Narrowly re-elected N.J. governor says Democrats “not doing enough”

President Biden’s ambitious social spending package is stalled in Congress because two senators of his own party think it’s too big, spends too much, and does too much.

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat who narrowly won re-election last week (details here), disagrees.

He thinks his brush with defeat is “a sign that he and his party must do more to provide relief for the state’s residents,” he said on a Sunday talk show. (Story here.)

“It’s quite clear that there’s a lot of hurt out there,” Murphy told NBC‘s political report Chuck Todd. He talked about “kitchen tables” and connecting “more deeply” with folks to help them “get through this period,” and suggested that Democrats “might have been swept away” but for their support of relief efforts, but thinks the party needs to “reach deep, more deeply” into people’s (he referred to “families”) needs.

Republicans have adamantly opposed most pandemic relief legislation. At the beginning of the pandemic, they denied it even existed, despite clear signs the American public was facing an historic crisis. They have fought against masks, social distancing, and vaccinations. They’ve demonized and even threatened public health officials, medical experts, and officials trying to manage the problem. In Texas, the Republican lieutenant governor even suggested that senior citizens should sacrifice their lives to keep businesses open.

It’s beyond me how anyone can vote for a party like that.

But, whatever. “Politics is the art of the possible,” a quote attributed to Otto von Bismarck (father of the modern German state) and famously repeated by Lyndon Johnson (considered a masterful Senate leader before becoming president), describes the quandary Joe Biden faces.

Biden has to manage the most challenging political problem that any modern president has faced: His party has no votes to spare in the Senate, and a couple of semi-renegade senators who are blockading most of the party’s major ambitions; he doesn’t have a working majority in the House, if he can’t bring a group of semi-renegade progressives on board for a scaled-down social spending package that doesn’t include key things they badly want; and he faces the implacable obstructionism of a hateful opposition party that tried to overthrow his election with a violent insurrection.

It’s not easy being president under those circumstances, and an impatient public is questioning his leadership. Intuition suggests they’re expecting too much; who can leader under such trying circumstances? (Biden’s problem, of course, is that another president did lead successfully under even more trying circumstances. The country needs a near-Lincoln right now, so he’s expected to be one.)

Biden’s chief of staff, Ron Klain, also went on the Sunday talk shows. He said, “So, I understand that voters are tired, Americans are tired of how long it’s taken to get the economy moving, to get COVID under control. I feel the frustration personally myself. I think everyone does, and I think that frustration wears on people.”

All of that is true. We’ve been through a wringer. Americans are stressed out, burned out, tried to the bone. Politicians can’t fix that; they’re human, not superhuman, and what the country needs right now is divine intervention (although not Paula White’s kind), although some amount of congressional intervention is considerably better than nothing.

Democrats, who appear to be in some disarray, need a strategy. Formulating one isn’t rocket science. Political parties and candidates compete for voters’ loyalty by listening to their needs, responding with programs that address those needs, and then figuring out what’s achievable in the political mashup of legislative bodies (i.e., practicing the “art of the possible”).

Murphy argues voters want to see “progress on Covid, progress on the economy,” and says they’re in a “don’t tell me, show me” mode. He’s probably right. Biden’s original “go big” strategy probably was right, too, but it’s apparently not possible given the current makeup of Congress, and he’s had to compromise by shrinking the package and throwing some parts out (e.g., free community college). What he has to do now, and where leadership enters in, is get what he can from Congress and persuade the rest of his party to settle for it.

Millions of Americans need help with child care, health care, prescription drugs, educational expenses and student debt, and a host of other things. Major legislation can be life-changing for them. Healing the economy from the pandemic requires subduing the virus, of course, and he gambled on mandates to do that, which Republicans are fighting with all they’ve got.

The nation also is once again coming to grips with racism, and Republicans — who’ve evolved into a full-blown white supremacy party — are updating their racist dog-whistles (see story here) while trying to suppress any teaching about racial issues in public schools by, among other things, hijacking a label for graduate school studies and turning it into a pejorative.

In this environment, the choices for voters ought to be easy. But in life, nothing is ever simple or easy.

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