Rarely has a president faced more crises upon taking office than did Joe Biden, or so assiduously ignored most of them. He has earned a solid D for his first year performance, and is slipping.
Biden was unconcerned when inflation emerged in the spring; he was unprepared when the withdrawal from Afghanistan turned chaotic; unequipped to manage a fourth surge of the COVID-19 virus, and seemingly unaware that nearly 2 million migrants tried to walk across the southern border illegally under his watch.
The man who promised to unify a nation broken by Donald Trump and restore orderly governing has done neither. The result is that at the first anniversary of his inauguration, he has lost the support of a majority of the electorate.
His approval rating stands at just 42% in the Real Clear Politics average of polls, and had dipped as low as 33% in one recent sampling of registered voters.
Popularity is not always an indicator of performance. Sometimes presidents have to make unpopular and difficult choices for the good of the country.
But it’s not Biden’s actions that have sunk him; it’s his consistent lack of action on so many vital issues.
The man who vowed to “shut down the virus” on the campaign trail was caught flat-footed when the virulent omicron variant began raging two months ago. By his own acknowledgment, he wished he “had thought about ordering” more tests earlier. But he didn’t, despite the urging of a panel of experts that he do so.
More Americans have died of COVID under his watch than under Trump’s.
Disruptions from the pandemic impacted the production and distribution of goods, leading to shortages and clogged supply chains. That sparked the worst inflation in nearly four decades, hitting 7% for 2021.
Biden is not wholly responsible for rising prices, but he’s also not as blameless as his defenders contend. The spike was preceded by the president’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, passed on a straight party-line vote. The spending pushed demand beyond what suppliers were capable of meeting, and included added benefits that served as a disincentive to work.
The only answer the administration has offered for inflation is even more federal spending via the Build Back Better bill, with a potential cost of up to nearly $5 trillion.
In Afghanistan, Biden took a plan largely authored by former President Donald Trump to end the 20-year war, something most Americans wanted.
But he failed to put in place a withdrawal strategy that protected American citizens and soldiers and their Afghan allies. Millions of dollars of U.S. military equipment was left behind for potential use by terrorists, and the country is in disarray.
What should have been a high point of his presidency turned into a disaster.
Biden has left the crisis at the southern border largely untended. He immediately suspended Trump-era policies that had greatly slowed illegal immigration, without adopting effective replacements.
The president placed Vice President Kamala Harris in charge of managing the situation; she has yet to visit the border’s hot spots.
Illegal entries have reached historic levels, overwhelming border communities and federal agents.
As for unity, that has perhaps been Biden’s biggest failure. His embrace of the radical agenda demanded by the Democratic Party’s progressive wing has made a lie of his claim to moderation.
His recent angry rants comparing opponents of federalizing elections to racists and segregationists, and his insensitivity to parents upset by school mandates have pushed the nation perhaps further apart than it was when Trump departed.
Biden also seems an unequal match to Russian strongman Vladimir Putin and his ambitions for Ukraine.
What spares him from a F-grade is his success in passing the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which was long awaited and much needed.
In addition, despite the shortages, inflation and supply chain issues, the economy has remained relatively strong. And while workforce participation is below pre-pandemic levels, the unemployment rate is low.
Clearly, the country expected too much of Joe Biden. He came to the presidency having never before been the person in charge; he had always been a member of a committee, first in Congress then as vice president in Barack Obama’s cabinet, and never the decision maker.
Now that he’s the one who must decide, he is poorly equipped to do so.
The president has received little help from a mediocre cabinet. Jennifer Granholm at Energy, Pete Buttigieg at Transportation, Antony Blinken at State, Merrick Garland as attorney general, Ronald Klain as chief of staff are all underperforming, to be generous.
Biden has three years to go, and can certainly pull up his grade. If he focuses fully on containing inflation and COVID while securing the southern border and sets aside the divisive progressive wish list, he may yet salvage his presidency.
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