In terms of how polls change, a great example that’s happening right now is the polling on the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Look at polling a week or two ago: an overwhelming majority of people, even a solid majority of Republicans, said we should get out. Now we’ve got this week of coverage, particularly in the mainstream, “objective” media, just killing Joe Biden over pulling the troops out. A lot of Democrats are also refusing to stand up for Biden and are instead attacking him, putting out press releases saying he should have done it better or magically conjured some sort of competent imperial bureaucracy
It was kind of remarkable that Biden, for all of his victim blaming of the Afghan soldiers and stuff, didn’t back down and instead said, “I’m doing it. I don’t care what anybody thinks, there was no way around it.” And opinion has changed really rapidly. I forget the figures, but there was a Morning Consult poll that had support for withdrawal down something like 20 points among Republicans, 15 points among Democrats, and something like that among independents. So it’s basically a split decision now, with a slight majority saying that it was wrong to withdraw the troops.
If you go by survey liberalism, you’d say, “We got our poll. Let’s go ahead and do it. Oh, no, now there’s backlash, let’s retreat. Let’s start the war up again” — i.e., not thinking about, for lack of a better word, political leadership. Instead, this has to be, “I’ve got to analyze the situation on the ground and do what seems like the best combination of what’s reasonable and what seems politically popular.” I think that if Biden and the rest of the party stick up for themselves and say: “Look, sorry, maybe in the best-case scenario we can get some tens or maybe hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees out of here, but at the end of the day, the Taliban is going to win, and there’s nothing we can do about it, we just have to rip the Band-Aid off.” I think that’s a position that would stand up after a while. The media coverage would fall back down. But Democrats have to stand up for themselves. And you can’t stand up for yourself if you’re just following the weathervane of political opinion, wherever it happens to blow.
One more example of that kind of logic failing can be seen in the consequences of Barack Obama refusing to bite the bullet when his administration was looking at the housing market collapse in 2009 and 2010. I believe Austan Goolsbee, Christina Romer, and other economists told him that they figured there was $750 billion to $1 trillion of negative equity in the housing market at that time (in other words, that was the loss that somebody was going to have to eat). And they didn’t want to do another bailout for homeowners, because it would have been a great big, expensive thing. They didn’t want to push the losses onto the banks, because the banks couldn’t take the hit. That was their argument, which was quite self-serving for the bankers.
So they just let homeowners eat it. They had a slush fund of money from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) bailout in 2008 that they could’ve used to write down a lot of that bad debt. FDR did this in the 1930s. But they didn’t, because it would’ve put a lot of losses on the banks. Maybe that would have been politically unpopular (Rick Santelli, after all, started up the Tea Party shrieking about the prospect of homeowners getting a bailout). But the ultimate result was basically to create little neutron bombs of economic disaster all over the country from people who got foreclosed on. About 10 million people lost their homes, and that screwed up the construction industry, home building, and made unemployment almost certainly way higher than it would have been on Election Day 2010. If unemployment had been, let’s say, 6 percent instead of 10 percent . . . every point is probably another ten to fifteen seats that the Democrats don’t lose in the House, and maybe another two hundred seats that they don’t lose in state legislatures.
They failed to recognize that a homeowner bailout might be unpopular in the short term and wouldn’t poll that well, but that doing it would have long-term consequences that were going to be positive for the party. And what happened was the exact thing they were trying to avoid. It’s like, “Oh, we can’t do this. We’ll lose our seats,” and they all lost their seats anyway.