Pedophiles and Party Politics
Attacks on Ketanji Brown Jackson are the opening salvo on what will become a vicious attack on Joe Biden
Expect my coverage of the 2022 midterms to ramp up. Today we look at why Joe Biden’s likability metric will be under attack by Republicans for the next seven months. Know someone who is just as nerdy as me? Please:
Let’s be clear: Ketanji Brown Jackson does not support pedophilia, nor is she unduly “soft” on child pornographers. So if it’s a mystery to you why Republicans chose such an absurd route for character assassination during her hearings, it shouldn’t be. First of all, because—unlike Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh—no one had accused Jackson of any sex crimes, Republicans had to make some up. But second, she was a surrogate target: the attacks on her were calculated to smear Joe Biden, the Democrats, and any Republican left of Attila the Hun who might vote to confirm Jackson. Second, and importantly, Joe Biden’s likability ratings are underwhelming. Bringing them lower before the 2022 midterms by taking QAnon conspiracy theories mainstream will, Republicans hope, help them flip the House— and maybe the Senate.
Likability is, in many ways, a ridiculous metric for politics. Few of us know political leaders well enough to have more than a superficial sense of whether we like them or not. But this doesn’t mean the idea that we like politicians isn’t a powerful driver of voting behavior. Those of you who have followed my political writing may recall a piece I did in May 2019 for the New York Times about why female politicians struggled with likability. Invented by Madison Avenue for an almost exclusively male political world, I pointed out that Hillary Clinton’s failure to be likable in 2016 was not unique to her. At the moment I wrote the piece, six women were running for the Democratic presidential nomination: five of them (including our current Vice President, Kamala Harris) were seen as differently unlikable. Pundits agreed that the sixth— wellness guru Marianne Williamson—was just nutty.
The piece took off, I suspect because it hit a nerve with female journalists. Invited on Andrea Mitchell’s MSNBC show to discuss likability, I mentioned the high focus on Amy Klobuchar’s purported cruelty to staffers as a news story that had displaced conversations about her policy accomplishments. When I finished, another woman journalist growled resentfully: “And this, in a town where male senators work their staffs like mules!”
Things didn’t improve for female likability as the United States turned the corner into the 2020 primary season. Stumping for Elizabeth Warren in southern New Hampshire, it was not uncommon for me to be discussing the Massachusetts Senator’s record on consumer fraud and have the person I was canvassing interrupt me. “Oh, but I can’t stand her screechy voice!” that person, often another woman, would say as if we were both in the same conversation.
But why do we even need politicians, women or men, to be likable? For example, I like Mitt Romney, the Republican Senator from Utah. I really like Mitt Romney, and I can tell you why: I think he is a thoroughly and transparently sincere human being. He seems kind and abstains from the maximalist, culture wars rhetoric driving today’s GOP. But aside from voting to impeach Donald Trump and elevate Judge Jackson to the Supreme Court, Mitt Romney and I share few political values. In 2012, Romney’s likability did not translate into me casting my presidential ballot for him. Regardless of how much I like any individual Republican, I don’t expect to ever vote for one again.
But likability still matters to the average voter, it seems. Obama—whose fight for national health insurance had, by 2012, created a political rift you could practically drive a car through—may have pulled that election out because he was more likable than Romney (clearly, I am an outlier here.) In September 2012, Reagan biographer Lou Cannon, citing political consultant Stuart K. Spencer, predicted that Obama would win a tight race despite his low approval ratings. “It’s the likability factor,” Cannon quoted Spencer, who had steered the Gipper to victory as Governor of California and President of the United States. “Many people think that Obama hasn’t delivered, but they still like him. I’d rather have a beer with him than Romney. Wouldn’t you?”
It’s not so much the beer that, as a Mormon, Romney doesn’t drink—but rather the idea that the president cares about people like me defines likability. And it is important to underline here: likability is a different and more intangible metric than job approval, which correlates closely with whether a president is perceived as an effective manager and a good leader.
By today’s standards, Obama’s likability—the cute dogs, the engaging smile, the beautiful wife and daughters—was stunning. In 2009, YouGov began polling Americans routinely with a straightforward question: “Regardless of whether you agree with him, do you like Barack Obama as a person?” In January 2009, when Obama was first inaugurated, 77.9% of registered voters surveyed said yes. In November 2012, when Democrats lost the House, Obama’s likability had fallen to around 59%.
But that was still higher than Donald J. Trump’s likability rating ever was. Although YouGov did not include figures from the 2016 campaign cycle in their tracker, when Trump took office in late January, only 46.5% of voters liked him. This number maps pretty closely onto the percentage of the popular vote he won: 46.1%. When Joe Biden took the presidency away from Trump, his likability rating was statistically about the same: 46%. But this time, Biden won with 50.6% of the popular vote, the largest number of votes ever cast for a presidential candidate.
Since four percent of the population voted for him without really liking him, Biden’s likability has plummeted further. At an all-time high of 48.6% in February 2021, his likability is now at 40.5%, with those who say they dislike Biden creeping up five points to 36%. But there is another number to watch too. Those who say they neither like or dislike Biden have held relatively steady at 17%, and those who are “not sure” at around 5%. That’s a pretty hefty chunk of voters who are up for grabs.
And these are the voters Republicans are going after.
At Popular Information, Judd Legum reveals an email internal to Stand Together, a Koch-funded policy non-profit, opposing nearly all sanctions imposed on Russia. The email, written by Vice President of Foreign Policy Dan Caldwell, also argues for delivering a “partial victory” to this aggressor nation, based on his assessment that neither side can win this war. Legum's foreign policy experts condemn this approach as “misguided” and likely to make any outcome not dictated by Vladimir Putin unlikely. “Koch Industries, as Legum has already reported, “is one of a small group of American companies maintaining operations in Russia. While hundreds of companies have withdrawn or curtailed their business in Russia, Koch Industries operates through at least three subsidiaries, including Guardian Glass, which operates several major plants in Russia.” (April 6, 2022)
By now, workers at an Amazon warehouse in Staten Island, NY, just completed a successful union drive. At The Connector, Micah Sifry unpacks how everything went right. Read about how “an intrepid and incredibly hard-working band of Black, brown, white and immigrant worker-organizers, mostly young and until now mostly ignored, have managed to do the seemingly impossible,” as Sifry describes it. “In just 11 months of daily organizing among their fellow warehouse workers, the nascent Amazon Labor Union built enough solidarity among the 8,000 employees of the massive JFK8 Amazon warehouse in Staten Island to win a resounding certification vote last Friday.” (April 5, 2022)
Marjorie Taylor Greene (GA-14) had her personal account taken away after multiple violations of Twitter’s rules of service. Now, if there was a God, Twitter would lift her official account. On April 4, Republican Senators Susan Collins (ME), Lisa Murkowski (AK), and Mitt Romney (UT) announced that they would vote to confirm Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the Supreme Court. Greene then tweeted that these three eminent senators supported sexual violence against children. As of April 6, the tweet was still up. (April 4, 2022)
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