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COMMENTARY: Up, up and away

If you’re tempted to imagine that another four-year term of President Joe Biden would be OK, look up.

Look up at the sky, and remember the chaos of American military planes scrambling to evacuate from Kabul with desperate Afghans clinging to the exteriors.

Look up, and remember the Chinese communist spy balloon that traversed the country until Biden was shamed into belatedly shooting it down.

Look up, at inflation soaring — energy prices, rent, food, cars. Prices are up, up, up. Labor costs for businesses are up.

Interest rates are up, too — not enough to conquer inflation, alas, but enough to make it more expensive to borrow money for a house or a car.

Tax rates are up, as Biden and Democrats in Congress tried to pay for a spending blowout in part by raising corporate tax rates. Biden has proposed to raise taxes even higher — $4.7 trillion more, by the estimate of the House Ways and Means Committee.

The federal debt is up, to a record of more than $31 trillion.

The suicide rate is up.

Hate crimes are up.

Obesity is up.

Disorder, street homelessness and drug use on the sidewalks, subways and public parks of American cities are all up.

Food stamp spending is up, to $119.2 billion in 2022, or nearly double the $60 billion that welfare program cost the federal government as recently as 2019.

The number of refugees and displaced persons from Ukraine is up to about 8 million after Biden failed to deter a Russian invasion.

What’s not up?

Levels of trust in the federal government are low relative to historic levels. That could also be phrased as saying that distrust is up.

The labor force participation rate is also below the levels that it was at in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. Working is not up.

Standardized test scores are not up, as schools grapple with the aftereffects of pandemic closures.

Biden’s approval rating is not up — it’s underwater, with more Americans disapproving than approving of the job he is doing as president.

America’s international standing is also sagging. Witness China stepping into the vacuum to negotiate a deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Anyone who thinks Biden is the best America can do should look up an American history book. There were presidents who gave Americans confidence, who exuded optimism, hope and pride. Who is really enthusiastic about Joe Biden? Even a lot of people who voted for him the last time around seemed to be motivated more by antipathy to Donald Trump than by any great loyalty to Biden.

All the clichés of presidential politics are so for a reason. An election is a referendum on the incumbent. By that definition, Biden is in trouble.

Also, though, you can’t beat something with nothing. The 2024 election won’t be Biden against some platonic ideal of a perfect opponent. It will be Biden, if he does run for re-election, against an actual candidate with his or her own weaknesses.

One might argue that after the excitement of Trump, Biden’s dullness is a kind of relief, allowing Americans to properly seek inspiration in nonpolitical spheres. That may the best that can be said about Biden, but it may not ultimately be enough.

Democrats, Republicans and independents who don’t want to slog through another four years with this guy in the White House will have to begin rapidly identifying an alternative.

If such an alternative emerges, Biden may soon be looking up post-presidency employment and fundraising for his presidential library and museum.

Otherwise, by the end of another four years of Biden, evidence of deterioration may spread even more widely. Unemployment will be up. Poverty will be up. By then, too, for the Democrats in the White House, time may finally be up.

Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of “JFK, Conservative.”

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