President Joe Biden speaks at a Mack Trucks assembly plant in Lower Macungie Twp., Pa., on Wednesday, 7/28/21 (Screen Capture)
Of course I like Joe Biden. I am a 69-year old liberal white male.
Nevertheless, I do like him and I think he is doing a good job in the face of the serious problems America is facing. The difficulty of the task, and not his age or mental state, is the reason his administration is battling to keep ahead of events.
Clearly, Biden has had a bad couple of months, which has led not only to sagging poll numbers but a raft of columns on the subject, “Can Biden Be Saved?” But when you look closely at what has actually happened, you see sensible policies carried out under trying conditions.
Take the three most obvious examples—the panicked withdrawal from Afghanistan, the grotesque images of Haitian refugees being rounded up by men on horseback, and the submarine sale to Australia that enraged France.
All three illustrate just how much Biden is in control. They show his character traits. He decides and then carries through whatever the cost.
Some call that stubbornness, but it distinguishes Biden from merely tough-talkers, such as former President Donald Trump. and oscillators, such as his predecessor, former President Barack Obama.
The withdrawal from Afghanistan had to happen. It is what the American people wanted. Trump did the right thing in signing an agreement with the Taliban in which they promised not to shoot at departing forces and not to allow Afghanistan to become a haven for terrorists in the future. Biden was right to carry out the agreement, which has been honored thus far by the Taliban.
The collapse of the Afghan government and armed forces in just a few days manifested the 20 years of failure in American policy. It was far too late for Biden to do much about it. That long-term failure, not the withdrawal, is why women in Afghanistan today have no rights.
The border crisis could have undone the administration had Biden not engaged in a dramatic non-lethal show of force. The vast majority of refugees plainly did not qualify to enter the United States under current law. Critics who complain about Biden’s actions have yet to explain what alternative there would be to an open border if persons not entitled to enter the country were allowed to do so.
It’s true that you don’t have to do that with men on horseback. That is why Trump wanted to build a wall.
I hope that does not sound like criticism of the refugees. All they wanted was a chance for a better life. America had an open border policy when my grandparents arrived. I don’t oppose that. But there is not a single major American voting bloc that supports that position.
Finally, the submarine sale accomplished the pivot to Asia that Obama talked about, but could not pull off, and that Trump pursued inconsistently. China, and the rest of Asia, now have no doubt that we mean business. And it did not require a military confrontation with China to send the message.
These three events also demonstrate that Biden has brought what he promised—a return to ordinary politics. Obviously, these policies had flaws that critics pointed out. Biden did not inflame the situation by plaintive attacks on them. His administration accepted the criticism with some grace and did not descend into leaks and internal back-biting. They closed ranks.
The absence of public division in the administration reminds us that Biden’s job is to make the basic decisions and ensure that they are carried out. This is a well-run administration compared to our recent history.
There are policies I wish Biden would pursue that would further his goals. Biden ran for office pledging to rejoin the Iranian Agreement. In the past, he supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership, now renamed, that would be an effective counter to Chinese influence.
But I assume that negotiations on these fronts are ongoing. Iran is certainly acting like that is the case—putting pressure on the U.S. to rejoin the agreement and not taking aggressive military action in the face of several provocations. Maybe the administration simply has a lot on its plate right now and will get to these things.
Biden has taken other effective steps. A bipartisan spending bill was passed. His limited vaccine mandate was a measured and effective action that probably did not require Congressional approval—those legal challenges will come. And he is leading the Democratic majority in Congress to compromises on several fronts.
The Democrats in Congress—all of them—also deserve credit.
Unlike the Republicans who, when they had the majority, could only pass an irresponsible tax cut, the Democratic majority is actually trying to govern.
I wish the Democrats would be more aggressive — eliminating the filibuster and protecting voting rights, so that governing could occur as the framers of the Constitution envisioned. It was discouraging that every single Republican resisted voting to raise the debt limit until the last minute.
But it just shows that we now have a quasi-parliamentary system in which Republicans treat Democrats as the majority that must govern without assistance. Democrats should accept that reality and make policy as a majority.
However, that is difficult. The very narrow Democratic majority contains a variety of groups and opinions that are in good-faith conflict with no numerical margin for error. Everyone involved, the moderates and progressives, and certainly the leadership, are pursuing what they feel is best for the country. The process is reminiscent of how Obamacare was painfully put together, but on a vaster scale. At the end of the day, the government will not shut down and at least a few items will pass.
Biden will deserve some credit for that too.
Consider what America is facing today. Because of the recalcitrance of an unvaccinated minority, the pandemic is not over. Because of that, and because of supply chain disruptions, economic recovery is hampered and inflation continues to surge. The murder rate is increasing as social tensions, displacements and distancing disrupt ordinary social life.
On top of all that, the anger, frustration and divisions among Americans that were present in 2019, before the pandemic, have only gotten worse.
There are no easy answers to these problems. Nor is any president who honestly tries to address them going run up great polling numbers. We are lucky in this situation to be led by an ordinary man who knows he is ordinary—a president whose administration and party are doing their very best.
Opinion contributor Bruce Ledewitz teaches constitutional law at Duquesne University Law School in Pittsburgh. His work appears biweekly on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Listen to his podcast, “Bends Toward Justice” here. His latest book, “The Universe Is On Our Side: Restoring Faith in American Public Life,” will be published in October. His opinions do not represent the position of Duquesne University Law School.
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