Waking Up in the Wrong Movie

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

The remarkable thing about the multiple crises facing Joe Biden is how quickly they’ve multiplied and worsened. These include, in no particular order:

  1. the Mexican border problem;
  2. the expanding war between Israel, Hamas, and possibly with Iran;
  3. the gasoline supply disruption stemming from the cyberattack on the Colonial fuel pipeline;
  4. economic trouble and warnings of impending inflation.

These sprung up in the first days of his term with an abruptness and progression that has taken pundits by surprise. The administration must have anticipated eventual problems would arise but not so soon nor from so many directions.

The New York Times writes that the fighting in Israel caught Biden on the hop. Lulled by recent quiet in the region it did not seem a priority until all hell broke loose. “As spiraling riots, rocket attacks on Tel Aviv and airstrikes on Gaza threaten to escalate into a major conflict, calls are growing in the Democratic Party for Mr. Biden to play a more active role.”

They were also blindsided by the Colonial pipeline attack. CNN writes that “Biden administration officials have privately voiced frustration with what they see as Colonial Pipeline’s weak security protocols and a lack of preparation that could have allowed hackers to pull off a crippling ransomware attack, officials familiar with the government’s initial investigation into the incident told CNN.”

April’s dismal job numbers were also a total surprise. The administration had been expecting a boom. The NYT wrote that “April’s anemic job creation was so out of line with what other indicators have suggested that it will take some time to unravel the mystery.” It was so shocking that newsrooms had to junk prewritten articles announcing a Biden boom.

It’s a little secret of the news business that for some anticipated events, like a Supreme Court decision or the death of a prominent figure, we pre-write much of an article or different versions of them so that we can publish quickly once news occurs.

Which is why there is now a trashed draft of this article explaining how the April jobs numbers show what a hyper-speed economic recovery looks like. It was completely wrong.

Employers added only 266,000 jobs last month, the government reported Friday morning, not the million or so that forecasters expected. The unemployment rate actually edged up, to 6.1 percent.

The progressives are hoping that the administration’s current woes are temporary in nature, that the misfortunes will soon wear away.

Yet how do you tell if a bad run is due to simple random factors or to some underlying defect in your own side?  Admiral Beatty is reported to have remarked to his Flag Captain that “there seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today,” after two of them had exploded within half an hour during the battle of Jutland.

You can form some estimation of which by watching a gambler on a losing streak. The longer the streak the more likely it is that he’s doing something wrong. Of course, Biden can recover, but tempo has a quality all its own and closely spaced setbacks can overwhelm a player before he has time to learn.

Perhaps the biggest potential mistake the establishment might have made was that they overestimated the reserve buoyancy of the political system. With Trump gone they assumed they could rule as before, spend as before, lecture as before. Even Joe could do it. If Joe Biden’s woes are due to more than bad luck it, could be a sign that the design margin they had counted on for so long no longer exists.

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