On Monday afternoon, I clicked on Google News to see what was happening. I was looking for good news. Something other than news of a new school shooting, bickering on Capitol Hill, forest fires in California, or an uptick in COVID-19 deaths. Instead, the top news was all about President Biden. Well, not all of it directly about the president, but about the looming demise of the Biden Presidency.
The lead story, from Fox News, was that veteran journalist Al Hunt, questioned Biden’s competency. Another story, from Politico, explained how the White House blamed the president’s strikingly low approval ratings on the pandemic. Another story referenced the “Biden-Harris Train-Wreck.”
Biden is in trouble. And, so far, he and his team don’t seem to know what to do to right the ship. To the contrary, on two of the biggest challenges that the president faced in his first eight months, he is 0-2. He fumbled the Afghanistan exit and failed to address the crisis at the border. If you add to that the in-fighting between progressives and moderates within his own party, two words come to mind—failed leadership.
It’s OK, I think, to worry about the Biden presidency and still be glad he is in the White House. Biden is heading for a presidency that looks more like Jimmy Carter’s than FDR’s, but he did not try to foment an insurrection. And the word “Pinocchio” has largely disappeared from newspapers. I give credit to Biden for all that and more, but I expected more from him. I continue to wait for him to unify and inspire the country.
In reviewing Biden’s record to date, fairness requires that we keep the challenges he faces in mind. Biden is not to blame for the “delta variant” or for the mischief that Trump and most Republicans on Capitol Hill are causing. It’s hard to get anything done in Washington when the opposing party makes the failure of your presidency its top priority. Biden also cannot be blamed for Xi Jinping threatening Taiwan or for Putin remilitarizing Russia.
If you give Biden the benefit of the doubt, you can say that he has been an unlucky president. That doesn’t generate much sympathy from me. Lincoln, FDR, Hoover, and many other presidents have also inherited major crises or had their presidencies hijacked by wars, natural disasters, or, as one friend once told me in the case of Jimmy Carter, by “malaise.” (I choked on that one.)
So, what to make of Biden? Given that Mr. My Pillow’s prediction of Trump returning to office in August proved wrong, we are stuck with Biden for another three plus years. Does that mean that the next 39 months must look like the last eight months? I don’t think so.
Biden can step up his game with a reset. Here is my advice.
Stop finding excuses. Instead of lamenting how bad the pandemic is and how evil Trump is, start taking some dramatic actions. The top priority should be to do more on COVID-19. This means toughening vaccine requirements, expediting the availability of booster shots, and doing more to get things back to normal. Biden has taken steps in this direction. He needs to take more, quickly.
Develop and implement a humane, fair plan at the border. You cannot blame the current crisis at the border or the inhumane treatment of migrants on Trump. (Remember those videos of the border agents on horses keeping migrants from crossing the border?) Get the resources you need to process legal immigrants and have the courage to tell would-be illegal migrants that the U.S. will not tolerate uncontrolled illegal border crossings.
Start worrying about the possibility of a recession. This means rethinking the $3.5 trillion “human infrastructure bill” to reduce the risk of triggering more inflation. My suggestion would be to break it down into several focused bills. Securing Republican support for projects addressing climate change, better education, and improved access to healthcare is possible given the strong public support for these initiatives. My advice to Biden is to prioritize.
Discipline your own party. Bernie Sanders, AOC, and a host of other progressives have demonstrated their willingness to throw Biden and even Speaker Pelosi under the bus. It’s time for Biden to take control of his own party. If he doesn’t, the impasse of the last five months will continue.
Start planning for the next foreign crisis. Do we know what Biden will do if the Chinese attempt to “unify” Taiwan with China? I don’t. I hope detailed planning is taking place now on how to respond if the next wave of Chinese bombers heading for Taiwan is not a military exercise.
Have a serious chat with Vice President Harris. Fears that Harris wasn’t prepared to serve as VP are proving well-founded. Harris has made several gaffes, seems AWOL on her assignment to address the border crisis, and is getting lampooned in the press. All this would not be a huge problem if Biden were not 78 years old in the first year of his presidency. Biden needs to sit down with Harris and get her on the right track.
All the above will not necessarily save the Biden presidency but could end several consecutive months of declining approval ratings. I hope that happens.
Donald Trump, despite the hopes of many of us that he would fade into the sunset or otherwise go somewhere where the sun doesn’t shine, waits in the wings. Democrats have less than a year to sufficiently turn things around to have a chance at holding their slim House and Senate majorities. They have a little more than two years to have a chance to retain the presidency in 2024. It’s time for them to move to a higher gear. Our Democracy may depend on their doing so.
J.E. Dean of Oxford is a retired attorney and public affairs consultant writing on politics, government, birds, and occasionally goldendoodles.