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The anti-inflation bill is a huge win for Biden. But will Democrats sell it right?

Many either don’t know or can’t remember what Democrats have done for them, but the Inflation Reduction Act gives the party a second chance to try a new marketing strategy.
President Joe Biden answers a shouted question from a reporter while walking to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on Aug. 7, 2022.
President Joe Biden answers a shouted question from a reporter Sunday as he walks to Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House.Stefani Reynolds / AFP - Getty Images

Maybe you’ve heard the news. An anti-inflationary bill that lowers drug prices, extends Obamacare subsidies and makes the biggest investment in combating the climate crisis just passed the Senate — a major win for President Joe Biden. The bill is expected to pass the House later this week, and then he’ll sign it. This comes on top of a slew of other recent wins. Democrats passed “CHIPS-plus,” a bill that will create jobs by turning the U.S. into a microchip and semiconductor powerhouse, and overcame Republican obstruction to pass a bill that will get sick veterans who have been exposed to toxic burn pits the care they deserve.

Or maybe you haven’t heard. Some may think it’s absurd that people wouldn’t know about the passage of these bills. After all, they are new and have gotten considerable attention in the media. For example, with the inflation bill, many have highlighted that members of the GOP largely voted against capping the cost of insulin at $35 a month for millions of people

But therein lies the rub. People may know about what the GOP voted against, but do they know about what got through? 

People may know about what the GOP voted against, but do they know about what got through?

A new poll conducted from June 2 to June 9 is a microcosm of what has been plaguing Biden and Democrats as they head into their midterm elections: They’ve done good things, but people just aren’t aware of them.

The poll, which is from the centrist Democratic group Third Way, showed that most voters don’t know that the massive $1 trillion infrastructure spending bill that was signed into law by Biden in November 2021 was…well, signed at all.

The passage of the bill and Biden signing it was a national topic at the time. One trillion dollars seems like it would be an unforgettable thing.  

But guess what? Only one-quarter of respondents to the Third Way poll thought the bill was passed and signed into law. Thirty-seven percent didn’t know the status of the bill. Thirty percent thought it was being worked on. And 9% thought it was being worked on but wouldn’t pass. All this even though since it passed, Biden did multiple events about it, and House Democrats boasted of doing more than 1,000 events from coast to coast.

If over 1,000 events, including presidential ones, aren’t convincing or well-absorbed by the public, then it is time to think differently. 

With the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act and other new legislation, Democrats have a rare opportunity — a second chance to make an impression by trying something new.

Indeed, now is not the time to rely on stale strategies. The old conventional wisdom is that carefully manufactured White House events carry a memorable air of prestige, and events on the road are often made up of a speech in a warehouse with a manicured, sparkling backdrop. But perhaps because they are so standard fare, people don’t even notice them now.

Donald Trump proved one thing: Dramatic imagery and showmanship are enduring, for better or worse. While I would argue that Trump used it for the worse, there is no reason that Biden and the Democrats cannot use it for the better.

Donald Trump proved one thing: Dramatic imagery and showmanship are enduring, for better or worse.

Instead of holding a forgettable White House speech if the Inflation Reduction Act passes the House and is signed, Biden ought to highlight the prescription drug cost provisions by visiting a pharmacy and help distribute medicines to seniors, explaining how much less they’ll be paying thanks to his bill. He should visit a family to let them know their Obamacare subsidies have been extended through 2024. 

Don’t just sign the bill that helps veterans. Get over to a Veterans Medical Center to welcome those vets in. Think creatively. Show a plan in action. Show success.

When a fixed road or bridge opens thanks to his infrastructure bill, he needs to cut the ribbon and then have his motorcade lead a caravan of local vehicles on it. When water systems are made drinkable again, let’s see him celebrate with families who directly benefit and drink that water. 

Bring companies together that currently get semiconductors and microchips from China to pledge to buy “Made In America” ones with the passage of the CHIPS package. 

None of this suggests that salesmanship and some handshakes can take the place of good policy. Nor does it show what’s at stake if Republicans win in November. It will be incumbent on the president and the Democratic Party to remind voters of all the things they tried very hard to do but couldn’t get through GOP obstruction. Memories can be short, and what people hear today might be forgotten in three months. This brings us back to the millions of people struggling to afford insulin. 

While Democrats did get caps for those over age 65 on Medicare, millions who rely on private insurance, or have no insurance, will still pay hundreds of dollars or more a month for a drug that takes a handful of dollars to make. Organizing diabetics for events at which they leave empty vials of insulin at GOP offices would make a dramatic and impactful point leading up to November.

Still, Democrats must also be clear-eyed that they haven’t solved every problem. The Inflation Reduction Act — a slimmed-down version of Biden’s original Build Back Better plan — didn’t include many items like help for families to pay for daycare, child tax credits, free community college and more. It also doesn’t cancel student debt, which continues to crush millions. But when it comes to messaging, Democrats need to connect how their wins (and the measures they’ve lost because of a lack of Republican support) directly affect the pockets of struggling Americans. A driving factor behind Biden’s low approval rating is the economy. Middle and low-income families are struggling and looking for someone to blame. Biden and other Democrats need to do a better job of reminding voters that it shouldn’t be them. 

It will also be necessary to remind voters that if Republicans win in November, progress may be discarded in favor of vengeance against Anthony Fauci, retaliation against the Jan. 6 House Select Committee investigating the attack on the Capitol and pushing conspiracies about the 2020 election if Republicans are handed the majority. 

But doing a good marketing job for all the things Democrats actually have gotten done has to be the top priority. To borrow the tree falling in the forest expression, if a good bill gets signed into law, but nobody hears about it, will it help you win any votes?