Biden’s First Year and the “Boring” Presidency

A friend who voted for Joe Biden but is extremely skeptical of his performance recently asked me how I think he is doing at the end of his first year. My answer was a quick “pretty good,” and that shocked them. They asked how I could possibly say that? Am I not watching inflation? Covid? Russia? Are my just that partisan?

The truth is that I’ve had this same conversation with people to my left and right, and the generally less ideological types like this person. In virtually all of their cases, they’ve bought into a media narrative that Biden hasn’t done very much, spends lots of time battling moderate Democratic Senators, and is overwhelmed. The news does sound like that some days. There’s not a lot of truth to that though.

Let’s step back and take an outcome based view of the first year though. Unemployment is at an all-time low and the market at an all-time high. At this time, 77.7% of eligible Americans (anyone 5+) have been jabbed at least once with the Covid vaccine, totaling over 205 million people to date. President Biden signed a multi-trillion dollar Covid recovery bill that saved and kept countless small businesses open and literally saved millions of jobs, while getting critical aid to states, counties, towns, and hospitals on the front lines fighting Covid. He also signed a bipartisan infrastructure bill of over $1 trillion that represents the largest singular investment in American infrastructure since President Eisenhower signed the Interstate Highway System into law. The child tax credit and other measures in the Covid recovery bill are cutting child poverty in half in our nation. President Biden has also appointed and seated 40 federal judges in his first year, blowing away any predecessor in recent times. The booming economy and historic vaccine distribution alone should get him high marks. Ending America’s longest running war ever, which after 20 years had been bipartisanly called for by our last two Presidents, is a vastly under appreciated achievement. While I love them, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama would kill for his first year, legislatively. He’s done all of this, by the way, with a historic Vice-President who is redefining what American power looks like, and who has access to it. That the totality of this first year record is not the story being carried in the American press and inside the Beltway is a sign of failure both by the press and those tasked with defending him. President Biden just had the best, and most consequential year of any President since LBJ’s opening 13 months.

With all of that said, there have been failings, miscalculations, and mistakes that deserve criticism. Inflation was inevitable in an economy coming out of a year lockout, with people back at work and flush with cash again, but the White House seemed to be caught flat footed and without a message on the matter. Leaving Afghanistan was inevitably going to be ugly and disappointing, as any withdrawal from a failed state is, but the scenes of chaos from Kabul were dispiriting even for supporters. Russia is sitting at the Ukraine border ready to invade an ally we’ve sworn to defend. The decision to tie Build Back Better to the infrastructure bill nearly sank a very popular bill. Allowing the Build Back Better plan to start out as an impossibly large grab bag of unrelated policies, then to allow Senators Manchin and Sinema to spend months not defining their terms while holding a veto over the bill has made BBB sap the President’s popularity in the same way initially popular, large pieces of legislation damaged Presidents Clinton and Obama going into their first midterm. Allowing Democratic Senators to behave helplessly while blaming the White House on student loan debt forgiveness, when the White House should be directly calling on them by name to write a damn bill, has allowed a false narrative on the issue to set in. And yes, the anonymous “insider” attacks on the Vice-President are a disgrace. Absolutely everything I’ve cited here is a cosmetic mistake, and doesn’t change the reality of his consequential first year in office at all, yet. They don’t change my view of him at all, but I follow this stuff closer than 99% of America. These unforced errors have allowed lazy, stupid narratives to exist.

When someone wearing a “Let’s go Brandon” shirt complains about Biden, my general rule is to dismiss the attacks. Most of them are still dealing with the hurt feelings of their leader suffering the worst defeat of an incumbent in 40 years. Biden’s drop in approval amongst everyone else is concerning. This is a guy who flew above the Democratic brand in 2020, a guy who was viewed differently by the public even a year ago. We knew the brand has problems. We had no reason to think Joe Biden did. On the one hand, he’s been squeezed by those to his left trying to bring him around to their primary policy positions from 2020. This was probably inevitable, as these folks bit the bullet and voted for him, but really thought 2020 was their chance for bigger, progressive changes, and they’re not ready to let the dream die. Biden was also squeezed by the DC professional class and the large “outside” progressive groups in year one, who spent a lot of money to get him elected and now want their policies enacted. Really though, the most alarming drop has been among the less ideological former supporters who gave him his margin in 2020. If nothing about Joe changed, then what did?

Here’s the President’s main problem: he’s boring as ****. Yes, he does have charisma beyond the average Senator, but let’s be honest- he’s not tweeting threats at random Senators and world leaders from his toilet at 1am, he’s not mesmerizing like the Obamas, he’s not a wartime President like Dubya, and he’s neither as cool or as flawed as Bill Clinton. There’s not talk of Russia controlling him. There’s no talk of paying off adult film stars. No playing the saxophone. No first black President. No “strategery” or “human and fish can coexist” talk. No speeches about mushroom clouds. The Biden Presidency is the most boring in 30 years. Just policy pronouncements. His marriage is functional and loving. No hiring his moron kids, no refusal to divest from his companies. Just boring, old government.

I’m going to be honest- I enjoy it, it’s refreshing. Just put an adult in the White House and govern. Sure, Obama and Clinton were fun because they were interesting and competent. After Trump though, please bore me to sleep. Tell me the President is sleeping at 1am. I do get that it’s bad for the media, the lack of ratings and clicks is driving them to cover what press assistant left the VP’s office. They can’t function like this- and for that, I say good.

The problem is, and I’ll be honest again here- I’m not sure this is going to work anymore. Can a boring Presidency work in a nation with a 24/7 news cycle/echo chamber on their television/computer/phone? Polling suggests maybe not. If this ends in anything but a re-election speech, it may be the last time we see it tried.