Opinion The Center Can Hold

Give Joe Biden a Break

He has accomplished a lot in one year.

Joe Biden Nancy Pelosi
American president Joe Biden and Democratic House speaker Nancy Pelosi in the Capitol in Washington DC, October 28, 2021 (White House/Adam Schultz)

One year into Joe Biden’s presidency, the media consensus is that he is failing.

The Financial Times reports that the Democrat is trying to “reboot” his “faltering” presidency. The Washington Post believes he is “stumbling”. The Wall Street Journal calls it “flailing”.

Foreign journalists agree. Britain’s The Guardian newspaper writes that Biden is historically unpopular and “much of his domestic agenda is stalled on Capitol Hill.” Here in the Netherlands, EW Magazine wonders if anyone is still happy with the president while RTL reports that he has “blundered” abroad and “broken” his election promises.

Biden’s record

I find the rhetoric hard to marry with Biden’s record.

In a year, he has:

  • Enacted a $1.9 trillion coronavirus recovery plan, more than twice the size of Barack Obama’s 2009 stimulus and including $1,400 cheques to all Americans as well as a new child-care tax benefit.
  • Enacted a $1 trillion infrastructure bill of the type Donald Trump was unable to get through Congress in four years.
  • Paused federal student debt payments.
  • Rescinded the Keystone XL oil pipeline permit.
  • Canceled Trump’s restrictions on travel from Muslim countries.
  • Ended the separation of migrant families at the border.
  • Pulled funding from the Mexican border wall.
  • Reversed Trump’s ban on transgenders serving in the military.
  • Rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement.
  • Renegotiated trade relations with Europa. (Not in a way I like, but it’s an election promise Biden kept.)
  • Named 42 federal judges, more than Obama and Trump did in their first years.

If this is what “failure” looks like, this center-right commentator would hate to see Biden succeed.

Unreasonable expectations

So why the (mis)perception?

The painful American withdrawal from Afghanistan, high inflation and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic don’t help.

Only the first is Biden’s fault. The president doesn’t set interest rates. He certainly doesn’t control a disease.

Biden was a victim of unreasonable expectations. The same media that now tear him down lifted him up a year ago. When Biden was sworn in, the columns of The New York Times and Vox were full of predictions that he would become the next Franklin D. Roosevelt or Lyndon B. Johnson, the two most consequential Democratic presidents of the twentieth century. Even the usually more levelheaded Financial Times and Washington Post praised his “daring start” and (absurdly) declared his inaugural address the “best in memory.”

There hasn’t been a Green New Deal — although many pro-climate policies were inserted in the coronavirus recovery and infrastructure bills.

Voting reform is stalled in the Senate.

Wild ideas that seemed almost within reach on the eve of Biden’s election, like abolishing the Electoral College or admitting Puerto Rico and Washington DC as states (ideas I share, by the way), have returned to fantasy. Democrats can’t even abolish the Senate filibuster, despite Republicans abusing it to the point that sixty votes are now required to pass almost any legislation.

It was never fair to expect Biden to deliver sweeping change when his party has a one-seat majority in the Senate and the country is split down the middle.

It is also not fair to write him off after one year. He has three more to go.

Give the man a break.

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