What's Tony Thinking

The Biden Sweeps


It sometimes seems as if the current most popular topic for political writing and discussion is assessing how President Joe Biden is doing. Or pronouncing his Presidency already dead.

Countless articles and op-ed’s have dwelt on the fact that his approval ratings are hovering in the 40% range. Others look to the 2022 and 2024 elections predicting another “shellacking” — in the words of President Obama about the 2010 mid-terms.

Many of you are, like me, readers of historian Heather Cox Richardson’s “Letters of an American.” While she is not a neutral observer (there aren’t really any of those) she is fair. I thought her recent assessment of what the Biden administration has accomplished was a good summary — and a far cry from the doomsayers.

Here is just one telling except from her November 27 piece:

“Under Biden, the U.S. has recovered economically from the pandemic faster than other nations that did not invest as heavily in stimulus. In March 2021, the Democrats passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan stimulus package to rebuild the economy, and it has worked spectacularly. Real gross domestic product growth this quarter is expected to be 5%, and the stock market has hit new highs, as did Black Friday sales yesterday. Two thirds of Americans are content with their household’s financial situation . . .

“With more than 5.5 million new jobs created in ten months, unemployment claims are the lowest they have been since 1969, prompting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-CA) office to tweet, ‘Armstrong Walks the Moon!… Wait, sorry! That’s a headline from the last year unemployment claims were this low.’ Workers’ pay has jumped as much as 13% in certain industries, and there are openings across the labor market.”

Another piece that I thought provided helpful perspective was Jamelle Bouie’s NYT column, “The Ronald Reagan Guide to Joe Biden’s Political Future,” Bouie compares where Ronald Reagan was at this point in his presidency with where Biden is in his. There are many similarities, including a low approval rating.

Bouie drew on a column from 1981 by Hedrick Smith to compare the two. Here’s Bouie:

“The more you read of Smith’s description of Reagan’s first year in office, the more familiar it sounds: ‘It is as if there were a rhythm to the political process that not only insures exaggerated tolerance in the honeymoon period but also dictates a political downswing as each new president bogs down toward the end of his first year in the frustrating unpredictability of the economy, the self-inflicted wounds from internal rivalries and failings, the troubling actions of foreign powers and the election-year nervousness and independence of Congress.’”

I would add a couple of comments to these contributions to the Biden sweeps.

For the most part Biden has followed his early pattern of steering clear of culture war hot button issues, while focusing on policy and legislation. Another way to put that is that this President has not gone for the outrage jugular, which is guaranteed to get lots of attention, headlines and sound-bites. He has focused on policy matters, which is pretty much guaranteed to have the opposite result. Outrage rules. Policy is boring. But that says more about the lamentable state of the American public than it does about Biden’s presidency.

The eminent social and political scientist Max Weber once observed, “Politics is the slow boring of hard boards.” Which I take to mean it is difficult, slow, tedious and requires a lot of perseverance. Weber was right. But we don’t have a lot of patience for that.

I also have the feeling that as a body politic we’re become addicted to anger. It seems very easy for us to go ballistic, to be pissed off, to enumerate our grievances. Being reasonable, balanced, fair or just looking at things from a positive perspective seems beyond our current capacities. These are not our go-to. Anger, grimness, grievance is.

Both of these — policy and governance . . . BORING! And addiction to anger — are abetted by the 24 hour news cycle, siloed tribes, and social media dis-information. When you factor all that in, Joe Biden might be considered to be doing remarkably well. At least, the guy keeps showing up for work every day with energy and a smile. No small feat in my book.

So I’m thinking we might take a holiday break from the Presidential popularity sweepstakes, polls, and predictions. Cut the guy — and ourselves — some slack.


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