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Susan Estrich commentary: It was a Saturday night snore


Susan Estrich
Susan Estrich commentary
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It wasn't even funny.
When I heard that "Saturday Night Live" was finally going after President Joe Biden, I was almost relieved. It's about time, you know. With approval ratings below Trump's, at least according to some polls, and COVID-19 and inflation both raging, only a liberal press turning itself into pretzels could avoid criticizing the president.
And frankly, he needs some criticism, at least if there is anything constructive in it, because every Democrat I know is privately panicked about the prospect of midterms in the current climate.
Anyway, "Saturday Night Live" couldn't pull it off. The skit in which Biden blames Spiderman for everything fell flat. In the week that voting rights went down the tubes and the president lost the votes of his own party, was Spiderman really the best the nation's top comedy writers could do?
It was, apparently. Biden just isn't funny. And neither is his administration.
What's wrong, I ask everyone who is fretting and panicking, and no one quite has the answer. Gutless Democrats, gutless Republicans, I've heard plenty about that, but almost everyone agrees that when the dust settles next fall, things will be worse for the president, not better (as is true for most presidents, even more popular ones, in midterms).
In many respects, it seems like the president is governing with a playbook that dates back to his own days in the Senate, when there was indeed such a thing as bipartisanship, when lawmakers worked across the aisle and didn't worry about primary challenges for doing so. Accomplishments were measured by bills passed, and working with Congress was how to get bills passed. It was a very big deal when a president literally went to Congress looking for votes.
Biden went to Congress last week looking for votes on his voting rights bill, and it was not a very big deal. What should have been an important debate about democracy somehow got lost in the back and forth about why you need a vaccination card to get into a public building (or a gym or restaurant) but not an identification card to vote; it got lost, in short, in vaccine politics, which has much more to do with most people's lives these days than voting rights.
It's not just his script that's the problem. The president went to the wrong place. He talked to the wrong people. Instead of the Capitol, he needs to get out of Washington, or at least his Washington mentality, and realize that Washington is not the capital of anything these days except bureaucracy and trade associations. It is not, in any other sense, the capital. And Congress is not full of the heroes it once was, or at least that's not how the country sees them. They are not the central figures of the political debate.
Those people are on TV, online, on 24/7, and the "real" politicians who realize that -- from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to former President Donald Trump -- are the modern all-stars.
Biden's problem is not Spiderman. If only it were so easy. A mythic Superhero is not the only one showing him up.
"The President was on TV yesterday, did you see him?" I missed him. Missed what?
I'm not yearning for a president who will say such outrageous things that no one could possibly miss them. I don't miss a president who had us arguing with each other every day.
But at a time of such terrible uncertainty, a time when so many of us don't know who to turn to or what to believe, I do miss the image, and maybe that's all it is, of a president sitting by the fire in the White House helping us to understand what ails us, from COVID-19 to the price of gasoline.
Not telling us about our racist past. Not telling us that we are selfish and greedy to not want to pay higher taxes. Certainly not telling us that we're wrong to feel as insecure as we do.
Just doing the most important thing any politician can ever do: Making clear that he understands the problems of people like us. Score high on that question and you win. Score low and you lose.
Right now, the president is scoring low. And "Saturday Night Live" can't find anything funny about it.

Susan Estrich can be reached at

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