I was perplexed by what I called the Cult of the Presidency long before it became my job to write about it. For many people, the President of the United States is held personally responsible for things he can’t do anything about, from the price of Cocoa Puffs to mutating viruses. And too rarely recognized for the things he did well.
Given the onset of climate change, it won’t be long before we blame the White House for the weather.
But hey, it comes with the territory. A person would have to be downright ambitious to want the job.
That said, I’ve always felt warm towards Joe Biden, if only for his resemblance to my late father, another Irishman with a big smile and a penchant for the word “malarkey.” He also favored the phrase “donkey dust”, essentially “nonsense”.
Something else that comes with the presidency is the attention of Washington’s esteemed press clique. To find a group more prone to insider gossip and groupthink, one would have to be taken back to a high school canteen.
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For historical context, Eric Boehlert gives the following example of the conventional wisdom of the press clique on his Press Run website: “A year into his presidency, President [Blank] faces a polarized nation and bitter public assessments of its efforts to change Washington, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.”
The year was 2010; the president, Barack Obama. Experts predicted that Ebola would ravage the nation and Obamacare would enter a deadly demographic spiral. Neither happened. So it’s best to keep things in perspective when CNN asks, “Is Biden’s presidency doomed?”
That said, COVID continues to ravage the nation, affecting every aspect of American life, from education to inflation — not thanks to Republicans converting the red state into a pro-virus death cult. Hospitals are overwhelmed with the sick and dying, and what are they upset about? Face masks and Dr Fauci.
Moreover, congressional Democrats and the White House wasted months arguing that a 51-50 advantage in the Senate would allow passage of Build Back Better — sweeping legislation that few voters understood.
Everywhere else, Vladimir Putin seems determined to occupy Ukraine, driving a wedge between the United States and our NATO allies.
Of the crises above, only the time and political capital wasted pursuing “progressive” daydreams can be put at Biden’s feet. Not only was Sen. Joe Manchin, DW.Va., never going to give Bernie Sanders supporters what they wanted, his constituents didn’t. West Virginia voted for Donald Trump over Joe Biden 69% to 30% – more than 2 to 1.
“You don’t have to be a genius to succeed in politics,” the late Robert F. Kennedy told a friend of mine. “But you have to know how to count.”
Biden wouldn’t be the first president to overestimate his personal charm and persuasive abilities. It’s known to happen.
However, the extraordinary success of his economic policy has been omitted from many negative assessments of Biden’s first year. Thanks in large part to the fiscal stimulus package he signed into law last March, unemployment has fallen to 3.9%, almost where it was before COVID.
Since Biden’s inauguration, the US economy has generated more than 6 million new jobs – an extraordinary achievement. Workers’ wages have also increased. For all the whining and gnashing of teeth about high gas prices and 7% inflation — both out of the president’s control and likely to be brought under control after the COVID pullback — the economic record of the chair could hardly be stronger.
That said, yes. Biden’s poll numbers dropped dramatically from August 2021, in an apparent reaction to the chaotic pullout from Afghanistan. (Not that anyone wants to go back.) But that doesn’t make him an outlier, notes Tim Noah in The New Republic: “It’s also happened to Trump, Obama, Clinton, Reagan and Carter.”
In short, the post-honeymoon phase of the presidency tends to be rough on everyone. Noah also notes that Washington media gossip has little bearing on a president’s political success: “Time delivered Clinton’s famous statement ‘The Incredible Shrinking President’ on a June 1993 cover. “
Three years later, Clinton won re-election easily despite the press clique’s obsession with the imaginary “Whitewater” scandal.
George W. Bush was saved from plummeting polls in his first year by rising patriotism following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, only to plunge to historic lows after his disastrous invasion of Iraq. In case you forgot, the Washington media led the cheers, dressed in fatigues, and followed the troops into battle.
Chances are Joe Biden has yet to encounter what will determine his administration’s place in history. But it is clear that the poll numbers will not define him. These fall under what my father would have called “donkey dust”.
Arkansas Times columnist Gene Lyons is a National Magazine Award winner and co-author of “The Hunting of the President” (St. Martin’s Press, 2000). You can email Lyon at [email protected]