A critical view of Biden's first year
It's hard to see the president as a successful leader, writes Senior Fellow Allan Stam
As is often noted, a president’s first year is a critical time to advance a policy agenda and for the American people to come to an early judgment about their commander in chief’s capacity to lead effectively.
While it is true that a majority of democratic partisans view President Joe Biden’s first year as at least a mixed success, independent voters (generally) and Republicans (in particular) overwhelmingly perceive President Biden’s first year as a failure. It is worth asking, then, why do only 33 percent of independents and 8 percent of Republicans view the president’s first year as a successful one? According to Real Clear Politics polling, almost two-thirds of Americans believe the country is on the wrong track.
As the president has claimed, one possibility is that anyone who does not support his agenda is a racist bigot like Bull Connor, George Wallace, or Jefferson Davis. Alternatively, a substantial majority of Americans do not support the president or do not view his first year as a success because the president has failed so far in his role as the leader of the free world. Perhaps these voters are the ones the president claims deliberately obstruct and undermine the democratic process.
One critical attribute necessary for successful leadership is persuading others to follow
In some cases, such as many of the specific policies of his proposed “Build Back Better” legislation, President Biden’s preferred policies may be plausible, at least for his center-left or left-wing supporters. But in case after case, the president has been unable to convince enough senators to follow his lead. One critical attribute necessary for successful leadership is persuading others to follow. It is hard to view President Biden as a successful leader after his first year on this dimension. From a more centrist or Republican view, let us review the president’s first year and see how we might characterize it in contrast to a more Democratic partisan view.
The president has had a rough year in the realm of foreign policy. The border crisis and uncontrolled illegal immigration continue to plague the administration. In 2021, border agents detained more than 1.7 million illegal entrants to the United States. The border patrol estimates that two million may have made it successfully into the country, taxing the resources of border states and refugee host sites alike.
The U.S. military’s withdrawal from Afghanistan is an example of a plausible policy gone wrong. By precipitously removing all U.S. forces from the country without consulting our allies, the administration effectively abandoned hundreds of American citizens and thousands of people who had worked for American forces. Rather than demonstrating competence and resolve, the hasty retreat revealed the kind of poor planning and execution that has dogged the administration for its entire first year.
President Biden came into office pledging to restore good relations and cooperation with our security allies worldwide. Following the military’s botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, President Biden failed to inform France about a U.S.-U.K.-Australia submarine deal, which undercut French interests and led the French government to recall its ambassador, something that has not occurred in more than 200 years.
During the president’s latest press conference, he committed his most recent foreign policy blunder. By observing that Russia would likely suffer few if any serious consequences for a limited military incursion into Ukraine, he succeeded in undercutting our allies and once again damaging America’s reputation.
Biden ran as a consensus builder who would bring competence and policy-making experience to the White House, but his most significant failure may be reneging on promises to be a unifier
Domestic policy failures abound. The president’s leadership shortcomings are not restricted to foreign affairs. He has demonstrated an inability to work with moderates in his party. While he ran as a consensus builder who would bring competence and policy-making experience to the White House, the president’s most significant failure may be reneging on campaign promises to be a unifying leader for all Americans.
Unlike a handful of moderate Republicans and contrary to his early promises, President Biden has been unwilling to work across party lines. He blamed the Republican voters and Republican leadership for failing to reach a political compromise on numerous issues. Early on, by rejecting an offer of Republican compromise on a bipartisan COVID-19 relief package, President Biden revealed a disinterest in serving the interests of Americans other than those who voted him into office.
By castigating Republicans as racist obstructionists, the president has eroded any willingness of Republicans to work with him in the future
Rather than working with Republicans as he had pledged during the campaign, the president and Democrats in Congress passed their $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill on strict party lines using the budget reconciliation process. By castigating Republicans as racist obstructionists, the president has eroded any willingness of Republicans to work with him in the future. Even so, several Republicans in Congress continued to demonstrate a desire to work on centrist policies, crossing the aisle to enable passage of the president’s infrastructure bill.
When the president advances centrist policy goals as he did with debt relief, COVID relief, and infrastructure support, Republicans have been willing to work with him. Only when the president is trying to advance the Democratic progressives’ far-left agenda has he faced obstruction in Congress. In these numerous cases, it is worth noting that the barrier to passage comes both from within his own party and the unified front the Republicans often present.
On the regulatory front, President Biden has eroded the emergent energy independence of recent years by blocking significant oil and gas development on federal lands and other steps. These executive orders have contributed to soaring gasoline prices. Inflation, which the president denied being an issue for much of his first year, now serves as an effective tax on those who can least afford it. While Democrats often talk about the need for progressive tax policies, inflation, which just hit a 40-year high, is as regressive a tax on labor as exists.
It is not just inflation that is hitting extraordinary levels. Drug overdose deaths were at a record high in 2021, up almost 30 percent from the previous year. Suicides among the 17–24 age group are up nearly 50 percent. COVID-19 deaths surged during Biden’s watch. CDC data indicate that more than 440,000 U.S. deaths in 2021 were associated with COVID, increasing by some 40,000 compared to 2020.
During one of the presidential debates, as COVID-related fatalities passed the 220,000 mark, then-candidate Biden suggested that “anyone responsible for that many deaths should not remain as president of the United States of America.” Compounding the president’s woes are the 16 Democratic-run cities that suffered record homicides last year. Looking at senate confirmations of senior civil servants, Biden lags far behind both Presidents Bush and Obama at the same point in their administrations.
Delving into the details of the John Lewis Voting Rights Bill, one again can see the unwillingness of the president to lead from the middle. Instead, the legislation reveals a consistent pattern of pandering to the furthest left wing of his party. Inflaming rather than dampening political tensions, the president used polarizing language to describe voters and their representatives who are more concerned about ballot security than universal mail-in voting and guaranteed early voting. President Biden recently replied to questions about the legitimacy of the 2022 midterm elections by observing, “I’m not saying it’s going to be legit. The increase and the prospect of it being illegitimate is in direct proportion to us not being able to get these reforms passed.” In other words, if his bill does not pass, he will not support the democratic process. How undemocratic of him.
This bill represents a dramatic overreach of left-wing policy preferences in American voting and politics. Rather than enhancing democracy, the John Lewis Act represents a federal overreach of what historically and constitutionally have been powers reserved for the states. Universal early voting and universal mail-in ballots, while perhaps preferred by voters in some states, are not reasonable federal requirements for all states. Moreover, the president’s rhetoric continues to sow division between ideological and partisan groups in America.
Other failures include an inability to anticipate needed increases in N95 masks, expanding demand for COVID therapeutics, and a reversal of his pledge not to mandate vaccines. Rather than effectively providing for the return of children to schools, the president’s education policy and support of teachers’ unions have exacerbated rather than healed the growing rift between parents and school administrators and boards.
There is not one area of the world or domestic policy, aside from domestic infrastructure, that President Biden has proven to be a successful leader
There is not one area of the world or domestic policy, aside from domestic infrastructure, that President Biden has proven to be a successful leader. As the president’s first year comes to a close, it is hard to see how the collapse of his political agenda, his inability to lead the country out of a pandemic, and his incompetence with American foreign policy can be considered anything but an abject failure.