President Joe Biden has a lot in common with one of his fellow Democratic White House predecessors, according to columnist and author Kimberley Strassel.
In her new book “The Biden Malaise: How America Bounces Back From Joe Biden’s Dismal Repeat of the Jimmy Carter Years,” Strassel details the parallels between Jimmy Carter’s 1977-1981 presidency and Biden’s today.
Of course, after Carter came President Ronald Reagan, and while Strassel says there is no copy of Reagan running for president in 2024, candidates should learn from Reagan’s optimism and vision for the country.
Strassel, a member of The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board, joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss the book and to offer her insights into how the U.S. can “bounce back” after the Biden presidency.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:
Virginia Allen: It is my pleasure today to be joined by author and columnist Kimberley Strassel. Kimberly, thank you so much for your time today. I’m so excited that we get to talk about your brand new book “The Biden Malaise: How America Bounces Back from Joe Biden’s Dismal Repeat of the Jimmy Carter Years.” Thanks for being with us.
Kimberley Strassel: Oh, it’s so great to be here, Virginia. Thank you for having me.
Allen: Well, this is going to be such an interesting conversation as we talk about this brand new book, “The Biden Malaise.” I’m so curious to know how exactly you determined that you wanted to draw this direct comparison between the Jimmy Carter presidency and Joe Biden. What do those two presidents hold in common in your eyes?
Strassel: Well, that was really the fun part of this book because, at least on a top level, the comparisons are so eerie in so many ways. I mean, the same type of inflation, the same soaring energy prices, the same debacles on a foreign policy scale, high levels of crime.
Also, a lot of people don’t know this, problems at the border. Jimmy Carter was the only other modern president to have a run at the border, in this case, Florida because of the Merrill vote lift.
But what made the research fun is realizing, and this is a central premise of the book, that despite all those top-level comparisons, the comparison is unfair to Jimmy Carter because the way that we got to these places is so different for the two presidencies and also, I think far more damning for the current one.
Allen: What was the timeline, after Joe Biden became president, where you started thinking, “Wait a second, this looks familiar. We’ve done this before in history“?
Strassel: Yeah, it was about a year in as inflation really started to hit its stride, but also, energy prices. And for all that Joe Biden has talked about, the Putin price hike, etc., energy and gas prices were rising far earlier than Russia invaded Ukraine.
And as they continued to spend and spend, and other people started making this comparison as well, too, but it was when we got into the research that I realized just how much fun it would be to actually not just compare, but to contrast these presidencies, which I think is really important for readers of this book to understand why we’re in the particular mess these days and not just slough it off as a repeat of the Carter years.
Allen: Well, let’s talk a little bit more about what you just said regarding the fact that it’s not entirely fair to Carter to call it a direct comparison. And one of the things that you talk about in the book is that Carter actually did some work to deregulate some aspects of the government. Have we seen any deregulation from President Biden?
Strassel: A couple of things that make it unfair, one just big one which I would note is that Carter inherited a lot of his problems. You’ve got to remember that the 1970s, we were having the great inflation around the globe. We’d already had a global oil shock. It was a Cold War, so it was a very unsettling sea on the world stage. He inherited all that, whereas Joe Biden inherited a pretty clean slate.
But yes, then, not only did Joe Biden get 1.4% inflation, low gas prices, we had just become a net exporter of oil in the world. He managed to, nonetheless, destroy all of this.
That is in part because of what you say about regulation. We have never seen a regulator like Biden and in particular, in the ways that he’s done it. He’s done agency-to-agency regulation, but he’s also really doubled down on the strategy of getting these super-regulators, people like Lina Khan at the Federal Trade Commission, Gary Gensler at the Securities and Exchange Commission, organizations that have the ability to put out rules that sweep in every corporate entity no matter what their industry is.
And it’s been very crushy. … It really hit supply because it unsettled the sector and that has fed into inflation as well.
Allen: So even though we can’t draw a direct comparison and say there’s obviously these incredible similarities between what we’re seeing between the Carter presidency and the Biden administration, there’s some differences. How far can we take the comparison though? Because Carter was a one-term president. Biden says he’s running for reelection. What do you think?
Strassel: Well, yeah, I think you just hit on the thing that really is important, also in the book, is, regardless of how we got to these two terrible situations in the ’70s or now, and even though there were different types of missteps by both presidents, the reality is that what they messed up happens to be the type of issues that most annoy Americans and voters because they have to deal with it on a daily basis.
Inflation just really, it saps household wealth, every time you have to go fill up your car. People don’t like seeing disorder down at the southern border. They’re now scared because of the crime that’s out there. So this has left people feeling very unsettled.
And one of the things I try to do in the book is remind everybody what came after Carter. And of course, that was that backlash which created the environment that Ronald Reagan came into with a very clear message, with a sense of optimism versus the malaise. And he not only won that election in 1980, he changed electoral politics in this country for a generation. And I think that we could be at a similar moment now.
Allen: Talk a little bit more about that because I think that that’s such an interesting point that we have to talk about the implications not only of what’s happening today, but how do policies, both of what we saw under Carter and then today, how does that set the stage for future administrations?
Strassel: If you look at the polls, put aside elections we’ve had because there’s a lot of focus on those, but just look at the polls, Joe Biden is even in a worse position right now than Jimmy Carter was when he was running for reelection. And that is a direct statement on these policies and how bad things are for so many Americans.
You’ve also begun to see some demographic shifts out there in the country in certain elections. And I’d specifically note some of the gubernatorial reelections in 2022—Ron DeSantis in Florida, Brian Kemp in Georgia, Mike DeWine in Ohio, Kim Reynolds up in Iowa. They were elected by massive margins, and that was by a number of voting groups that don’t normally vote Republican. Urban voters, suburban female voters, minority voters, Hispanic voters in particular.
That, to me, suggests a great deal of distrust and unsettled feeling with the Biden administration and its policies.
The question and the big moment, the question for free market, free people voters is, as they go to the primaries, are they going to be wise enough to choose a nominee who has the ability to communicate a message and some optimism and capture that moment, invite people in from the other side the way Reagan did?
Allen: And you use that word “optimism.” I love that you do and that you talk about this because I think it’s missing in our political plane today, that everyone is so quick to give their laundry list of everything that’s wrong in the country, and that works for a little while, but at the end of the day, people want solutions. They want hope. They want to know it’s going to get better. And they don’t just want to hear you bashing the other side. And that’s something that you point out that Reagan was able to do. He was able to cast vision.
Strassel: Oh, yeah. And look, let’s be clear. Ronald Reagan didn’t mince words about what ailed the country and the policies that had gone wrong, but what he did very effectively is also lay out an alternative future.
So he told people exactly what he was going to do to make it better, but also say, “Hey, these are the things in the country, too, that unite us. We all want to have a more prosperous future. We all want to see our kids be able to pay for their college education. We all want to live in a safer world where America isn’t having to intervene in constant conflicts. We do that by being a force of strength in the world.”
And so these were the things that united us.
What I see right now in the field—and, by the way, I think the conservative primary, at the moment, there’s such a number of talented people out there. It should be exciting to have that kind of debate.
But I see a lot of people trying really hard to show that they have the fight and not so much talking about what brings us together. And again, that doesn’t mean you can’t criticize what’s happened, but I think a lot of Americans would be drawn to a message of a better future.
Allen: Among the candidate pool, let’s talk about everybody, Republicans, Democrats, are you seeing anyone that is able to have a little bit more of that broad picture to talk about, “Yes, these are the issues,” but also either is already, or you could see potential for, really having that ability to cast vision and to bring in positivity and to get people excited for America’s future?
Strassel: Well, on the Democratic side, I think one thing that’s really disappointing is that Joe Biden suggested he was going to be that person and that’s been another disappointment for the nation. He claimed that he was going to bring people together. This has been one of the more divisive presidencies that we have ever seen emanating from the White House.
I also don’t see how, even if someone got in and challenged him, that you could have that kind of message because it would require acknowledging that Biden policies are part of the problem and I just don’t see any of the Democratic candidates being willing to do that.
The Republican side, like I said, I think we still have a long way to go in the Republican primary, lots of great voices. I do see some people talking about optimism, but they’re going to have to marry that as well with a policy agenda. And I’ll be curious to see how that comes out.
Again, I think a lot of them are focused more at the moment at showing that they can throw a punch, but that’s not necessarily—I mean, that’s part of what helped Ron DeSantis win that storming victory in 2022, but a lot of it was his economic agenda, a lot of it was his deregulation agenda. And so I’m still waiting to hear a little bit more of all of that, like, “What’s your vision for the future to inspire people to your side?”
Allen: Among our GOP candidates, what do you think is going to be the greatest challenge for whoever wins the nomination and is ultimately running against President Joe Biden?
Strassel: Well, the biggest challenge is going to be moving beyond the strategy that Democrats have used so effectively over the past three or four years, which is to suggest that the party’s nuts and that they’re extremist.
And also, to focus on these issues that are designed to scare people, like abortion, for instance, and some of the cultural issues, claiming that if Republicans are in charge, you’ll lose all your rights in the country, because Democrats have done that effectively and it has taken the focus away from that broad discontentment that you see across the country and from a focus on Joe Biden’s policies.
Allen: Excellent. The book is “The Biden Malaise: How America Bounces Back From Joe Biden’s Dismal Repeat of the Jimmy Carter Years.” It is out now. You can get it wherever books are sold. Kim, thank you so much for your time today.
Strassel: Thank you.
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