Despite headlines, Biden is doing more than you think

by James Rosen

At a time of pandemic-driven gloom and relentless Republican-driven doom, President Joe Biden is already a flop.

That’s the shrill, orchestrated and nonstop message from GOP lawmakers and conservative commentators, who — as we’ve learned (see Sean Hannity and Donald Trump) — work in coordinated concert.

Just one year into his presidency, Biden is deemed a “failure” in these circles, he and his aides “incompetent.” His approval ratings appear to lend support to these verdicts as they hover under 45%. However, his detractors never note that is still well above the 35% rating of his immediate predecessor after one year. That was by far the lowest rating in the almost eight-decade history of presidential polling.

Presidential approval ratings, in any event, are fickle. Jimmy Carter’s rating after one year was 8 points higher than that of Ronald Reagan at the same point — 57 to 49 points — yet Reagan was overwhelmingly re-elected while Carter was defeated … by Reagan. President

George H.W. Bush stood at 71% approval after his first year, only to be ushered from office by Bill Clinton three years later.

Like every other of the 45 previous presidents, Biden has made some mistakes in his inaugural year. His withdrawal from Afghanistan was precipitous, though it was tied to Donald Trump’s February 2020 deal promising a full withdrawal within 15 months and based on laughable promises from the Taliban. Presidents Barack Obama, Trump and Biden all campaigned on leaving Afghanistan, but Obama and Trump failed to follow through after their generals objected. Biden’s opposition to continuing the U.S. 20-year war was longstanding and consistent. In an otherwise close relationship as Obama’s vice president, he wrote a 2009 memo to the then-new president saying the war was unwinnable and later opposed Obama’s decision to surge 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan.

Yet Biden could have left a small force in Kabul to support the U.S.-backed government and prevent or at least forestall a Taliban takeover. In the name of national security and long-term stability, U.S. military contingents remain in Germany and South Korea decades after the end of devastating wars.

A more careful withdrawal from Afghanistan would have taken advantage of the clear majority of Americans — more than 60% when Biden took office — who supported leaving the country.

Biden, never a great communicator, has also sent mixed messages in dealing with shortages stemming from a global pandemic now entering its third year. In an effort to loosen the tangled international supply chain, the president said in October that he was weighing the dispatch of National Guard troops to ports in California and elsewhere to help unload clogged container ships, yet he has not done so. More broadly, Biden has pushed sweeping, expensive legislative packages as if he enjoyed the large congressional majorities that Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson exploited. Instead, he has razor-thin margins that make even modest proposals difficult to achieve.

Despite his own mistakes and the Republicans’ calculated, cynical opposition to even popular initiatives such as infrastructure investment and action on climate change, Biden has accomplished a lot in one year:

○ He signed a $1 trillion infrastructure bill into law in November, providing tens of millions of dollars to improve roads, bridges, public transit, broadband access and other core needs. Trump had campaigned on even bigger infrastructure investment but never overcame Republican opposition.

○ Biden last March signed a $1.9 trillion COVID-relief bill. Not a single Republican lawmaker voted for it, yet a number quickly put out releases boasting of bringing home federal funds. Such cowardly hypocrisy echoes the uniform GOP opposition to Obamacare in 2010 by Republican lawmakers who now pretend they’ve always supported insurance coverage of pre-existing conditions, the historic law’s central feature.

○ The U.S.  rejoined the Paris Agreement last February, in line with the two-thirds of Americans who view climate change as a serious problem — and even with the two-fifths of deeply concerned Republicans. Biden’s opponents don’t view this as an accomplishment, but as with so many conservative stances over the years (see their initial opposition to Social Security, Medicare, Obamacare, landmark laws for clean water and air, to name just a few), the public, and history, are not on their side.

○ The Senate has confirmed 40 federal judges nominated by Biden, more than any president’s first year since Reagan in 1981. This is the surest sign that Biden isn’t the “radical socialist” that Republicans claim as they trot out the tired cliché they’ve used against every Democratic president since FDR.

○ Yes, the inflation rate is 7%. No one likes paying more for goods, yet that rate is hardly at the “soaring” or “exploding” level Republicans (and too many headline writers) claim. And prices are increasing amid some positive economic signs: The unemployment rate has dropped from 6.3% when Biden took office to 3.9% — returning to the pre-pandemic levels under Trump in 2018 and 2019. The gross domestic product last year (including fourth-quarter projections) was just shy of 5%, the best since 1984. It was less than 1% in 2020, Trump’s last year in office. The economy added almost 6 million jobs last year, more than in any previous president’s first year.

○ Ninety-nine percent of schools are open compared with 46% when Biden took office.

○ Biden has reinstated the federal ban on felon executions and ended the Trump-era ban on transgender service members.

In our current hyper-partisan politics, Democrats and Republicans, progressives and conservatives, will differ on whether all these changes are accomplishments and whether the uniformly positive ones are thanks to Biden. Yet it is impossible to look at them as a whole and say, unless you’re following the rote Republican script, that they represent a prematurely failed presidency. Democrats, typically more modest than Republicans, might even use the S-word and start saying it’s pretty darn successful.

James Rosen, a former Washington Bureau reporter for McClatchy Newspapers, has received multiple honors from the National Press Club, Society of Professional Journalists, Military Reporters and Editors, and other organizations for his reporting on Congress, the White House and the Pentagon.