At the one-year mark, Joe Biden is in good company on polling
Chances are Joe Biden hasn’t yet encountered whatever it is that will determine his administration’s place in history. But it’s clear that poll numbers won’t define it.
I’ve been bemused by what I’ve called the Cult of the Presidency since long before it became my job to write about it. To an awful lot of people, the president of the United States is held personally responsible for things he can’t do a blessed thing about, from the price of Cocoa Puffs to the mutation of viruses. And too rarely given credit for things he’s done right.
Given the onset of climate change, it won’t be long before we’re blaming the White House for the weather.
But hey, it comes with the territory. A person would have to be downright mad with ambition to want the job.
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That said, I’ve always felt warmly toward Joe Biden, if for no other reason than his resemblance to my late father, another Irish guy with a great smile and a fondness for the word “malarkey.” He also favored the phrase “donkey dust,” basically “nonsense.”
Something else that comes with the presidency is the attention of the nation’s esteemed Washington press clique. To find a group more prone to insider gossip and groupthink, one would have to be transported back to a high school lunchroom.
By way of historical context, Eric Boehlert provides the following example of press clique conventional wisdom on his Press Run website: “A year into his presidency, President [Blank] faces a polarized nation and souring public assessments of his efforts to change Washington, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.”
The year was 2010; the president, Barack Obama. Pundits predicted that the Ebola virus would ravage the nation and Obamacare would enter a demographic death spiral. Neither happened. So it’s best to keep things in perspective when CNN asks, “Is Biden’s Presidency Doomed?”
That said, COVID continues to ravage the nation, affecting every aspect of American life from education to inflation — no thanks to red state Republicans’ conversion to a pro-virus death cult. Hospitals are overwhelmed with the sick and dying, and what are they upset about? Face masks and Dr. Fauci.
Then too, congressional Democrats and the White House wasted months pretending that a 51-50 advantage in the Senate would allow the passage of Build Back Better — sweeping legislation few voters understood.
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Altogether elsewhere, Vladimir Putin appears determined to occupy Ukraine, driving a wedge between the U.S. and our NATO allies.
Of the above crises, only the time and political capital wasted pursuing “progressive” daydreams can be laid at Biden’s feet. Not only was Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., never going to give Bernie Sanders’ supporters what they wanted, but his constituents don’t want him to. West Virginia voted for Donald Trump over Joe Biden by 69% to 30% — more than 2-to-1.
“You don’t have to be a genius to succeed in politics,” the late Robert F. Kennedy told a friend of mine. “But you do need to be able to count.”
Biden wouldn’t be the first president to overrate his personal charm and persuasive skills. It’s been known to happen.
Left out of many negative assessments of Biden’s first year, however, was the extraordinary success of his economic policies. Thanks in large part to the fiscal stimulus plan he signed into law last March, unemployment has declined to 3.9%, almost where it was pre-COVID.
Since Biden’s inauguration, the U.S. economy has generated more than 6 million new jobs — an extraordinary achievement. Workers’ wages have risen as well. For all the wailing and gnashing of teeth about high gasoline prices and 7% inflation — both outside the president’s control, and both likely to be brought under control after COVID recedes — the president’s economic record could hardly be stronger.
That said, yes. Biden’s polling numbers fell considerably beginning in August 2021, in seeming reaction to the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. (Not that anybody wants to go back.) But that hardly makes him an outlier, notes Tim Noah in The New Republic: “That also happened to Trump, Obama, Clinton, Reagan, and Carter.”
In short, the post-honeymoon phase of the presidency tends to be rough on everybody. Noah also notes that Washington media gossip has little bearing on a president’s political success: “Time famously pronounced Clinton ‘The Incredible Shrinking President’ on a June 1993 cover.”
Three years later, Clinton was reelected easily despite the press clique’s obsession with the make-believe “Whitewater” scandal.
George W. Bush was saved from sinking polls during his first year by the surge in patriotism following the 9/11 terror attacks, only to plunge to historic lows after his disastrous Iraq invasion. In case you’ve forgotten, the Washington media led cheers, dressed up in fatigues, and followed the troops into battle.
Chances are Joe Biden hasn’t yet encountered whatever it is that will determine his administration’s place in history. But it’s clear that poll numbers won’t define it. Those fall under the heading of what my father would have called “donkey dust.”
Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President.”
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