Biden Finds New Ways to Fail

Column: Our hubristic—and incorrigible—Progressive elite

Vice President Kamala Harris, President Joe Biden, and Surgeon General Vivek Murthy
May 5, 2023

The headline jogged me out of my pre-caffeinated morning daze: "Harris to meet with CEOs about artificial intelligence risks," the Associated Press reported on May 4.

The article previewed the day’s meeting between Vice President Kamala Harris and the CEOs of corporations at the forefront of artificial intelligence research and production, including Alphabet (the parent company of Google), Anthropic, Microsoft, and OpenAI.

Harris planned to announce funding for "seven new AI research institutes" and outline the government’s next moves on this important topic, according to the story. "The government leaders’ message to the companies," wrote correspondent Josh Boak, "is that they have a role to play in reducing the risks and that they can work together with the government."

That’s what shook me awake. Since ChatGPT was released last November, there has been a lot of debate over the potential consequences of artificial intelligence. All the talk has been speculative, and most of it catastrophic in outlook. It was presumably inevitable that at some point lawmakers would become involved in the regulation of such groundbreaking technology. But does it have to be Kamala Harris? Does it have to be President Joe Biden who tackles the problems and dilemmas arising from Generative AI? Haven’t Harris and Biden caused enough harm?

The hubris of Progressives never ceases to amaze. They flit about, from issue to issue, never bothering to consider the real-world effects and unintended consequences of the policies they take up and impose at whim. What’s been happening on the border since Biden took office, for example, is the definition of a man-made disaster. By overturning Trump-era enforcement policies, and by raising the prospect of a comprehensive immigration reform that would provide amnesty for illegal immigrants, this administration contributed to record-levels of unauthorized border crossings and to a spiraling humanitarian crisis that affects not just the southwest but also far-flung cities like Chicago and New York.

In March 2021, Biden said that Harris would run the government’s response to the border meltdown. More than two years later, on the same day that Harris planned to meet with the tech executives, the Pentagon was busy deploying military personnel on the southern border to brace for the coming surge in illegal immigration when emergency protocols end on May 11.

No one at the White House seems to have noticed the jarring, continent-sized disparity between the president’s goals and his vice president’s competence. One can only imagine the scene earlier this year, when Biden, reviewing the deteriorating situation along the Rio Grande, turned to his second-in-command and said: Heck of a job, Kamala. Now go figure out this AI thing.

No matter how long the unfinished to-do list, no matter the evidence of public sector failure, Biden, Harris, and the Progressives in the executive branch press on, searching for additional causes to adopt, and exploring novel ways to intervene in America’s economic, social, and cultural life. Consider the efforts of Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, who on May 2 declared that "loneliness and isolation" is an "epidemic," an "underappreciated public health crisis that has harmed individual and social health."

Murthy issued an 82-page public health advisory on the subject. He warned that loneliness can be as physically damaging as cigarette smoke. He described "six pillars to advance social connection." A "lightbulb moment" on a listening tour in benighted America, he wrote, convinced him that "we have an opportunity, and an obligation, to make the same investments in addressing social connection that we have made in addressing tobacco use, obesity, and the addiction crisis."

Left unmentioned are the returns on these "investments." Tobacco use is down, to be sure, thanks to decades of punitive and regressive taxation and the paternalistic regulation of public spaces. That’s the success story. There aren’t many others.

The federal government took up obesity as a cause during George W. Bush’s administration, but American waistlines, like the cosmos, keep on expanding. As for addiction, drug overdose death rates continue to climb. Alcohol-related deaths are on the rise, as well. Somehow excessive drinking, which surely is worse for your health than feeling lonesome, is not as urgent a priority for the surgeon general as the abstract concept of "social connection."

But I don’t want to give Murthy ideas. He might start to meddle with cocktail hour. His report on loneliness is noteworthy for its total lack of self-consciousness, its determined refusal to take responsibility for the public health establishment’s conduct during the coronavirus pandemic. "The Covid-19 pandemic accelerated trends in declining social participation," writes the surgeon general, but it wasn’t the pandemic that closed schools, shuttered churches, drove people from offices and downtowns, and instructed the citizenry that outdoor gatherings were okay so long as you were engaging in mostly peaceful protest. It was the government. A government taking direction from—and hiding behind the credibility of—public health experts.

The very week that the surgeon general launched his war on loneliness, we learned that America’s eighth graders earned the lowest-recorded scores on the history assessment portion of the "Nation’s Report Card." Civics test scores were also down, for the first time since the subject began to be assessed in 1998. The dismal news followed catastrophic drops in reading and math. Again, Biden officials blamed the "pandemic" in general, thereby excusing the specific teachers’ unions and public health authorities that collaborated to keep children away from places of learning and "social connection."

Having made a hash of the border, reintroduced inflation into the economy, allowed the Taliban to reconquer Afghanistan, and excused and catered to the organizations responsible for the greatest learning loss in American history, Biden and his team look to the horizon, toward future exercises in ineptitude. If past is precedent, by the time Biden and Harris have "solved" Generative AI, ChatGPT will be running the executive branch. We could do worse. Artificial intelligence is intelligent, after all. The same can’t be said of America’s Progressive elite.