The Morning Jolt

White House

Joe Biden Is in over His Head

President Joe Biden talks with the media on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., January 13, 2022. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

On the menu today: Even the people who were rooting for Joe Biden can’t ignore the evidence piling up and spilling out all over. He’s just not up to the job of being president. He makes promises that he doesn’t know how to keep, wildly overestimates his own persuasiveness, denies problems are problems until it’s too late, and offers excuses and points fingers when he fails. We’re a week away from Biden’s first year in the Oval Office, and it’s already abundantly clear: The man is in over his head.

Biden’s Terrible Record

I don’t want to write versions of the same column over and over again, but every day, there is some new example of, “Wow, Joe Biden is just completely screwing this up.” There’s an off-color meme that begins, “Our expectations for you were low, but . . .”

Just look at his wreckage, er, his record:

He just screws up, over and over again. I ranted this litany to a friend who observed that this isn’t even counting the legislative fights that Biden chose, knowing the extraordinary difficulty of passage with a small majority for House Democrats and a 50-50 Senate: Build Back Better, a federal takeover of election administration, and creating at least a carve-out of the filibuster if not eliminating it entirely. As Phil Klein summarizes, “Biden wasted months of negotiations hoping that Manchin would suddenly change his mind on a kitchen-sink bill. . . . Clearly, Biden’s calculations on the art of the possible have been way off.”

Yesterday brought three high-profile Biden defeats in rapid secession as he was going to Capitol Hill for one more pep rally for carving out the filibuster and getting the Senate to pass his preferred election-reform bill. First, Arizona senator Kyrsten Sinema chose to give a speech declaring that she did not believe in getting rid of the filibuster, a move that reportedly “stunned” the White House. (Go figure, she doesn’t want to make concessions to the kinds of people who chased her into a bathroom.)

Then, the Supreme Court ruled, 6–3, that no, the federal government cannot use OSHA as a backdoor way of requiring citizens to get vaccinated against Covid. (Really wise of White House chief of staff Ron Klain to retweet a message declaring exactly that secret motivation!) The Supreme Court upheld the Department of Health and Human Services’ ability to enact a test-or-vaccine requirement for institutions that take federal money.

Then, with little chance of changing the filibuster, West Virginia senator Joe Manchin — whom the White House chose to denounce in surprisingly personal terms back on December 19, accusing him of breaking his word — announced that he, too, will not vote to eliminate or alter the filibuster. Senate Democrats will have, at most, 48 votes to do so.

Then, after spending the day denouncing the filibuster as a Jim Crow relic that is an abominable threat to American democracy, 45 Senate Democrats filibustered Ted Cruz’s bill to enact sanctions on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 natural-gas pipeline. There is no sign that any of those Democrats recognized any contradiction or irony in their actions.

Voices on the right who might, at one point, have been inclined to hear Biden out, now see him as a bad joke.

Our old friend Jonah puts it succinctly: “Biden’s presidency is spiraling into abject failure.”

Peggy Noonan, assessing Biden’s “Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?” tirade in Atlanta: “The speech itself was aggressive, intemperate, not only offensive but meant to offend. It seemed prepared by people who think there is only the Democratic Party in America, that’s it, everyone else is an outsider who can be disparaged. It was a mistake on so many levels.”

David Brooks declared yesterday that, “Today is the day for Biden to begin revamping his presidency in a more centrist direction. There’s no path forward for a leftish agenda.”

But it’s not just folks on the right. The headline in Mike Allen’s newsletter today is “Biden’s Epic Failures.” The Washington Post’s David Ignatius writes today that, “Biden has been losing his way politically. As he chases support from progressives in his own party, he has failed to craft versions of his social spending package and voting rights legislation that he could pass with fragile majorities. He’s been spinning his wheels.”

Biden’s fundamental governing problem is that what the Democratic Party’s progressive grassroots want done and what the rest of the country wants done are not the same thing. And when they’re not contradictory, there’s an opportunity cost of focusing on one instead of the other.

The Democratic Party’s progressive grassroots want:

  • Build Back Better/Green New Deal
  • Elimination of the filibuster, because they think they’ll never lose control of the Senate again
  • Expansion of the Supreme Court
  • Statehood for the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico
  • Medicare for All, and/or eliminating private health insurance
  • Taxpayer-funded abortion on demand
  • Amnesty and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants
  • $2,000 monthly stimulus checks

What the rest of the country wants:

  • Make the Covid-19 pandemic something that we don’t worry about anymore — like Biden assured the country that he could do, over and over again, in the closing weeks of the 2020 presidential election.
  • Make sure the kids are going to school, Monday through Friday.
  • Make sure the kids are learning stuff they actually need to know, instead of this critical race theory propaganda.
  • Stop inflation.
  • Get stuff on store shelves again.
  • Get workers into the unfilled jobs so that not every business has a “Please be patient, we are short-staffed” sign in the window.

I’m not going to fool myself into thinking that Americans care a lot about the deficit or the debt, or that they will pay attention to Russia, China, Iran, or Afghanistan until some crisis becomes too big to ignore. But the job of a president includes paying attention to the lurking problems on the horizon that the average American doesn’t think about much at all.

Biden’s fundamental personal problem is that he wildly overestimates his own persuasiveness and charm. He’s prickly, thin-skinned, and as we’ve seen, a clumsy demagogue. (Some of us remember “Gonna put you back in chains!”) He’s frequently something of a jerk or an ass; people may remember Biden saying, “You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent,” but they rarely remember that it’s one of the first things Biden said upon meeting that Indian-American supporter. His better days seem rarer than in the Obama years, and even on those, he comes across as a garrulous wacky neighbor whom you start keeping your distance from because you know any interaction will lead to your being forced to listen to a lot of lengthy, meandering, self-aggrandizing stories. Biden was always prone to exaggeration, but now he seems to be blurring stories he once heard with experiences that actually happened to him. On his worst days, Biden’s indignation and anger burst forth with little warning and even less justification or coherence — “that was four or five days ago!

Face it: If Barack Obama had picked the other finalist to be his running mate — Evan Bayh — instead of Biden, then Biden probably would be enjoying a quiet retirement with Jill in his Delaware beach house right now. Biden bombed in his presidential bids of 1988 and 2008, and his successful bid in 2020 was largely built upon Democrats who really would have preferred a third term of Obama and thought he was the next-best thing.

No one thought Joe Biden was a visionary leader or a political maestro in his prime — and as he approaches his 80th year, Biden is getting further and further from his prime. He’s not senile in the sense that he doesn’t know who he is or where he is. He’s just senile in the sense that he doesn’t remember things as well as he used to, he remembers things that never happened, he can’t remember the names of familiar figures, he speaks slowly and haltingly at times, and he’s irritable. Biden isn’t incapacitated or completely incapable of performing the duties of his office. But he’s falling short in a lot of ways, and there’s little reason to think he’s going to suddenly turn it all around.

Oh, and remember how after Biden won the Democratic nomination, the conventional wisdom was, “Joe Biden faces the most important decision of his five-decade political career: choosing a vice president”? Well, right now, Kamala Harris’s average approval rating is seven points lower than Biden’s. After all the talk about how she needed to change up her staff, and the White House needed to use her differently, and she was going to reboot her role in the administration . . . she went out yesterday and absolutely flopped in an interview again: “It is time for us to do what we have been doing. And that time is every day.”

That key decision as the Democratic nominee foreshadowed what the country would get with Biden as president. For a man who’s been in politics and elected office as long as he has, he has surprisingly bad instincts. And the consequences of those bad instincts and decisions are piling up higher and higher.

ADDENDUM: I didn’t know Terry Teachout very well, just a few interactions on Twitter, but it seems that everyone who did know him personally loved him. He will be very, very missed.


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