Sunday, April 25, 2021

Ridin' With Biden, Con't

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne argues that Biden's approval rating remaining in the low 50's after his first 100 days in office is a direct result of both our polarized electorate and the fact that Biden has stuck to middle-class kitchen table issues and dared the GOP to attack him. They have, and Biden's managed to peel off Republican voters as a result.

The political core of Bidenism rests on his answers to two questions: What accounted for the setbacks experienced by recent Democratic presidencies? And how can his party ease the discontents that led to the rise of Donald Trump?

As President Biden addresses Congress on Wednesday to mark his first 100 days in office, the driving priorities of his administration are clear: the essential task of ending the pandemic, ambitious public investment to drive robust, long-term economic growth and aggressive efforts to reverse 40 years of expanding inequality.

In retrospect, it’s obvious that the Democrats’ big midterm defeats under Bill Clinton in 1994 and Barack Obama in 2010 were caused in significant part by sluggish economic recoveries.

As a result, Biden has taken no chances: He pressed relentlessly for his $1.9 trillion economic rescue bill, and continues to advance infrastructure investments and other programs to speed growth and lift incomes. He will pursue these plans with Republicans if possible and, more likely, without them if necessary.

Similarly, Biden has touted his climate plan at least as much for its job-creating potential as for its environmental benefits, pushing back against conservatives who have long cast action against climate change as a drag on the economy.

A pain-before-gain policy on climate proved politically deadly when House Democrats passed their elegant but complicated cap-and-trade bill in 2009 to put a price on carbon.

Cap-and-trade or a carbon tax are rational, direct responses to the problem, but neither deals with the fears of workers in regions where the coal, oil and natural gas industries have long supported well-paying livelihoods. Biden’s priority is to make clear that he gets these worries, and the United Mine Workers of America union’s endorsement last week of “a true energy transition” suggests his approach is resonating in unexpected places.

The shaping of Biden’s climate agenda reveals the contours of his larger effort to drive a wedge into the Trump constituency. A majority of Trump’s loyalists — the most fervent Republicans, ardent immigration foes, hard cultural conservatives, gun rights zealots, racial backlash voters — will never be available to Biden or the Democrats.

But Biden is banking on his ability to use populist economics (relief checks, upward pressure on wages, a “Buy America” campaign to bring home more manufacturing work, confining tax increases to corporations and those earning more than $400,000 annually) to win back Trump voters whose dissatisfactions are primarily economic.

Biden’s proposals have thus far won support in the polls from about a third of Republicans and a substantial majority of lower-income Republicans (in the case of the relief act). Their response has allowed Biden to challenge the traditional definitions of bipartisanship — House and Senate Republican votes for his bills — that hamstrung his predecessors. Instead, Biden argues that what he is doing is good for many Republican voters, and that a significant share of them agrees.

Biden continues to move far more to the left than I expected, embracing both the right time and the right thing to do. He's correctly disarming the populism fuse for the GOP by doing widely popular things too. I know it seems simple, but Obama was held back, and it hurt us all. Biden isn't constrained by the additional fetters of racism.

I hate that being true, but it is, and Biden is able to do things Obama should have been, but wasn't able to.

Sunday Long Read: The Algorithm Never Forgets

Big Tech never forgives, nor does it forget, as author Lauren Goode can attest to in today's Sunday Long Read. Calling off her wedding two years ago, the internet constantly reminds her of her "happy day" and will probably do so forever. The algorithms, you see, don't differentiate between major events of joy and those you want to forget. They are just data to be sold, and so are you.

I STILL HAVE a photograph of the breakfast I made the morning I ended an eight-year relationship and canceled a wedding. It was an unremarkable breakfast—a fried egg—but it is now digitally fossilized in a floral dish we moved with us when we left New York and headed west. I don’t know why I took the photo, except, well, I do: I had fallen into the reflexive habit of taking photos of everything.

Not long ago, the egg popped up as a “memory” in a photo app. The time stamp jolted my actual memory. It was May 2019 when we split up, back when people canceled weddings and called off relationships because of good old-fashioned dysfunction, not a global pandemic. Back when you wondered if seating two people next to each other at a wedding might result in awkward conversation, not hospitalization.

Did I want to see the photo again? Not really. Nor do I want to see the wedding ads on Instagram, or a near-daily collage of wedding paraphernalia on Pinterest, or the “Happy Anniversary!” emails from WeddingWire, which for a long time arrived every month on the day we were to be married. (Never mind that anniversaries are supposed to be annual.) Yet nearly two years later, these things still clutter my feeds. The photo widget on my iPad cycles through pictures of wedding dresses.

Of the thousands of memories I have stored on my devices—and in the cloud now—most are cloudless reminders of happier times. But some are painful, and when algorithms surface these images, my sense of time and place becomes warped. It’s been especially pronounced this year, for obvious and overlapping reasons. In order to move forward in a pandemic, most of us were supposed to go almost nowhere. Time became shapeless. And that turned us into sitting ducks for technology.

Our smartphones pulse with memories now. In normal times, we may strain to remember things for practical reasons—where we parked the car—or we may stumble into surprise associations between the present and the past, like when a whiff of something reminds me of Sunday family dinners. Now that our memories are digital, though, they are incessant, haphazard, intrusive.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when apps started co-opting memories, madly deploying them to boost engagement and make a buck off nostalgia. The groundwork was laid in the early 2010s, right around the time my now ex and I started dating. For better or worse, I have been a tech super-user since then too. In my job as a technology journalist, I’ve spent the past dozen years tweeting, checking in, joining online groups, experimenting with digital payments, wearing multiple activity trackers, trying every “story” app and applying every gauzy photo filter. Unwittingly, I spent years drafting a technical blueprint for the relationship, one that I couldn’t delete when the construction plans fell apart.

If we already are part cyborg, as some technologists believe, there is a cyborg version of me, a digital ghost, that is still getting married. The real me would really like to move on now.
There are certainly events in my digital life that I'd like to not be reminded of on a yearly basis, but of course the algorithm makes sure we can never forget, unless we leave it for good.
Maybe that's not a terrible idea for some of us.
Related Posts with Thumbnails