Friday Talking Points -- The Changing Of The Vibes

[ Posted Friday, January 19th, 2024 – 17:54 UTC ]

President Joe Biden got some excellent news today: the "vibecession" seems to be over. For those unfamiliar with this neologism, the term was coined by an educator a while back to explain the disconnect between the economic reality (measured by all the economic indicators) and how people actually felt about the economy. The economy has been doing amazingly well in recovering from the COVID pandemic slump, while at the same time public perception has remained a lot gloomier.

There are reasons for this disconnect. First, we thought the pandemic itself was over several times -- but each time another variant attacked and made things worse. So there's a "once bitten, twice shy" residual feeling from those experiences in unfulfilled optimism. Then inflation spiked, and when the Fed brought it back down, interest rates spiked. So there's always been at least one economic indicator out of whack with the rest of the good economic news. The news media fed the disconnect as well (as they always do) by highlighting the bad news (in apocalyptic terms, at times) while ignoring or downplaying the good news. So while the economic numbers stayed strong, the "vibe" out there was that we were actually in a recession -- even though it wasn't true. Hence the "vibecession."

But today, there was some excellent news on this front. Because finally the vibe has begun to shift, in rather dramatic fashion:

It appears Americans are finally feeling better about the economy.

Consumer sentiment, a window into the nation's financial mood, jumped 13 percent in January to its highest level since mid-2021, reflecting optimism that inflation is easing and incomes are rising, according to a closely-watched survey by the University of Michigan. Since November, consumer sentiment has risen 29 percent, marking the largest two-month increase in more than 30 years.

To put this another way, everyone seems to have had a very happy holiday season. People are feeling a lot better about the economy and it wasn't just a one-month blip. Consumer sentiment is rising at an astonishing pace, finally catching up to where the economic indicators have been for a while. And that's exactly what Joe Biden needs right now.

If this trend continues throughout the year, it will mean that political attacks on Biden's handling of the economy will be a much harder sell. Biden's own numbers haven't caught up to this surge in consumer sentiment yet, but presidential approval ratings often track closely with how people are feeling about the economy. And for any president attempting to get re-elected, the message "things are getting better, don't change horses in midstream" can be a very effective one.

There's another disconnect between reality and perception out there in the world of politics, and this one is completely understandable. Most of the American public is just refusing to face what is fast becoming inevitable -- that this year's presidential election will be a repeat of Joe Biden versus Donald Trump. People don't want to see this rematch, and many of them are in a serious state of denial. Democrats, according to the New York Times, simply cannot believe that Republicans are still supporting Donald Trump, after his 91 indictments and the possibility that he will be a convicted criminal by the time the election rolls around. Republicans have a conspiracy theory that somehow Biden is going to pull some sort of switcheroo and Michelle Obama is actually going to be the Democratic candidate (and no, we are not making that up). Either way, most of the public just cannot believe that we're going to get the same two guys as the last time around.

This should fade, over time, as it becomes more and more obvious that both Biden and Trump will indeed be on the November ballot this year. Denial will retreat as reality becomes impossible to ignore. This process began this week with the official kickoff to the primary season: the Iowa Republican caucuses. Held in frigid temperatures Monday night, Trump beat expectations while Nikki Haley underperformed her own expectations. Trump cleared the bar of 50 percent (by just one point, but still...) while Haley did not beat Ron DeSantis for second place (again, only by a few points, but psychologically "third" is nowhere near as good as "second"). This lessens the chance that Haley is about to catch fire with the GOP electorate and pull off a surprise victory in New Hampshire next Tuesday. And if Haley can't beat Trump in New Hampshire, she probably won't be able to beat him anywhere else either. With just one state having voted, Trump is on the verge of pretty much locking up the Republican nomination fight.

This is an astonishing performance in an open race, but that's only because it really isn't an open race. Donald Trump is not just some random Republican running for president -- he's already been president. So he's really running with the tailwind of an incumbent. Seen this way, it's not all that unusual for an incumbent to wrap up even a contested primary season extremely early. Joe Biden is going to be the Democratic nominee, for instance -- and we can confidently state that before any state has held their Democratic primary. In any case, like it or not, these are the two candidates that are going to be the standard-bearers of the two major political parties (barring something exceptional and unexpected happening, of course).

The Iowa results had two casualties as well, as both Vivek Ramaswamy and Asa Hutchinson officially dropped out of the race. Ramaswamy immediately endorsed Donald Trump (no surprise there), while the Democratic National Committee had some snarky fun with Hutchinson, stating: "This news comes as a shock to those of us who could've sworn he had already dropped out" (the White House chief of staff later called Hutchinson to apologize).

This leaves a three-person race, even though Nikki Haley confidently defined it as a two-person race (a move that caused much hilarity on late-night television and the internet, as many pointed out the fact that she came in third). But neither Haley nor DeSantis really has any kind of momentum -- or at least not enough to make much difference. DeSantis pulled out of New Hampshire entirely (he's polling in the single digits there), and instead is concentrating on South Carolina -- where he also badly trails both Haley and Trump.

Haley, meanwhile, refused to participate in two New Hampshire GOP debates, unless Trump showed up. He refused, so both debates were cancelled. Haley had two notable gaffes this week, when answering questions in interviews. Here's the first:

The GOP presidential candidate was asked by CNN's Dana Bash on Tuesday, "You're the only woman in this race. How do you feel about your party's front-runner being held liable for sexual abuse?"

[Nikki] Haley replied: "I haven't paid attention to his cases, and I'm not a lawyer. All I know is he's innocent until proven guilty."

Bash tried again, noting that many Republicans dismiss the cases against the former president as witch hunts.

Haley argued that "some of the cases have been political," but "this one I haven't looked at."

"But look, if he's found guilty, then he needs to pay the price," she continued.

The article goes on to note that Haley has said she would pardon Trump if she's elected, so it's hard to figure what sort of "price" she's talking about. And the case she was being asked about was actually settled last May, when Trump was indeed found liable (to the tune of $5 million) for sexual abuse and defamation. So either Haley is just flat-out lying about not paying any attention to Trump's cases, or she is a complete incompetent as a politician, since she is theoretically supposed to be running against Trump. So to ignore his legal liability in a rape case seems like political malpractice at the very least.

In the second gaffe, Haley dug the hole a little deeper on the whole "amnesia about slavery" thing. A Fox News host asked Haley: "Are you involved in a racist [political] party?" and she responded with the jaw-dropping statement: "We're not a racist country.... We've never been a racist country." Seriously? Never? Wow... that's just... wow.

Speaking of that defamation trial, E. Jean Carroll actually filed two lawsuits against Trump. The first one she won (the $5 million award) and the second one got underway this week. Trump has already lost the case -- the only thing the jury will be deciding is how much more money Trump has to give to Carroll for the damage he did to her.

Trump didn't attend and didn't testify in the first case. This time around, he's been showing up in court to scowl at the jurors and make loud statements (that the jury can overhear) and he's already gotten warnings from the judge to knock it off.

One of Trump's biggest lawyers announced right before the case started that he would no longer be representing Trump, which has meant Trump is being defended by a woman who is quite obviously out of her depth in a courtroom (the judge has had to school Trump's lawyer on how to introduce evidence and other basics of courtroom rules, more than once). And Trump has said he's going to take the stand in his own defense, possibly on Monday, so this should be even bigger news next week.

In an unrelated piece of news (which we found highly amusing), Trump was ordered by a judge to pay $400,000 in legal fees to the New York Times, after Trump attempted to sue them and got laughed out of court. That's not a huge amount of money for Trump, but if he ever does actually pay it out, you just know having to do so is going to enrage him.

Outside of Trump's courtrooms and the presidential race, the other big political news of the week was the government shutdown dog that did not bark in the night. Congress successfully passed yet another continuing resolution which will keep the money flowing past midnight tonight, so we are not currently consumed with the prospect of a government shutdown this weekend. Both the House and the Senate got their jobs done early, because a monster snowstorm was expected to hit D.C. today.

What's unclear is whether House Speaker Mike Johnson's job will be in jeopardy for agreeing to pass the continuing resolution. Who knows? Perhaps a "motion to vacate the chair" will be filed when the House returns to Washington, by one of the hotheaded members of his own caucus.

Over in the Senate a deal on border security that would be tied to aid to Ukraine and Israel seems to be inching forward. This deal is not going to make either side very happy, but it might gain enough support to pass (at least in the Senate). If it gets to the House, some Democrats are even floating an interesting deal for Speaker Johnson -- if he allows the bill to get a vote, then Democrats will help him win any "motion to vacate the chair" vote he faces as a result. That's an interesting move, but it's just being rumored at present, so we'll have to see what happens if the Senate does actually send a border bill over to the House.

That's about it for the week, which was a short week due to the Martin Luther King holiday. Which the F.B.I. tried to "celebrate" by tweeting out a respectful note commemorating the day:

This #MLKDay, the #FBI honors one of the most prominent leaders of the Civil Rights movement and reaffirms its commitment to Dr. King's legacy of fairness and equal justice for all.

Nice, right? Well... unless you know your history. Which plenty of people do. So a "community note" was added to provide some necessary context:

The FBI engaged in surveillance of King, attempted to discredit him, and used manipulation tactics to influence him to stop organizing. King's family believe the FBI was responsible for his death.

Maybe next year the F.B.I. will think twice about sending out such a tweet, one assumes. Because that community note is entirely correct. The F.B.I. committed egregious abuses against all sorts of left-leaning people and organizations, and Martin Luther King Junior was at the top of J. Edgar Hoover's list.


Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week

This week two members of Congress announced a proposed plan to make some changes in the tax code, right before the deadline to make such changes for this year's filing season.

The chairs of the Senate and House committees on taxation (Senator Ron Wyden and Representative Jason Smith) worked together to come up with a bipartisan compromise on a few issues each side of the aisle is interested in. For Republicans (naturally) this meant more tax cuts for businesses. For Democrats, it will mean expanding the Child Tax Credit -- a move that can work wonders to fight child poverty.

As with any legislative compromise, neither side got exactly what they wanted. Most Democrats want to boost the Child Tax Credit a lot more than this plan would. Most Republicans don't want poor children to get anything at all. But this is a solid step in the right direction and it would not only apply to millions of children, but it would also be paid for by ending a COVID-era program that wasn't working very well at all.

There is no guarantee this plan will pass (we wrote about this earlier in the week, if anyone's interested), but it does have a chance because neither part of the plan is inherently offensive enough to the other side of the aisle to tank it.

Can a bipartisan tax plan actually get passed in an election year? Can Congress still work to actually accomplish things even with the partisan chasm between them? Well, nobody's sure quite yet. But for putting in the hard work and for being optimistic enough to hope that this plan will pass, we have to salute Senator Wyden for his effort.

For getting something done and for doing so in a bipartisan way that might actually succeed, Senator Ron Wyden is our Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week this week.

[Congratulate Senator Ron Wyden on his Senate contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]


Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week

The jury is still (metaphorically) out on this one, but things aren't looking especially good.

The Atlanta district attorney who has brought the most sweeping case against Donald Trump (and plenty of his co-conspirators) seems to be mired in a mess of her own making. She appears to have hired an attorney to work on the case -- and paid him $650,000 as a result -- with whom she was having a romantic relationship. Here's the news as it stands today:

The estranged wife of a special prosecutor accused of having a romantic relationship with Fani T. Willis, the Atlanta district attorney who hired him, offered evidence on Friday that Ms. Willis accompanied him on trips unrelated to their work: leading the Georgia case against former President Donald J. Trump.

A court filing from Joycelyn Wade, who is in divorce proceedings with the prosecutor, Nathan J. Wade, included what it said were statements for a credit card account belonging to Mr. Wade. The statements showed that he bought plane tickets for himself and Ms. Willis, including tickets to San Francisco from Atlanta purchased on April 25, 2023, and to Miami from Atlanta purchased on Oct. 4, 2022.

The claim against Willis includes specifics: that the two "have traveled personally together to such places as Napa Valley, Florida and the Caribbean... [including] tickets for both of them to travel on both the Norwegian and Royal Caribbean cruise lines."

If proven true, this could necessitate the removal of both Willis and Wade from the case. That would doubtlessly be a blow to the prosecution, although it might not derail the entire case. But if it does go forward, it might have to do so without Willis being in charge of it, which could negatively impact the prosecution's case (Willis has a great deal of experience with cases like the one she filed against Trump et al).

Again -- nothing has been proven yet. Willis has not fully addressed the claims against her. She has been subpoenaed in the Wade divorce case which would require her testimony next week, but she is fighting the subpoena. If she loses that fight, we might all hear what has been going on very soon now.

To jeopardize such a monumentally important case for such a tawdry reason is more than a little disappointing, so until we hear something that exonerates Willis from the claims we're going to have to give her the Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week this week.

[Contact Atlanta District Attorney Fani Willis via her official web page, to let her know what you think of her actions.]


Friday Talking Points

Volume 736 (1/19/24)

Because so many are still in denial and because the primary season is pretty much over before it really even got started, we decided to shift into general election mode in this week's talking points. We'll try not to do this every week, but this really is the kickoff to Biden making the case to the country that he's a much better choice in November than Donald Trump, so we felt we had to on this particular week.


   Better with Biden

Maybe Team Biden should come up with a new slogan?

"You know what? Things are getting better with Biden in control. When he took office, the American economy had been ravaged by COVID and there were supply chain problems and we still hadn't turned the corner from the pandemic. But Biden got to work and the economy recovered. It recovered without going into recession, and has achieved what economists call a 'soft landing.' Unemployment is still way down. Wages are up. Gas prices are down. Things are getting better. Who in their right mind would want to go back to the days when the president had no clue what to do in a national emergency and just set us all fighting against each other? Things are better with Biden, and they're going to continue getting better after he wins re-election."


   More student debt cancelled

This is a blatant appeal to younger voters, of course.

"President Biden just cancelled another $5 billion in student debt -- most of it for teachers and firefighters and other public servants. While the Supreme Court struck down his most ambitious plan, Biden has still been fighting to relieve the crushing amounts of student debt young Americans face when they leave college. To date, Biden has overseen the forgiveness of $136 billion in student debt, and he's not done yet. President Biden is fighting hard to give graduates a chance in life without a crippling amount of student debt. Republicans have been fighting him every step of the way."


   Sorry to say, but yes...

Democrats need to start gently leading people away from their denial.

"I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but yes... Donald Trump is almost certain to be the Republican presidential nominee again. Who is going to beat him? Nikki Haley? Ron DeSantis? That was nice to believe a few months ago, but now the voting has started and Trump is still far ahead of any challenger in the polls. He's not just magically going to go away, folks. Republican voters aren't going to suddenly wake up from their personality cult. Whether you like it or not, the choice this November is going to be between Joe Biden fighting to make America better or Donald Trump's eternal chaos. That's the choice we're all going to face. The time for pretending 'that'll never happen' is over."


   A conviction won't stop him

This is not very well-understood -- plenty of Democrats seem to still think otherwise.

"Even being convicted of federal crimes won't stop Trump. If a jury finds him guilty of serious felonies, Donald Trump could still run for president from a jail cell. It's happened before in American history, actually. So while it would be nice to think that being convicted of a felony crime would automatically disqualify someone from running for president, that is simply not the case. And who here thinks Trump would let any conviction get in the way of running for office? Trump is not going to just slink away if he's convicted, he's going to campaign even harder if it happens. Judges and juries won't save us from Trump -- only the voters can do that."


   Events that cross the line

Trump, as usual, is not being shy about what he wants next time around.

"Donald Trump just sent a social media message out where he (in all caps) shouted: 'ALL PRESIDENTS MUST HAVE COMPLETE & TOTAL PRESIDENTIAL IMMUNITY, OR THE AUTHORITY & DECISIVENESS OF A PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES WILL BE STRIPPED & GONE FOREVER.' He also helpfully explained what that meant: 'EVEN EVENTS THAT 'CROSS THE LINE' MUST FALL UNDER TOTAL IMMUNITY'. Got that? Presidents should be allowed to 'cross the line' on anything, and enjoy 'total immunity' for doing so. Trump's lawyer even argued in court that this would mean that Joe Biden -- the sitting president -- should be able to order SEAL Team Six to assassinate his political rival without being charged with a crime. Someone needs to point out to Trump that this could mean he is now arguing that Biden should consider himself free to assassinate Trump -- because that's exactly what using Trump's logic could lead to."


   Poisoning the blood

Joe Biden should take a page from Trump's playbook and turn his own words back on him.

"Donald Trump is wrong -- it's not immigrants who are, quote, poisoning the blood of America, unquote. What is poisoning the blood of America is Donald Trump. Trump runs on hate. He stands for cruelty and viciousness. He is unapologetic about this -- just listen to one of his campaign speeches if you need any proof of it. He mocks his opponents just like an elementary school bully. He whips his followers into a frenzy of hate against any group he chooses. He promises retribution. To me, all of that is doing exactly what he's accusing immigrants of doing -- poisoning the blood of our political discourse. Poisoning the minds of our fellow Americans to think nothing but evil of their fellow citizens. Trump's bad apple has already poisoned almost the entire barrel of the Republican Party. So if you want to fight back against this poison in our political bloodstream, keep Donald Trump out of office for good. That's the first step towards healing the damage this poison has already done."


   Democracy is on the ballot

Stop us if you've heard this one...

"OK, look, we realize that it's a running joke in American politics that each and every election both sides tell their voters 'This is the most important election in your lifetimes!' But you know what? Before now, maybe it was true and maybe it wasn't, but seeing the other party win the presidency hasn't meant that the U.S. Constitution itself would be in peril. It hasn't meant that democracy itself might fail. This time around, sad to say, both those things are true. Donald Trump wants to be a dictator. Ask him -- he'll tell you! He wants ultimate power with absolute immunity from any consequences. That's un-American. That's not democracy. So yes, Joe Biden is absolutely right. In this election, democracy itself will be on the ballot. And if we lose it, we might never get it back again."

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground


8 Comments on “Friday Talking Points -- The Changing Of The Vibes”

  1. [1] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    If this trend continues throughout the year, it will mean that political attacks on Biden's handling of the economy will be a much harder sell.

    I'm not so sure about that. But, there is a way that will make those attacks harder to make and stick and its all about effective communication and simple analysis of the important aspects of data over the course of the last four decades that clearly illustrate how Republican administrations have repeatedly created economic messes on the order of magnitude of the Augean Stables that Democratic administrations have had to clean up.

    Oh, and have I mentioned the Republican cult of economic failure that dates back to David Stockton and the Reagan years, if not before.

  2. [2] 
    Kick wrote:

    Republicans have a conspiracy theory that somehow Biden is going to pull some sort of switcheroo and Michelle Obama is actually going to be the Democratic candidate (and no, we are not making that up).

    Many of them now also believe that Barack Obama is some kind of shadow president actually running the country, and Trump himself is even pushing this absolute asinine drivel and spew at his cult rallies. It's hysterical to watch the right-wingnut rubes eat it up like candy because up until now they've had a 3 years' running conspiracy theory that Trump was actually still the president and running the country. Heh.

    So Trump throws the rubes and that laughable conspiracy theory of theirs under the bus, and they don't miss a beat, do a complete 180, and are now insisting it's Barack Obama running the country and Michelle Obama will actually be running in 2024 and not the incumbent POTUS. *laughs*


    1. How many incumbent presidents have failed to win their bid for reelection?

    2. How many presidents have failed to win the popular vote?

    3. How many presidents have been impeached or resigned?

    4. How many presidents have been charged criminally with felony indictment?

    *BONUS: How many presidents have done ALL FOUR?

    Either way, most of the public just cannot believe that we're going to get the same two guys as the last time around.

    The vast majority of 1-term incumbent presidents actually do run for reelection so the unbelievable part of this equation must be Defendant Donald. When you combine con artistry, gullibility, and cult worship, it's actually a fairly predictable outcome.


    1. 11
    2. 5
    3. 4
    4. 1

  3. [3] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    Re "Most o the public just cannot believe that we're going to get . . ."

    That is obviously a reflection of the fact that sensible people (unfortunately,a minority) don't want either one, and cannot stand the thought of having the 3rd consecutive presidential election where the choice seems to be 'which do I hate the least'!!

  4. [4] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    Does anyone except the true trumpers really hate Biden? I know the right wing media have been pushing pretty hard, but really the worst that can be reasonably said about him is what you've already said, that he's mediocrity personified. And given the accomplishments of his first term so far, even that is a stretch.


  5. [5] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    That is a terrible choice for MDDOTW.

    Besides jumping to conclusions, even if they once were (or STILL ARE ) an item that in no way affects the defendant’s rights. They are still in every manner getting a fair trial.

  6. [6] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:


    You're correct on that, and I will vote for Biden if it turns out that way.

  7. [7] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    M asks is their any legal consequences?”

    The key questions are “have the defendants rights been violated? Suffered prejudice? Have their due process rights somehow been infringed?”

  8. [8] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Glenn Kirshner asks…

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