In foreign policy, you steel yourself for mind-numbing negotiations and plenty of play-acting. Especially if you are inclined to use a full array of international tools (e.g., economic, diplomatic) and rely in part on coordination with allies, international behavior rarely changes overnight.
Biden may be seeking some major, transformative legislation, but he is the proverbial tortoise who steadily moves ahead, pounding away at his message, talking to Congress and reaching out to the country at large. Unfortunately, the media does not seem to understand that these things take time.
Why isn’t the economy all better? Aren’t we losing momentum? It’s the fault of unemployment insurance! Actually, as Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen explained Friday in response to the gain of 266,000 jobs: “You know, the labor market is volatile from month to month, and I think the best thing is to average through and say we’ve been creating over 500,000 jobs a month, on average, over the last three months.” But yes, child care is still a problem, holding women back from the job market, and no one said we would regain overnight the 8 million jobs we are still missing. On unemployment insurance, she cautioned:—
I don’t think that the additional — the addition to unemployment compensation is really the factor that’s making a difference. There’s no question that we’re hearing from businesses that they are having difficulty hiring workers. Although over 300,000 workers, I’d point out, ha- — were added this last month in leisure and hospitality, which is the most badly affected sector. But, you know, when we look across states or across sectors or across workers — and if it were really the extra benefits that were holding back hiring, you’d expect to see that in — either in states or for workers or in sectors where the replacement rate due to UI is very high, you’d expect to see lower job-finding rates. And in fact, what you see is the exact opposite.
Now in case you thought the White House press corps pays attention, not 10 minutes later, another reporter demanded to know: “Is it time to reconsider encouraging people to stay home with unemployment benefits, given the rising vaccination rates, the CDC guidance, this — this April jobs report?” White House press secretary Jen Psaki patiently responded, “As the secretary alluded to …”
Two minutes later, as if Yellen had not explained the factors going into the jobs number, another reporter asked what all the factors going into the jobs numbers are. Psaki (who must wonder why she bothers bringing guests in) calmly answered, “Well, as Secretary Yellen said — I like saying that, since she was just here — you know, we look at monthly averages.” Indeed.
It’s not just on the economy that the media exhibits a remarkable degree of overreaction coupled with a short attention span and refusal to grasp nuance. The border is a mess! This could sink Biden! Actually, on Tuesday, Psaki noted, “At the end of March, there were more than 5,000 children in Customs and Border Protection Patrol stations. Today, that number is approximately 600.” She added, “The amount of time children spend in CBP facilities is down by 75 percent — from 131 hours at the end of March to under 30 hours now.” Not a lot of front-page stories on the remarkable turnaround at the border, huh? But the causes that prompt thousands to flee the Northern Triangle are intractable; Vice President Harris has begun her own dogged diplomacy to address economic deprivation, corruption and violence.
Despite head-snapping progress in 100 days, the media seem determined to reach immediate, emphatic judgments. Pausing J&J is a calamity! Now vaccine hesitancy will go through the roof! Oh, actually, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation poll, “The share of adults who say they’ve gotten at least one dose of a vaccine or intend to do so as soon as possible inched up from 61% in March to 64% in April.” What’s more: “Among Republicans, a group that has been slower to embrace the vaccine, over half now say they’ve gotten at least one dose or will do so as soon as they can. The share of Republicans who say they will ‘definitely not’ get vaccinated decreased from 29% in March to 20%.” Even red-state Americans are coming around. Maybe holdouts will be persuaded through deployment of media information, community leaders’ reassurance, observation of the more than 110 million fully vaccinated Americans and increased accessibility.
Normal governance means the instant “take” and the premature prediction of doom are often wrong. Instantaneous analysis from people with little expertise and incomplete information might not be the most enlightening form of journalism. Biden understands that governance requires persistent messaging, patience, calm and an appreciation for detail and nuance. That’s what normal governance, at least good governance, entails. Maybe the media will catch on — with time.