Reviews | The Biden administration has a fan-service problem

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If you’ve seen Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, you might have noticed something odd about the way it ends: it keeps refusing to do so. Shortly before the final film’s three hours, we reach what feels like a natural stopping point – the ring destroyed, Aragorn crowned king, a grateful crowd of humans kneeling before the brave hobbits – then we stagger another 15 minutes of weddings, homecomings, and elves sailing to the Undying Lands.

The reason for this is “fan service”. Hollywood studios love franchise movies like “Lord of the Rings” because they’re “pre-sold” to an extremely loyal fanbase. And what do loyal Tolkien fans want to see on screen? A faithful interpretation of the books, even if it attenuates their dramatic impact.

But a real blockbuster has to appeal to a wider audience, most of whom won’t appreciate you dragging things out by stuffing the nitty-gritty. This is why Jackson wisely refused to film Scouring of the Shire, which also comes after the destruction of the ring in Tolkien’s books. A smart director like Jackson serves the basic fanbase without letting them take over the project.

Joe Biden could learn a lot from Peter Jackson.

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The Biden administration has a serious fan-service problem, typified by the Build Back Better agenda that died in Congress in the fall. That long list of progressive wishes delighted Biden’s fanbase, but most voters never warmed to his ambition and his $2 trillion-plus price tag. Neither Sen. Joe Manchin III (DW.Va.), the critical swing vote. In December, Manchin has announced that he is stepping down of negotiations.

“I just can’t. I tried everything humanly possible. I can’t make it,” he told Fox News’ Bret Baier.

The obvious thing to do was to scale back fan service and re-engineer the BBB message to a general audience. Instead, the administration refused to say “no” to any of their fans – and so none of them got anything. Excessive fan service doesn’t even serve fans very well.

Alas, the administration learned nothing from this mistake. In the past few days we have heard that Biden is explore legal options for using executive orders to cancel student loan debt. This is a proposal still popular with progressives, who frame it as a matter of economic justice. But it’s really just more fan service, for particularly well-heeled fans.

Compared to their fellow Americans, student debt holders have higher incomes and, of course, better education, which are associated with all sorts of other good things, such as health and marriage. And the more student debt you have, the more likely you are to have a high income, since vocational schools represent a disproportionate share of large-digit loans. Even forgiving the first $10,000, a proposal gaining traction with the party, would cost hundreds of billions of dollarsmost lining the pockets of the already comfortable.

There is no social justice reason to write off this debt, rather than, say, vehicle rentals from Uber drivers. There is only political convenience: people with student loans are disproportionately voting Democratic.

Well, you might say, that’s crude political calculation, but Biden is a politician, and with midterms looming and his support dwindling among young voters, a certain amount of political calculation is required. Politicians will play politics. But that kind of over-the-top fan service is all too likely to backfire.

Granted, student loan forgiveness appeals to two reliable Democratic constituencies: Young and college-educated voters. But young voters aren’t exactly reliable; even in 2020, a record year, barely half of them surrendered. Besides, only a third of young Americans even have student debt, and those who do will probably already vote for the Democrats, if they vote at all. So while loan forgiveness is regressive, likely to fuel inflation and increase the deficit, and possibly illegal, it also won’t move many voters into the “D” column. The best the White House can hope for is somewhat better midterm turnout from a small portion of the electorate.

Most political decisions have a justification, even a crude one, but this one would be indefensible from all points of view. The only explanation I can come up with is that maybe Biden’s approval numbers are now so bad that the Democrats might as well give up and help themselves to a free refreshment on the way out.

But if you’re not so fatalistic, then it’s time for a ruthless reduction to the essentials. Forget the fans, who will come out anyway, and ask yourself what everyone wants to see: a president who does something for rise in inflation and an economy that flirt with recession. Unfortunately, our president seems rather inclined to offer his most loyal fans an early birthday present, as a reward for the mid-sessions they are destined to lose.

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