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In embracing the term Bidenomics, Joe Biden is clapping back at his critics. But he’s also attaching his legacy to a notoriously unwieldy part of American life.
First, here are four new stories from The Atlantic:
The Baggage of Bidenomics
The president is selling coffee mugs emblazoned with an image of himself with lasers shooting out of his eyes. The mugs are part of his campaign’s attempt to alchemize, with some success, the right-wing slogan “Let’s Go Brandon” (long story, but it’s MAGA-world slang for “Fuck Joe Biden”) into the “Dark Brandon” meme. In reclaiming the insult, Biden’s camp is turning a slogan used by Trump supporters into a self-aware catchphrase.
His team has attempted to pull a similar maneuver by taking ownership of Bidenomics, a term initially used as an insult. The exact origins of Bidenomics are a bit murky, but the portmanteau seems to have emerged in several newspaper columns critiquing Biden’s economic policy last year. Biden’s team ran with it, pushing the term on social media and in public statements. Reclaiming Bidenomics is a bit trickier than “Dark Brandon”: The term is less snappy, and it’s not being used in response to a clear foil.
The economy is notoriously hard to control, so an individual’s attempt to associate themselves with it can be risky. Lori Cox Han, a political-science professor at Chapman University, in California, who has written about Bidenomics, explained to me that presidents tend to be blamed when things are going badly with the economy, and try to get credit when all is well. But right now, the economy is a mixed bag. “I’m not sure a lot of people are feeling as enthusiastic about the economy as the Biden team wants them to be,” she said—and she’s not confident that a clever slogan will change people’s minds. Politico reported that several top Biden allies have privately raised concerns about the phrase to the White House.
One particular challenge of Bidenomics, Allen Adamson, a branding expert and a co-founder of the marketing firm Metaforce, told me, is that the term’s meaning is not inherently clear. Beyond simply linking Biden with the economy, the slogan doesn’t say much about the president’s policies, or about how Americans should make sense of the complexities of the economy right now. It doesn’t help matters for Biden that many Americans retain a negative view about broader economic trends: Although inflation has been cooling and unemployment is less than 4 percent, a recent NBC poll of 1,000 American voters found that fewer than 30 percent were very or somewhat satisfied with the economy.
Biden’s team has been defining Bidenomics in part by saying what it’s not: An adviser of his called it the opposite of Reaganomics, a policy that emphasized tax cuts, and a recent Instagram post from the president’s official account placed Bidenomics and “MAGAnomics” side by side in a split screen, comparing Donald Trump’s economic agenda unfavorably with Biden’s. Biden officials also reportedly said last month that highlighting the contrast between Biden’s economic plans and Trump’s policies will be crucial to Biden’s campaign.
Biden is not the first politician to try to use a jab for his own advantage. One-off political insults, especially against female politicians, have proved canny pegs for branding and fundraising efforts in the past. They often pack a double punch: They draw negative attention to the (usually male) rival who delivered the insult while highlighting whatever traits the insulted politician or their allies seek to foreground. Elizabeth Warren started selling “Nevertheless, She Persisted” merchandise after Mitch McConnell made the remark while rebuking her on the Senate floor in 2017. The same year, Hillary Clinton promoted “Nasty Woman” shirts, referencing Donald Trump’s name-calling during a presidential debate. And earlier this year, Nikki Haley sold beer koozies reading “Past My Prime?” after then–CNN host Don Lemon suggested that she was; she has said that the koozies raised $25,000.
With Bidenomics, the maneuver is not so clean. The term, emerging as it did in critical coverage, comes with baggage. Jacob Neiheisel, a political-science professor at SUNY Buffalo, told me that rebranding known terms tends to work best when leaders take something that’s already popular and inject it with new energy. When Franklin D. Roosevelt was president, for example, he took the term liberal and got the public to associate it with him and his New Deal projects.
Once public perception of a concept has solidified, it can be very hard to change. Coming up with a new slogan is much simpler than trying to remake a known one, Adamson told me. But taking on the challenge of redefining a jab can be “a bravado move,” he said. It sends the message that Biden’s team will not tolerate name-calling. Still, he said, Biden’s choice to tie his own reputation directly to a thriving economy is “phenomenally high-risk.”
If Biden is lucky, economic indicators (and attitudes) will improve, and he can claim some shine. But branding isn’t everything. And despite the administration’s best efforts, a lot of people may not have even heard of Bidenomics, whether in its newspaper-column or political-slogan era. Even Biden himself, asked by a group of reporters about Bidenomics this summer, joked, “I don’t know what the hell that is.”
Is Google Making Us Stupid?
“Dave, stop. Stop, will you? Stop, Dave. Will you stop, Dave?” So the supercomputer HAL pleads with the implacable astronaut Dave Bowman in a famous and weirdly poignant scene toward the end of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Bowman, having nearly been sent to a deep-space death by the malfunctioning machine, is calmly, coldly disconnecting the memory circuits that control its artificial “ brain. “Dave, my mind is going,” HAL says, forlornly. “I can feel it. I can feel it.”
I can feel it, too. Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing … Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.
I think I know what’s going on.
Read the full article.
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Katherine Hu contributed to this newsletter.
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