Biden's Best Defense Is Offense in the Presidential Debate

Several top Democrats have reportedly issued strong warnings to Joe Biden to challenge Trump’s friendly ties to corporate America when the two face off on Thursday’s presidential debate, and less time talking up his legislative accomplishments. The news reflects continued pressure on Biden to lean more into populist, anti-corporate appeals. But that would be a huge mistake.

Wealthy political advisors keep trying to tell Biden how to speak to the common person. But the Scranton, Pennsylvania native with a working-class upbringing knows how to do that better than any politician alive today.

First off, reading out demagogic business bashing scripts is not Biden’s nature. Nor is it smart politics. Nor is it even remotely factual. Not a single Fortune 100 CEO has donated to Trump so far this year—a major break from overwhelming business and executive support for Republican presidential candidates dating back a century, to the days of William Howard Taft and stretching through Calvin Coolidge and the Bushes, all of whom had dozens of major company heads donating to their campaigns.

Biden himself—if not his progressive allies—must surely recognize that portraying businesses as cartoonish bogeymen to appease fringe elements is needlessly self-destructive, alienating many would-be supporters. As the prominent American economist Thorsten Veblen pointed out a century ago in The Theory of the Leisure Class, running up through entertainment journalist Robin Leach’s Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, Americans are fascinated by those who succeed and do not resent their success, as long as they are not scoundrels who cheat to get ahead. But if they succeed through honest hard work and innovation, the American public tends to admire those successful people and want to identify with and emulate them.

In fact, the 2024 Edelman Trust Barometer’s survey of 36,000 respondents across 28 countries shows that business is the most trusted institution by far. “My CEO” inspires far more public trust than all other figures in society, including elected officials, media types, clergy, and academics. Some 77% even identify “my employer” as their most trusted source of information. Plainly put, business leaders are seen as stabilizing forces in society.

Rather than enriching “corporate fat cats,” the success of American companies creates shared wealth for virtually all Americans. Today, as much as 80% of the stock market—representing the ownership of American companies—is held directly and indirectly by average Americans in their pension, retirement, and investment accounts. That means that soaring financial markets, with 31 new record highs established this year alone, is good news for all Americans. The tendency to tout “working people”—the six percent of the workforce with lunch pails in the factory—in divisive, “whose side are on you” dichotomies is an outdated vestige of 1930s ideology and not grounded in the reality of how American households earn and live in 2024.

In short, Bidenomics has worked. Rather than running from it, Biden needs to embrace his record and compare it against Trump’s dangerously inflationary promises and past economic failures.

Here is what Biden can point out during the first debate.

Trump’s record of economic failures

1. The national deficit of unpaid bills tripled to $3 trillion under the Trump presidency. It has since fallen by a third under Biden, back down to $2 trillion.

2. The Federal debt of money owed to others also doubled. It has since increased under Biden, but by a much more modest 15%.

3. Unemployment soared to 6.7% in 2020. That was a level not seen since the Gerald Ford Administration back in the 1970s. The unemployment rate has since fallen to a record low of 3.8% under Biden.

4. The mismanagement of domestic crises like COVID-19 led the U.S. into the deepest economic recession since World War II.

The dangers of a Trump 2.0. economy

1. A 10% tariff on all imported goods from all countries would lead to a more than 3% increase in prices and a 1% or more drop in GDP growth, Bloomberg Economics projects. Retaliatory barriers from U.S. trading partners will also make it hard to sell goods to other countries.

2. Plans to dole out $5 trillion in tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy and no commensurate cuts in spending will cause the deficit to balloon.

3. Trump wants to rotate Fed chairs at his will, which will shatter its political independence—destroying credibility and trust in the institution.

4. Trump wants to devalue the U.S. dollar, which would make purchasing from abroad more expensive—causing items like medicines, chips, and cars to fall further out of reach for many Americans. Such a move also risks jeopardizing the U.S. dollar as the world's reserve currency.

5. A continuation of misleading fossil fuel promises with “drill-baby-drill” chants despite the soaring heat waves, storms, and forest fires—and even though the U.S. is already the world’s largest energy producer.

Bidenomics’ track record of success

1. Inflation has fallen from 7% to 2.8% in two years. Much of the earlier inflation surge was pandemic-related. Most of the inflationary issues have since been worked through, leaving isolated pockets of excessively high prices like eggs.

2. Wages have increased faster than inflation, finally, for the first time in 40 years.

3. The U.S. has enjoyed record low unemployment matched with falling inflation, despite many economists saying that outcome was impossible.

4. The stock market is hitting record levels, increasing the wealth of average workers’ pensions.

5. The U.S. has shown record growth with the World Bank saluting the country, saying it drove 80% of its global growth outlook.

It is urgent for the Biden Administration to communicate its successes and the danger Trump poses. The sentiment that “the best defense is a good offense” well predates the words of sports coaches. It has been attributed to our first President, George Washington, in 1799. If our current President wants to stay in office, he has to practice that presidential wisdom.

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