Joe Biden’s been president for a year and a few months; it’s time to award him a provisional grade for his performance as president. Here are a few factors to consider:
* Biden ended the Afghan War. Sure, it was a disordered ending, a pell-mell evacuation, a calamitous collapse that saw Afghan innocents killed in a final drone strike (nothing new about that, I suppose). But he did end a twenty-year war, so credit to him for that.
* Biden was able to pass an infrastructure bill, though it was disappointingly small. Still, America truly needs to invest in its infrastructure (rather than, for example, nuclear weapons), so credit again to Biden.
* Biden kept his promise to nominate an African American woman to the Supreme Court. The court is still overwhelmingly conservative, so her presence won’t make a critical difference to decisions, but dare I say, it’s about time the court looked more like the diversity of America.
* When Biden announced his candidacy, the first thing he did was meet with Comcast executives and other high and mighty media- and business-types. He told them nothing would fundamentally change under his administration. That’s a campaign promise he’s kept.
* Another promise Biden has kept is sizable increases to the Pentagon’s budget. If you’re part of the military-industry complex, you’re probably more than satisfied with Biden’s budgets.
* Finally, some people assert that Biden has stood firm against Russia and Putin, marshaling the West against Putin’s war of aggression in Ukraine. I beg to differ with this assertion, but more on that below.
Now, let’s look at where Biden has failed or proven to be a disappointment.
* Biden has kept none of his progressive promises, which is unsurprising, given his track record as a senator from Delaware. No $15 federal minimum wage. No public option for health care. No student debt relief (just moratoriums on payments). On these and similar issues, Biden’s defenders place the blame on obstinate “centrist” senators like Manchin and Sinema, or they blame the Senate Parliamentarian for ruling against the $15 wage increase due to a technicality. It’s all special pleading. When their own Senate Parliamentarian got in their way, the Republicans simply replaced that unelected person with someone more tractable. Chuck Schumer could easily have done the same. Manchin and Sinema can be cajoled or coerced if Biden had the will to do so. But “centrist” Democrats adore Manchin and Sinema because they serve as convenient scapegoats for why Biden can’t be more progressive.
* Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan died a meaningless death, but, once again, this was more by design. Recall Biden’s key promise that nothing would fundamentally change under his administration.
* Again, withdrawing from the Afghan War was a sound decision, but it was poorly implemented.
* The Russia-Ukraine War: Biden has gone all-in with his military approach to the war, meaning more money for the Pentagon, more weapons for Ukraine, harsh sanctions that hit ordinary Russians the hardest, and rhetoric that declares Putin to be a genocidal war criminal. Diplomatic efforts have taken a back seat to efforts to effect regime change in Russia. Some people may see this as tough and hard- minded; I see it as provocative and incredibly foolhardy. Brinksmanship with Russia risks nuclear war, with Biden’s harsh rhetoric leaving little room for a negotiated settlement. More than a few people see the U.S. as weakening Russia in a proxy war in which Biden is willing to fight to the last Ukrainian. Toughness is not about more weapons and war; it’s about finding ways to build fewer weapons and to end war.
* Inflation is reaching new highs and many Americans are struggling economically, but Biden’s main approach here has been to blame Putin. Unlike Harry Truman, the buck never stops with Joe Biden.
* The Biden team made a disastrous choice for his vice president. Biden has no affinity with Kamala Harris, and Harris herself has wilted on the world stage. High staff turnover suggests she’s a polarizing figure and a poor boss. The only good thing about Harris, from the Biden perspective, is that people dislike her more than they do the president.
* Biden’s unpopularity. Predictions for the midterm elections this November are dire for Democrats. It’s possible, even likely, Republicans will regain both the Senate and House, leaving Biden a lame duck for his final two years in office. Few if any Democratic candidates are seeking Biden’s support or planning to ride his coattails to victory.
* Biden’s mental status. Biden will be 80 this November. I’m not an expert on dementia. But I’ve seen plenty of speeches by Biden where he’s become forgetful; when he can’t remember words; when he gets frustrated. I feel for him. He can read from a teleprompter but get him off-script and he becomes unpredictable and says nonsensical things. Occasionally, he looks lost or at a loss. Something similar was happening to Ronald Reagan in his second term.
Always looming in the background and foreground is the party of Trump. To my mind, the best way to defeat rightwing popular authoritarianism is to have leaders who answer to the people rather than to corporations and oligarchs. The Democratic Party is venal and corrupt, which allows Trump & Co. an opening to play a (false) populist card. The Democrats, as presently led by Biden, Schumer, Pelosi, et al., are easy foils for authoritarian dipshits like Trump.
Trump would be far less dangerous if the Democrats actually believed and acted on their various campaign promises to help people rather than oligarchs and corporations.
The ultimate grade of Joe Biden’s presidency will depend on whether through his actions and inaction he gives Trump an opening to win the presidency in 2024. Assuming Trump wins again in 2024, Biden’s final grade will be an “F.”
His provisional grade? First, I’m not a Democrat. Second, I despise Trump, a man totally unqualified to serve the public in any capacity. Overall, my grade for Biden is a “C-,” and on less generous days I’m inclined to give him a “D.” He is a man who’s often out of his depth, a man well past his prime, a man who perhaps shouldn’t have run in 2020 and who most certainly shouldn’t run again in 2024, given the demands of the presidency. (Recall that when Biden suggested a run for the presidency in 2020, Obama told him, You don’t have to do this, Joe. Not exactly an inspiring vote of confidence!)
What do you think, readers? What grade has Joe Biden earned so far in your opinion?