This week during the January 6 hearings we heard even more detail about how Trump planned to declare victory no matter what the 2020 election’s result, and about his role in letting a mob try to stop the electoral votes from being certified. It was an assault on democracy that should worry everyone. But focusing on this alone is not going to deliver victory for the Democrats in the midterms if they continue to seem out of touch with the everyday concerns of middle- and working-class Americans, especially the high cost of living.
Troublingly, for those of us who’d like to see Republicans defeated — especially the extremist enemies of abortion rights and democracy among their ranks — Democratic leaders are partying with their rich friends while regular people struggle. It would be nice if this were just a right-wing talking point, but unfortunately, it’s true. President Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spent Thursday night in the tony Los Angeles neighborhood of Brentwood — home to celebrities like LeBron James and Tom Brady — for a fundraising house party. Tickets started at $5,000, with some guests paying ten times that much.
On Monday, also in Los Angeles, Vice President Kamala Harris will headline another fundraising party, this one hosted by Liz Hirsh Naftali, a philanthropist who owns a commercial real estate company. Naftali is the daughter of the late Stanley Hirsh, who was also a wealthy Los Angeles real estate mogul and philanthropist, though he initially made his money in the apparel industry.
Last week, Biden visited a fundraiser at the $30 million Upper East Side townhouse of billionaire James Murdoch, the son of conservative media mogul Rupert Murdoch, who owns Fox News, an outlet devoted to twenty-four-hour Trumpist propaganda. (The younger Murdoch resigned from the board of NewsCorp, the family company, in 2020, citing political differences with his father.) The Murdoch family has a net worth of $17.9 billion, and in addition to Fox News, their media empire also includes the Wall Street Journal and other titles. The Murdochs are believed to be the inspiration for the popular HBO show Succession.
Why are the best-known Democratic politicians hobnobbing with the superrich when they could be campaigning in swing states for congressional candidates in close districts? Some of this reflects their political and social affinities: Democratic leadership are part of the ruling class and serve at its pleasure. But there’s a more obvious, immediate problem: among many voters, these national Democratic politicians aren’t popular. And by partying in Los Angeles while Americans struggle to make ends meet, Democrats will not make themselves more popular.
Biden has raised millions in recent weeks for the Democrats. Yet his poll numbers are pathetically low. Some of this is unfair media coverage from outlets like Fox. But most of the disconnect between his fundraising success and his polling is simply the difference in everyday experiences between the donor class and regular people — to many of the latter, the Democrats seem out of touch.
A recent Monmouth University poll found that independent voters had one top issue: inflation. And the issue was important to more partisan voters, too: 82 percent of voters said inflation was “extremely or very important” to them, and no other issue was that salient to that many people. Disturbingly, only 30 percent approved of Biden’s leadership on inflation. The president got better marks on student debt and the COVID pandemic, but voters don’t care much about either of those issues these days. Another recent poll, this one by the Washington Post, found that, more than abortion, crime, “democracy” or any other issue, voters were most likely to say that inflation and “the economy” would determine their congressional vote this year, and Republicans received much higher marks on those two issues. Only 7 percent of respondents were neither “concerned” nor “upset” about inflation, or had no opinion on the matter.
And no wonder. Food prices, especially over the past month, have been causing hardship for poor and working-class Americans, as well as worry for the middle class. Food pantries are seeing more demand than they can handle. In my neighborhood, I see long lines in front of churches and other sites offering free food. These realities are not pressing ones for the Murdochs, and mingling with their ilk is not going to help Biden stay close to his blue-collar roots.
As well, while Kamala Harris drinks champagne in the Studio City home of a second-generation real estate mogul, many Americans are also struggling to pay rent. In fact, along with food, rent is one of the biggest drivers of inflation. Last month, rent increases were the worst since 1990.
Not all the economic news is bad. Gas prices are easing up, and unemployment is low. But brutal increases in the cost of living mean that many people aren’t getting to enjoy these improvements.
The midterm struggle for control of Congress is going to be very close, so such giant vulnerabilities on matters affecting everyday life are alarming. January 6 and the broader threats to our electoral system matter to many voters, but in a time of rampant inflation, scary talk about Trumpist fascism is not enough. Democrats should talk more about what they’re going to do to better working people’s material conditions, and at the very least, refrain from partying in Brentwood.
While in Los Angeles, Biden, to his credit, is also boasting about his infrastructure bill’s boosts to public transit, and talking up the Inflation Reduction Act, both genuine accomplishments in these polarized times. He’s also boasting of his successes on student debt, prescription drug costs, and protecting Medicare. All good, and Republican politicians, of course, have nothing to offer struggling working people. But people rightly mistrust a Democratic leadership that spends its days rubbing elbows with real estate and media moguls while many Americans can’t afford to feed their kids or drive to work.