President Biden is having a bad week, to cap off a bad year. And it may get even worse.
Biden pitched himself to the voters on the basis of his ability to get things done on Capitol Hill. Yet now his signature piece of domestic policy legislation has gone down in flames, with Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia declining to provide a pivotal vote needed for passage.
Biden got elected in part by blaming President Trump for mishandling the COVID-19 pandemic, and telling voters that a Biden administration would do a better job of controlling the virus. But schools, restaurants and theaters are shutting down all over again, case counts are spiking, hospitalizations are soaring and requirements for masking and testing mean that it doesn’t feel like the pandemic is over.
Biden pitched himself to voters as a seasoned foreign policy expert who’d restore America’s international reputation and relations with allies. Yet his foreign policy record has been a disastrous as his coronavirus leadership and his congressional relations. Yes, Biden got America out of Afghanistan, but he did so chaotically. And by conveying a message of weakness in retreat, Biden emboldened America’s adversaries.
What does Biden have to look forward to in 2023? A worst-case scenario might involve a four-front war, in which Russia invades Ukraine, China moves against both Taiwan and Japan’s Senkaku Islands, and Iran tests a nuclear weapon while simultaneously attacking Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia via proxies.
If Russia, China and Iran are the three fronts, what is the fourth front? That would be the U.S. homeland, staggering from persistent coronavirus infections, deep political polarization, urban violent crime, soaring inflation and a flood of would-be immigrants at the Southern border.
If Biden himself is incapacitated by a COVID-19 infection or some other illness, the country would wind up in the unsteady hands of Kamala Harris, a politician in whom the American public has even less confidence than they have in Biden.
The usual remedy for a president in this sort of pinch is a shakeup of either the Cabinet or the White House staff, or both. Fire Rumsfeld or whoever is the Rumsfeld of the current administration — Dr. Anthony Fauci?
Bring in some private-equity type or law-firm-partner or image doctor to turn things around with some combination of management magic and communications genius.
That remedy may not work for Biden, though.
The problems Biden is facing — the pandemic, China, Iran, Russia, crime, Congressional and domestic political divisions — aren’t really management or communications problems. They are substantive, strategic problems that bedeviled Trump, too.
And there are so many of them that the prioritization necessary to make progress on any one of them almost necessarily means that some of the others will be kicked down the road or left to fester until they reach crisis level and require the president’s all-consuming attention.
Ordinarily a failed presidency gets cut short by the electorate, both by turning control of Congress over to the opposing party or by denying the president re-election.
By this time next year, we’ll know the results of the midterms. And we’ll also have a better sense of whether Biden aspires to re-election. If Republicans stick with Trump, it’ll be interesting to see whether the president who was the incumbent in January 2020 can run as a change candidate against the status quo of 2024.
Perhaps by that presidential election year the virus, the Iran nuclear threat and Russian and Chinese aggression will all be in the rearview mirror, and Biden will have renewed his reputation as a legislative dealmaker who can deliver. But it sure hasn’t looked so far as if things are headed in that direction.
So far, the biggest achievement of this administration has been a spending bill that will fund a fancier Amtrak train on which Biden may eventually leave Washington for retirement in Delaware. “Happy Days Are Here Again,” it isn’t.
Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of "JFK, Conservative." Read Ira Stoll's Reports — More Here.
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