Today’s Edition: The power of public sentiment.

July 19, 2021

          [I]n this country, public sentiment is everything. With it, nothing can fail; against it, nothing can succeed. Whoever molds public sentiment goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces judicial decisions.

          Abraham Lincoln uttered that enduring political truth during a debate with Stephen A. Douglas as they competed for a U.S. Senate seat in Illinois. Lincoln lost the debate and the election. But in the process of losing, Lincoln vaulted himself into public prominence, became president, and saved the union. As Lincoln strove to bind a fractured nation, public sentiment in the North was fickle, swinging for or against the war with the latest victory or defeat on the battlefield. Lincoln addressed the public frequently in an effort to mold public opinion. Lincoln was always careful not to get too far ahead of public opinion, even when he was leading the way to higher moral ground. See The Lehrman Institute, “Public Opinion & the Power of Persuasion| Lincoln and Churchill.”

          Many Democrats are frustrated (or worse) by the gap between what they believed a victory in 2020 would mean and the hard slogging that has ensued. Although Biden has made quick progress in some areas, other issues that motivated voter turnout are mired in lengthy behind-the-scenes negotiations or investigations—the environment, Supreme Court reform, voter protection, and accountability for Trump. The mantra of “Trust us, be patient” is chanted by administration surrogates who seek to calm the rank-and-file. Meanwhile, Republicans are storming the airwaves, unconstrained by truth, decency, or national interest. It sometimes feels like Democrats are losing the battle for public sentiment.

          I share the frustration of readers and Democrats at large who believe that the administration should be more aggressive in its messaging and public efforts to control recalcitrant members of the Democratic caucus. See, e.g., The Hill, “Biden's silence on filibuster strains Democrats' patience.” But I believe the notion that Democrats are losing the messaging war is a distortion caused by the manner in which the mainstream media, right wing media, and social media choose to report the news. Information algorithms designed to maximize advertising revenue exalt outlier opinions and baseless speculation over mundane reality. “Dog bites man” is not news; “Man bites dog” is.

          As Democrats work to create consensus on a massive reconciliation bill, the media focuses on the handful of members who have not agreed to the final deal. See CNN, “Schumer's challenge: Wooing moderate Democrats on $3.5 trillion Biden plan.” On voting rights legislation, the story is not that Senators Manchin and Sinema support reform, but that they do not support the entirety of the For the People Act or modification of the filibuster. See Bloomberg, “Manchin Says No Filibuster Exception for Voting Rights Bill.” As the Biden administration struggles to contain the pandemic, the story is not how much progress has been made toward herd immunity, but the volatile mixture of right-wing ideology and anti-vaccination sentiment that stands in the way. See Vanity Fair, “Right-Wing Vaccine Lies Are Tearing the Country Apart.”

          To be clear, the obstinacy of Manchin and Sinema, the difficulty of finding consensus among moderate and progressive Democrats, and the anti-vaccination lies of the right-wing media are serious problems. Each rightly occupied some of the weekend’s news coverage. Even so, they are the exceptions or the minority view, and do not represent the overall “state of our nation” at this moment. Biden’s $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill will ultimately pass at a scale that will secure Biden’s legacy for decades. Manchin and Sinema say they support federal protection of voting rights but want to find a middle path.  Among the most vulnerable populations, vaccination rates stratified by age are high: 65 to 75 = 85%; 50 to 64 = 70%; and 40 to 49 = 59%.

          The news media and social media are not entirely at fault. We feed the monster and get the news we deserve in return. But let’s recognize that the unreported stories are at least as important as those that fill headlines. In the main, public sentiment supports Biden’s agenda, including infrastructure, environment, Court reform, voting rights protection, and democratic rule. With public sentiment on his side, Biden can achieve great things. And you can do your part by communicating the public sentiment to members of Congress. A site that I have recommended previously, Chop Wood, Carry Water, contains a permanent link to reach your Representatives and Senators in Congress. The blog’s author, Jessica Craven, wrote the following in her post on July 16th about telling our elected representatives how we feel:

          We call. We call again. We call the next day. And the day after that. We absolutely flood them with calls. Remember, our representatives are not tallying WHO calls. They are simply tallying how many calls they get each day. So, let’s make sure it’s in the hundreds, or even thousands. It really does determine which issues they put their focus on.

          And as you let members of Congress know how you feel, take time to lift the spirits of friends and neighbors who are faltering under the unremitting and distorted headlines that focus on the problem, the exception, and the minority—rather than on the majority of Americans who support democracy, humanity, and science-based policy.

Meet the Texas Democrats trying to stop the GOP voter suppression bill.

A reader alerted me to an event sponsored by Future Now Fund that will give participants a chance to meet with the Texas Democrats who fled the state in order to deny the GOP the necessary quorum to pass a voter suppression bill. Details: Future Now Fund and The Next 50 are holding a Zoom Monday, July 19th at 8pm EST with three of the Texas Democrats in D.C.  People can read about it and RSVP here: Under Attack: Your Right To Vote and What’s At Stake in The States. If people want to help but can’t attend the meeting, they can donate to the FNF Rapid Response Fund to support Democratic Texas legislators as they navigate unchartered waters. While fighting for Democracy in Washington, D.C. they are under threat of arrest by Governor Greg Abbott on their return to Texas.  

Republicans oppose collecting taxes as a way to pay for infrastructure bill.

          The federal government is funded by income taxes. Underfunding of the Internal Revenue Service allows tax cheats to avoid hundreds of billions in taxes that are due under the U.S. tax code. Granting funding to the IRS to collect that windfall of delinquent taxes seems like an easy and logical way to pay for new government programs in the bipartisan infrastructure bill—except to Republicans. Senator Rob Portman announced that the GOP negotiators will not agree to IRS funding as a way of collecting hundreds of billions in taxes that are due and owing. See Politico, “Rob Portman says IRS enforcement off the table for funding $1.2T infrastructure package.”

          To repeat: Republicans don’t want to collect taxes to pay for infrastructure programs they otherwise support. As I have said before, you can’t negotiate with terrorists, Mitch McConnell, or Republicans. Portman’s position is the height of bad faith.

Los Angeles County Sheriff invokes “science” to deny mask enforcement.

          Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has refused to enforce an indoor mask order issued by L.A. County Health Officer, Dr. Muntu Davis. See HuffPost, “Los Angeles Sheriff Refuses To Enforce New Indoor Mask Mandate.” Dr. Davis’ order requires all people—vaccinated and unvaccinated—to wear masks indoors as of Sunday, July 18th. The CDC’s guidance says that municipalities should follow the directions of local health authorities—like Dr. Davis.  Sheriff Villanueva, whose only license is one that allows him to carry a gun, claims to be an expert in science who knows better than a physician with a master’s degree in public health and two decades of experience fighting infectious diseases. Nonetheless, Sheriff Villanueva breezily claims that the mask mandate is “not backed by science.”

          A favorite tactic of Republicans is to dispute human-caused global warming by claiming that the “science is unsettled.” But when it comes to Covid, Republicans suddenly hold themselves out as experts in epidemiology, virology, and public health. Sheriff Villanueva’s position is politically motivated. See Los Angeles Times, “L.A. Sheriff Villanueva shifts to right as reelection looms.” His stance will increase the rate of infections and cause illness and death. Villanueva is on the ballot in November 2022. Angelenos should remember that he put his political ambitions above the health and safety of LA’s citizens. We should educate Villanueva in the power of public sentiment.

Concluding Thoughts.

          To the readers of this newsletter who reside in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands, our thoughts are with you and your fellow citizens as you face an unprecedented threat from flooding.  I know many of you by name through prior correspondence. If you are able, send a short note letting me (and other newsletter readers) know that you are safe. Your American friends wish you well as you fight the ongoing floods.

          I was speaking to someone in Bulgaria last week regarding a water project in California. (It’s complicated; don’t ask.) He said that Bulgaria was experiencing weeks of rain during a time traditionally used to harvest grain. I bemoaned the lack of water in the little mountain community where my wife and I own a cabin. The creek that provides potable water for our community is about to run dry. Despite the challenges, I noted that everyone in the community was supportive of drastic water conservation measures. The gentleman to whom I was speaking said, “That’s what I admire about you Americans. When times get tough, you always manage to pull together.”

          On that positive note, I will sign off. Talk to you tomorrow!