One year into Joe Biden’s first term as president, it’s safe to say that the Democrat’s performance has not met lofty expectations. His average approval rating, at 49% according to Gallup, is better than Republican Donald Trump’s was at this point, but that’s not saying much. Trump’s 38% was the lowest first-year approval rating of any president post World War II, and all other presidents since then — except Mr. Biden — have averaged 57% or higher.
Of course, those presidents didn’t start off in year two of a pandemic that not only has wreaked havoc on our mental and physical health, but the economy and the supply chain. The latter is backlogged largely because of a worker shortage (due to illness or disillusion) amid increased demand for goods. And how much any president can affect that is debatable, despite Mr. Biden’s release of an “action plan” aimed at rebuilding U.S. supply chains. Still, 62% of registered voters blame Mr. Biden at least in part for the blockage, according to a poll conducted by Politico and the Morning Consult.
Wednesday, on the eve of his year anniversary, the president held what was only his second formal news conference since taking office. He defended his governance, claiming to have “done remarkably well” despite significant pushback from Republicans. “I did not anticipate that there would be such a stalwart effort to make sure that the most important thing was that President Biden didn’t get anything done,” he complained.
Tempting as it is to dismiss that comment as a throwaway, pass the buck line, we should not. The country is arguably more politically and culturally divided today than it has been during any other time since the Civil War. And much of the Republican Party has shifted from one of conservatism to extremism, with many members focusing more on radical conspiracy theories around election results or white identity politics and obstructionism, than traditional GOP ideologies of national defense, small government and business promotion.
Both circumstances are consequences of the prior officeholder’s presidency. And we should take a moment here to consider what the country would look like should Donald Trump have retained the presidency. By most any measure, we would be worse off.
And Mr. Biden has had some wins — big ones. The $1.2 trillion infrastructure deal he struck is the largest of its kind since Dwight D. Eisenhower’s historic interstate highway plan of 1956. It will rebuild the country’s roads, clean our drinking pipes and drive the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs. And the $1.9 trillion COVID relief plan enacted in March has the potential to reshape the country’s social sector. Under Mr. Biden’s leadership, more than 60% of the population also has been vaccinated, and unemployment has now fallen to a pandemic low.
But the failures on his watch are stark. Democrats were trounced in November elections; inflation is rising, along with gas prices; the Afghanistan withdrawal was a mess; and Mr. Biden’s signature legislation, the Build Back Better bill, has hit a wall. And then there is the devastating failure to pass voting rights legislation this month, a critical component to the Democratic agenda.
Also of concern is the shifting guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the lack of preparation for a fast-moving coronavirus variant like omicron. While we understand that scientists are learning in real time how to handle this virus, the mixed messaging and lack of adequate testing and protection resources have been detrimental to public health.
Messaging overall may be President Biden’s biggest problem. He made big promises — and he didn’t deliver. He is not, at least not yet, the reincarnation of Franklin D. Roosevelt many had hoped. There were factors outside Mr. Biden’s control, certainly. But as the person raising hopes, he’s the natural target of disappointment when they’re dashed.
If he is, as he’s said, planning to run for a second term, he’s going to have to recalibrate his approach, starting now. He can still think big, but he’s going to have to act small, given the hand he’s been dealt. We need realism and results. Hyperbole does not help; we want Honest Joe at the helm.
For his second year in office, not being Donald Trump will not be enough.
Baltimore Sun editorial writers offer opinions and analysis on news and issues relevant to readers. They operate separately from the newsroom.