President Biden, One Year On: Incompetent or Simply Unlucky?

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This January will mark one full year of the Biden Presidency, and it is fair to say it has been a difficult year for the President. With claims of election fraud and an attempted insurrection before his time in office had even begun, the presidency has faced rising inflation, climate crisis pressure, a difficult withdrawal from Afghanistan, and an obstinate global pandemic that has claimed over 800,000 American lives.

This rocky start is reflected in Biden’s shocking approval ratings: with public approval dropping from a healthy 60% a year ago to now just 43%, he is more disapproved of than any other modern president at any point of their tenure (except for Donald Trump which doesn’t say much).

This is particularly surprising considering Biden’s staggering legislative success. His government has seen the passing of the $2 trillion American Rescue Plan and a $1 trillion infrastructure bill, which is no mean feat considering the system infamous for its mechanisms of gridlock. His bargaining agility demonstrates a remarkable skill matching the demands of a political system that most other presidents found awkward at best or, at worst, destructively intransigent. The problem with this multi-trillion-dollar legislation is that most Americans are yet to feel the benefits.

[Biden’s] bargaining agility demonstrates a remarkable skill

Meanwhile, the nation continues to live with the lingering effects of the pandemic. While a decent 70% of adults are vaccinated and degrees of normality have been felt across the nation, COVID has continued to persistently claim lives. Over 400,000 Americans have died during Biden’s tenure and the young Omicron variant continues to grow with an uncontrolled ferocity. The effects of the pandemic on the economy, such as rising inflation and the resignation crisis further compound this image of presidential uselessness.

Bringing global humiliation to the United States, the 20-year American mission in Afghanistan was ended in just a single day with the Taliban takeover of Kabul this August. As citizens attempted to flee violence on the streets and a bleak future, Biden made a speech in which he defended his decision to withdraw with an embarrassing stubbornness.

Biden was elected largely due to his dissimilarity to Trump, and in particular for his empathy, sensitivity and calmness which stems from his own history of personal loss. But these qualities were starkly absent at the time when they were needed the most – a global humanitarian crisis in which the United States held two decades worth of responsibility.

On the whole, Biden has been largely successful in returning an aura of quiet dignity to the White House, but his approach to the withdrawal was disappointingly similar to the heavy-handed obduracy of his predecessor.

It should be noted, before a premature assessment, that the nature of his presidency is likely to change after the midterms. It is almost political law that the president’s party will lose seats at the midterms, and with Republican gains at Virginia’s November state elections it looks incredibly unlikely that the Democrats will retain control of Congress. As the blocked Build Back Better bill indicates, lawmaking in US politics is difficult even in times of unified party control, and thus after the midterms, we will likely see Biden pursue his political agenda through a more assertive authority over his executive order.

Defended his decision to withdraw with an embarassing stubbornness

The course of 2024 is harder to predict. While Biden has publicly announced plans to run for re-election, hushed discussion of who might succeed him persists. As Vice President, Kamala Harris might seem the obvious choice, but Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Elizabeth Warren are very popular potential candidates.

On the Republican side, Trump’s stubborn grasp on leadership and a redoubling of commitment to Trumpism from the GOP means that another four years of Trump could be much more real than a dystopian thought experiment in constitutionality.

Can the blame for such a disappointing first year be placed solely on Biden? Issues such as gasoline inflation, supply-chain problems, and the pandemic both existed before Biden assumed the presidency and operate at a global scale that is arguably beyond the reach of one man alone.

It is also important to remember that he is only a quarter of the way through his first term, and any current assessment of his presidency will necessarily be very different in three years. Only time will tell whether he goes down as a figurehead of presidential competence or, as his current trajectory suggests, a forgettable one-term washout.

Image: Prachati via Flickr

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