Biden One Year In
Terry H. Schwadron
Jan. 19, 2022
Officially, the Joe Biden administration is one year old tomorrow.
As with most toddlers of that age, we love to see them, but we wish they would be able to walk and talk on their own.
Evaluation of any presidency is more complex than the sloganeering on all sides would have it, naturally. But the summary line here is that despite intentions, Biden and team have proved that they have to work a lot harder than they are to regain the momentum with which they thought they were entering office.
Some of what they have run into is beyond any president, any team, however competent. The Covid pandemic has proved stronger than any means for its control, the economy has acted in ways that are both contradictory and seemingly independent of presidential control and Mother Earth continues to stymie with punishing storms, wildfires, tornadoes and the rest.
But a bunch of what ails Team Biden has been within his control.
A year in, he owns the responsibility for the perceived botch of the Afghanistan withdrawal, a missed clear and effective control of immigration that differs from what had proceeded his term and the felling in a split Congress of many of his significant legislative proposals.
Although there have been major successes throughout the first year, from adoption of aid for the medical and economic effects of Covid to vaccinating two-thirds of the country to infrastructure and the restoration of trust from European allies, there’s a gap between what people see in Biden’s strengths and what has happened — or is perceived to have happened — during this long last year. That gap between immediate needs of Americans of many different camps and the perception that government’s failure to respond is coloring prospects for getting anything substantial done in this congressional election year.
Limits of the Office
“Biden’s first year in office points as much to the limitations of the presidency as to its powers,” summarized Dan Balz, the longtime Washington Post political dean in one of the many summary looks at the Biden first year.
“Among the most important is public opinion, and right now Biden doesn’t have that on his side, as he did a year ago. Elements of his agenda are popular, but his personal approval ratings have sagged. He is seen differently today than when he took the oath,” concluded Balz.
Add in the politics of a very split Congress, the politics-fueled refusal of a third of the country to take vaccines and public health measures seriously and all the things that are fueling higher prices, and you have a would-be engine for change utterly stalled.
And that condition is something that Biden owns. The political polls, never a good measure for anything but vocal frustration, are showing consistent drops in support among those who joined in the effort to replace Donald Trump with someone who claimed competence in government as well as a reasonable agenda.
Columnist Karen Tumulty notes, “as his presidency approaches its first anniversary on Thursday, it appears to be running out of gas.”
Here’s political analyst Ezra Klein on good, but buried news on the economy: “That they have largely succeeded feels like the best-kept secret in Washington,” citing job growth, better-than-expected falling unemployment rates and a rise in family savings — all positive signs for an economy. Yet price hikes and effects of persistent Covid have provided a counter. And, he says, the problem is that Team Biden missed these expressions of public frustrations and has mismanaged communications.
In brief, any president should expect a vocal opposition. But this changing Republican Party, which has stoked the embers of the Trump ashes to rekindle open hostility to Biden, Democrats, and any number of legislative proposals in pursuit of a never-was love for the past is proving overwhelming.
We’re starting to see more stories in the press about how Republicans are already planning to use the congressional majorities they anticipate to halt anything from Biden.
Maybe It Is Us
Then again, maybe it is not Biden who is “falling short,” but an American voting public that is pressing its unrealistic views for what should be.
As we stand a year in, we are openly worried about the state of our democracy as well as what we would do with it. We have a Congress bent on caring more about its Senate rules than about voting rights, a public that cares more about gas prices than about job growth, a Supreme Court conservative majority now intent on expanding rights in the name of religion and intent on curbing government regulation wherever it can.
We see individualism being heralded for vaccine rebellion and health choices at the same time we see state governments taking the individual out of the right to decide on abortion. We see ideological mania about the books on our library shelves by those who don’t even read the books before banning them.
And we see thoughtfulness of most kinds, from ideas to execution, being dismissed to embrace a return of a Donald Trump over a Big Lie claim about election fraud. We have lost patience with all of it — pandemics, prices, endless politics and now international pressures from China and Russia.
Rather than trusting the White House to help focus our efforts, we see a spread of misinformation on many fronts and on questioning the most irrelevant rather than the central. Just what happens if we do decide that Covid resulted from man-made means in a lab? How does that help us now to blame Chinese scientists? And how does firing Dr. Anthony Fauci as the bringer of bad, if ever-incrementally changing advice make Covid go away or gas prices to drop or for years of war in Afghanistan to have ended differently?
Basically, this year has reflected a steady diminution on challenging any truth that does not affirm some pre-held ideological view, regardless of which side it represents.
In that context, despite whatever achievements Team Biden has brought about, it is not seen as providing a steady source of credible, reliable actions towards making our individual lives better.
We may never have expected that Biden would succeed in bridging political divides, but one year in, there is disappointment that his group seems less than fully competent to anticipate and ameliorate disasters natural and opposition-created.