“They’re really down. The need for mental health in America, it has skyrocketed, because people have seen everything upset. Everything they’ve counted on upset. But most of it’s the consequence of what’s happened, what happened as a consequence of the Covid crisis. “
It’s the latest in a series of comments from Biden in which he acknowledges that people are struggling – and saying he is limited in what he can do about it.
The message is simple: Things are really rough right now and there’s not much I (or anyone) can do about it.
Which is not a great message for a president or a party – especially less than five months out of the midterm elections.
Biden’s position is, of course, not an easy one. While unemployment is low and there are other strong economic indicators, the increased cost of basic goods like food and gas makes it hard to convince people that things are going well.
Given that general sense of pessimism, it would be akin to political catastrophe for Biden to act as though everything was hunky dory in the country. He would look deeply out of touch and detached – two traits voters really don’t like in their politicians.
At the same time, Biden must be careful not to lean too hard into the malaise argument. Americans also expect their politicians to be optimistic about the country’s future, a sort of cheerleader-in-chief.
We’ve seen the political peril of being perceived as too downcast about America’s direction.
Here are the most famous / infamous lines from that address:
“The threat is almost invisible in ordinary ways.
“It is a crisis of confidence.
“It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation.
“The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and political fabric of America.”
Carter’s goal was simple: To make sure the American public knew that he understood that things weren’t going great in the US and to rally them behind a shared sense of purpose.
The speech backfired in the long term. Carter was successfully cast by Ronald Reagan as a dour pessimist who believed that America’s best times were behind it. Reagan, by contrast, cast himself as a sunny optimist.