration, satisfying that first group is a lot harder than satisfying the second.

So people will complain. That’s fine and proper for, say, The New Republic; where I see Biden falling short, I’ll say so, and my colleagues whose views are different from mine will make their criticisms as well. That’s the role of the press.

But the role of Democrats is different. They need to understand: Joe Biden is going to be the nominee (barring of course some major health issue in the next few months). He’s the most accomplished president since Lyndon Johnson, and without the immoral war. And now we know that the one big thing that a lot of people on the left actively disliked, his lack of sympathy last December for rail workers, has been corrected. And the next president of the United States is either him or someone who’s going to dismantle democracy and usher in authoritarianism and fascism, either immediately (Trump) or slowly (most of the others).

And yet he’s under attack from four sides (Kennedy, West, No Labels, and the GOP). His age is his age (I’ll have more to say about that in a future column). But he is what stands between us and fascism, and he’s gotten far more done than anyone would have dared imagine. Democrats, get it together.