Commentary: Reagan Reed
When it comes to national politics, President Joe Biden is the obvious loser in 2021.
The Texas Citizen Journal’s winners and losers of the year are determined by who used their political capital effectively and who lost it, regardless of party or ideology. It is not necessarily an endorsement or condemnation of any particular politician. Sometimes the loser could be someone we like, or the winner could be someone with whom we profoundly disagree.
At the start of 2021, I did not expect to be writing this article. Although I didn’t vote for him, and I profoundly disagree with him on many important issues, I actually thought Joe Biden would be a very popular president, at least by the standards of our current polarized political climate. Boasting a radically mediocre and unremarkable career as a senator and vice president, his election represented a return to normalcy after the endless drama and chaos of the Trump years. Biden won the Democratic primary because he was not a socialist like Bernie Sanders, and he won the general election because he wasn’t Trump.
Despite running against such a uniquely unpopular and flawed opponent in the middle of an economic recession and once in a century pandemic, Biden still only managed to eke out a victory in the electoral college, and had several thousand votes in a few key states gone differently, Trump still would have managed to cling to power. Biden’s party actually lost seats in the House, and on election night it looked like Republicans would hang on to the Senate. The voters had excized Trump from office, but they hadn’t given Biden’s party a mandate either. The takeaway from the supposedly mixed messages sent by the electorate was actually quite clear for those not blinded by partisan tribalism: Don’t flirt with socialism and idiotic slogans like “Defund the Police”, and don’t be a crazy, incompetent, jerk.
At first it seemed like Biden would continue the tack towards the center that won him the election. He would staff his administration with experienced career bureaucrats, repair relationships with our allies abroad, generally avoid unpopular stances, and be a caretaker president for the duration of his term. If he’d been realistic about his party’s position, he could have simply gone for the low hanging fruit, such as a Covid 19 relief package and an infrastructure bill, taken the wins, and then traveled the country touting his success. He could cover his left flank by blaming the failure to pass sweeping, transformative legislation on “Cocaine Mitch” and the Republicans in the Senate. Had the Biden presidency been defined by realistic expectations, moderation, competency, unity, and leaning into his avuncular, grandfatherly image, he could have been an extremely popular and successful president. He wouldn’t have been my kind of president, but he could have been popular. However, at least in his first year, it was not to be.
Maybe it was when Democrats barely gained control of the upper chamber thanks to Trump sabotaging Republicans in the Georgia runoffs. Maybe it was when a group of liberal historians met with Biden early in the year and imbued him with visions of grandeur. Whatever the case, at some point Biden got it into his head that he could be the next FDR or LBJ, despite the fact he didn’t come into office with anywhere near the legislative supermajorities enjoyed by those presidents. This delusional hubris would be the beginning of his downfall.
After enjoying a honeymoon of several months, probably due to the economy restarting and the pandemic’s subsidence following the implementation of the former administration’s vaccine program, it sure looked like it was going to be a good year for Biden. However, once things started going downhill, they went downhill fast.
The precipitous decline in Biden’s poll numbers can be attributed to three main factors: the first of which was entirely his fault, the second largely beyond his control, and the third probably could have been avoided by an abler leader.
The first tipping point was the debacle in Afghanistan. While many good arguments could be made for getting out of the “Graveyard of Empires”, Biden manager to do it in the most incompetent, chaotic, and disgraceful manner possible. The administration’s failure to support the Afghan government and successfully evacuate American citizens and the Afghans who helped us was utterly shameful. As images of bedlam in Kabul plastered TV screens, the Biden administration’s aura of competence was utterly shattered. Responsibility for this tragedy rests squarely on the president’s shoulders.
The second factor was the resurgence of COVID-19 in the form of the Delta variant around this time. This was obviously largely outside of Biden’s control, and the death toll was almost entirely due to a large minority of people in red states refusing to get a lifesaving vaccine. However, fairly or unfairly, when things start going badly, the public often blames the president, regardless of whether he could’ve done anything about it or not. Perhaps Biden invited some of the blame on himself since he campaigned on ending the pandemic. The Delta wave proved that he couldn’t. Campaigning on things you cannot control is usually a bad idea.
The third factor is the disarray of Democrats on Capitol Hill, and the inability of the administration to pass their sweeping Build Back Better boondoggle. Biden’s strategy of linking BBB to infrastructure was idiotic. From a purely strategic standpoint, he should have taken the bipartisan win on infrastructure (something his predecessor tried, and failed, to do) and then pushed for the more popular elements of BBB to be voted on individually. Instead, he allowed the progressives to take the driver’s seat. Progressives who are fundamentally unserious people who don’t understand that if you demand all or nothing, you will usually get nothing. A greater man would have been able to bring the factions of the Democratic Party (and maybe a few Republicans) to the table, assert his will, and establish a consensus. But Biden wasn’t up to the task, and the infighting has made him look weak and raised questions over who is really the most powerful man in Washington: the president, or the senator from West Virginia?
I won’t even get into inflation, the humanitarian crisis at the border, cutting the knees out from our oldest ally, caving to Russia on the NordStream pipeline, the unconstitutional use of executive power for the rent moratorium, or the heavy handed and ineffective federal vaccine mandate… The list could go on.
As if 2021 wasn’t a bad enough year for Biden, 2022 is shaping up to be even worse. While the rest of Biden’s agenda is held up by filibuster in the Senate, Putin is massing troops on the border of Ukraine, and China grows ever more bellicose. The Democratic Party is facing a veritable bloodbath of a midterm, and Republicans will almost certainly take the House and possibly the Senate, ending Biden’s legislative agenda. Questions abound concerning Biden’s ability to run for re-election in 2024, and if he doesn’t, Democrats could be stuck with his even more unpopular vice president as their nominee. All the while the orange menace lurks just over the horizon, ready to capitalize on Biden’s collapse.
In 2020 Americans thought they were trading chaos and incompetence for competence and experience. Instead, they got weakness and fecklessness. Millions of Americans face economic hardship, Covid continues to plague the nation, and our enemies abroad are emboldened. Biden is the obvious loser of 2021.
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