President Joe Biden speaks about the May jobs report, Friday, June 3, 2022, in Rehoboth Beach, Del. Credit: Patrick Semansky / AP

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According to reports in multiple media outlets, President Joe Biden is privately seething that his administration is stuck in the mud, unable to gain any traction, and with approval ratings that show him to be historically unpopular.

It has not gone unnoticed in the White House that Biden is actually less popular than his predecessor, with an aggregate 40.6 percent approval and 54.1 percent disapproval as of June 4 according to RealClear Politics. Donald Trump at the same point in his presidency (June 4, 2018) had a 44.6 percent approval and 52.8 percent disapproval. For a presidency that seems to be almost entirely built upon not being Donald Trump, it has left Biden feeling “really twisted,” according to a close associate of the White House.

As he stews about his unpopularity, the president appears confused as to why the country just isn’t that into him. He has been trying to show us how good things supposedly are. In a Wall Street Journal OpEd two weeks ago, he bragged about spearheading “the most robust recovery in modern history,” with “the fastest decline in unemployment on record, and millions of Americans getting jobs with better pay.”

Shocking as it may be to the president, this message just isn’t sinking in.

Maybe it is the out-of-control inflation that is complicating factors. Or maybe the price of gas, which is now averaging more than $5 per gallon in Maine. Or the rise in violent crime in major cities across the country. Or an uncertain international situation with a despotic dictator invading a neighboring country and throwing global energy and food supplies into crisis. Or supply chain disruptions, a lack of key products like baby formula, and persistent labor issues that continue to plague the economy.

Or maybe it is the fact that we may be about to enter a recession. Whatever the reason, you can forgive the American people for not being in the mood for hearing all the good news.

The Biden team seems to think that it is simply the presence of these problems that is responsible for his flagging poll numbers. A feeling of powerlessness has apparently swept over the West Wing, as morale has imploded and there are “growing fears that the parallels to Jimmy Carter” will stick, according to Politico.

But Biden’s troubled relationship with the American voting public isn’t actually about economic malaise. I think the real culprit is the perception that the president and his team are completely unequal to the task of dealing with the admittedly difficult problems they face.

The main problem is that the president, his advisors, and fellow democrats seemingly deny that there’s really much for him to do about it. “Lots of things happen on your watch,” said Robert Gibbs, former press secretary for President Barack Obama, “but it doesn’t mean there is a magic wand to fix it. The responsibility of the president is greater than the tools he has to fix it.”

Biden himself has denied much of a role in confronting inflation. “The Federal Reserve has a primary responsibility to control inflation,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal. “Past presidents have sought to influence its decisions inappropriately during periods of elevated inflation. I won’t do this.”

Buck passing isn’t leadership. The only thing we seem to really get out of the White House is  vague platitudes, catchphrases and statements by the president that are almost immediately contradicted by his own team. This has left the White House looking and sounding inept and confused, which it actually is.

Avoiding responsibility, failing to get much of anything accomplished, and sending out confusing messages virtually guarantees dissatisfaction in the voting public.

There are other ways to handle things that would find more success, though. Virtually all of the problems pointed at by Team Biden are being universally experienced nationwide, and yet despite inflation, gas prices, labor issues and a housing crisis, most incumbent governors facing re-election this year are actually quite popular. Even many Democrats — Andy Beshear in Kentucky, John Carney in Delaware, and Jared Polis in Colorado, among others — are doing just fine, despite the political headwinds.

So why the difference?

In the end, it is leadership. Others have given a sense that they have a grasp of the problems, care about them, and are responding to them in the best and most sensible ways possible. They talk directly and frankly to people about what is happening, and do their best to reflect the feelings of the voters.

Biden, by contrast, seems aloof, unaware, and doesn’t sound like he even comprehends the problems being faced by voters. To Americans, it looks as though the Emperor has no clothes, and is unlikely to find them anytime soon.

Matthew Gagnon, Opinion columnist

Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Policy Institute, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist...