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Tuesday Edition: Dems’ String of Crises

Plus: The government finds new ways to waste your money.

1. A Bad Run for Dems

Ahead of the 2024 election, Democrats face a string of crises and discouraging political conditions. (The Atlantic)

Biden’s debate implosion: This one’s pretty self-explanatory.

The polls: Even before last week’s debate threw concerns about President Biden’s mental fitness into overdrive, Donald Trump held a narrow but consistent polling lead, with some models giving the former president a 75% chance of winning the election.

The economy: Despite claims from economists and the media that key metrics show a strong economy, consumer sentiment has stayed low due to the high costs of groceries, housing and other essentials.

The far-left: Backlash to campus protests and high-profile primary losses by extreme progressives, like Jamaal Bowman in New York last week, reinforce the idea that the far-left's influence is hurting the Democratic Party.

Michael Powell, a staff writer at The Atlantic:

Too many on the left wing of American politics have become inured to the effect of their overheated rhetoric and histrionic displays of fealty to in-group norms. This approach to politics promises more pain than hope for a Democratic Party with so many election-year worries — voters’ malaise, high food and housing prices, and a superannuated nominee whose feeble debate performance has sent his partisans into a panic. … Politicians and movements are most successful when they try to win people over, and change course when they fail — rather than chiding voters for being brainwashed.

Bubba’s Two Cents

Talking heads have suggested Donald Trump’s best campaign strategy would be to say nothing, and let the Dems continue doing what’s gotten them to this point. Republicans are grappling with their own dysfunction, chaos, and a controversy-prone candidate, but what’s happening with Biden - and several other Democrats - is taking a lot of the heat off.

2. Glimmers of Hope

One of the biggest themes in modern politics is how dissatisfied people are with the American system, but there are still plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the United States. (Age of Disruption)

New Pew Research Center polling:

  • Satisfaction with democracy in the U.S. has fallen 13 percentage points since 2021.

  • In 2021: 49% were satisfied.

  • In 2024: 36% are satisfied.

Data points from a new essay by political analyst Bruce Mehlman:

  1. America is the top destination in the world: It attracted 50.6 million international migrants in 2020, more than any other country.

  2. America is #1 in where companies want to invest: The U.S. stock market has the largest market cap in the world at $52.6 trillion.

  3. America’s #1 in higher education prestige: The U.S. has the most universities in the top 30 of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings.

  4. Americans are near the top in entrepreneurship: The U.S. has the third-highest entrepreneurship rate among 21 high-income economies, per the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor.

  5. America ranks near the top on innovation: Only Switzerland and Sweden received higher scores in the latest Global Innovation Index rankings.

Bubba’s Two Cents

I’m highlighting these stats not to suggest America’s perfect or that it doesn’t have a lot of problems. But so much of modern politics is rooted in making people afraid and focusing solely on the negative aspects of our country. The “everything is doom and gloom” point of view is just as distorted as claiming “everything is roses and rainbows.” It’s also self-fulfilling in a lot of ways — if you believe everything’s gone to hell already, what’s the point in even trying to work to fix things?

3. The Latest on Government Waste

Two new reports, one in the Washington Post and one in the Wall Street Journal, give us yet another glimpse into how the government keeps finding creative ways to throw your money down the drain. (WSJ)

New York: Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul reversed course and suddenly pulled the plug on a congestion pricing plan, pretty much wasting the $700 million already invested into the initiative.

  • The plan was supposed to reduce Manhattan's severe traffic congestion, but instead, the MTA now faces a $16.5 billion financial gap created by a loss of expected congestion pricing revenue and matching federal funds.

  • Hochul paused the plan amid significant public opposition (63% opposed), with observers speculating she’s concerned about political blowback, especially during an election year.

WSJ reporter Jimmy Vielkind: 

The epic collapse in New York shows how a fear of dramatic change can give the status quo stubborn power over those trying to solve some of America’s most intractable challenges. That leaves policymakers nibbling at the edges of deeply rooted problems, even after investing huge sums of money and political capital.

Federal government: Taxpayers spend $5 billion a year on leasing office space for federal employees and another $2 billion to operate it, but much of this space is underused because government workers are resisting returning to the office.

  • Despite directives from President Biden's administration, only 6% of federal workers are working full-time in their offices, while 30% are fully remote, according to a Federal News Network survey.

  • Last summer, 17 out of 24 federal agencies were using only about 25% of their headquarters' office space.

  • Biden chief of staff Jeff Zients to Cabinet members in January: Agencies “are not where they need to be. ... I ask that you double down on your leadership to increase in-person work.”

WaPo associate editor Marc Fisher:

I thought at least one political party would have latched on to this as a pretty outrageous state of affairs. The campaign ads about massive waste write themselves, as anyone can see by wandering along K Street NW or in Federal Triangle, past shuttered storefronts along empty sidewalks, especially on Mondays and Fridays ... and Tuesdays and Thursdays. Wednesdays aren’t great, either.

Bubba’s Two Cents

These are just two examples that illustrate how government tends to function (or not function). If this was happening with private sector funding, it’d be a showcase in inefficiency and incompetence. The fact that the government is doing this with Americans’ hard-earned dollars makes it unconscionable. All the while, spending, borrowing and budgets are just getting bigger and bigger.

4. Checking in on Mental Health in Teens

Social scientists are involved in a big debate right now over what’s causing the teen mental health crisis. (After Babel)

A new analysis by psychology professor Jean Twenge: Depressive symptoms in teens have risen across a range of different demographic groups and geographic areas.

Gender: The rise in depression is more pronounced among teen girls compared to boys.

Chart: After Babel

Regions: Depressive symptoms have risen similarly in rural, urban, and suburban areas, indicating a national rather than regional cause.

LGBT trends: Between 2015 and 2021, depression rates among LGB teens increased by 10 percentage points, compared to an 8 percentage point increase among straight teens.

Chart: After Babel

Twenge’s interpretation:

The decade from 2012 to 2022 had many positive trends, perhaps especially for teens in historically marginalized groups. Child poverty, discrimination against LGB people, and teen pregnancy all declined. The negatives, such as the increases in mortality among parent-aged adults, were much more common in some areas than others. Yet depression increased among American teens regardless of urban vs. rural residence, region, race, ethnicity, social class, or sexual orientation. That strongly suggests a cause cross-cutting all of these groups. The increasing dominance of smartphones and social media during this decade did just that.

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