American presidents, from time to time, face difficult first years. None more so than President Abraham Lincoln when he was greeted by the secession of southern states. In the modern television era, in his first year, President John Kennedy endured the Bay of Pigs debacle and then, Nikita Khrushchev's browbeating of JFK at their Vienna summit, which Kennedy termed "worst thing in my life. He savaged me."
So how does Biden's first year compare and what criteria should be used to determine the success of the first year of the president?
Should it be based on popularity ratings? The state of the economy? Foreign policy achievements? Legislative accomplishments? Law and order? Handling a crisis? Domestic unity?
It is likely all of those things should be considered as well as other considerations. Regardless of the criteria, however, by any fair measure, the first year of the Biden presidency is likely the worst first year in modern presidential history.
1. The Economy. The economy Joe Biden inherited was not the best in history. After all, it was still suffering the dislocations of our government's response to COVID. Nevertheless, it was inflation free by historical standards and the economic growth rate was improving from its COVID low.
The inflation rate was approximately 2% for the four years prior to Biden. Now it is at a 40 year high of nearly 7%. According to some analyses, however, it would be nearly as high as inflation during the Jimmy Carter years if government didn't change how it measured inflation. Further, the recent drop in growth has many saying we have hit stagflation.
While the Biden administration is not at fault for all of the inflationary rise, his policies of enormous spending, higher regulations and renewed war on energy play a major role in not only the rise in inflation but our drop in economic growth. Further, there is no expectation that Biden will moderate his policies to combat inflation.
Keep in mind that inflation is likely the worst of economic ills. If it gets out of control, it can take years of pain to get back under control. That is what happened during the Carter years and the early Ronald Reagan years.
Carter's inflation problems were caused by his spending policies and the Federal Reserve monetary policy — but inflation hit in his second and third years, not so much in his first. As for Biden, no president in modern times has ended his first year with the combination Biden did this year with much of it his own doing.
2. Foreign Policy. Most presidents are tested in the first year of their presidency by foreign leaders determined to assess the mettle of the new president. Harry Truman faced Russian provocation. In 1961, John Kennedy's Bay of Pigs his first year and Soviet leader Khrushchev's bullying at the Vienna summit certainly marked a bad first year for Kennedy.
While some will say the world lost confidence in Donald Trump his first year, nothing Trump did or didn't do compares with the fallout Biden and the U.S. has endured because of the horrific pullout of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. It has shaken world confidence in U.S. leadership.
Further, as the year closes, Russia is acting in a way never seen during the Trump administration. Russia appears to be preparing for war with Ukraine, which is a replay of sorts of Russia's taking of Crimea when Biden was a vice president. Meanwhile, China looms large and Biden is without a significant accomplishment. Overall, Biden had a bad first foreign policy year and serious geopolitical danger lies ahead in 2022.
3. Legislative Accomplishments. Biden's first year, during his first 100 Days, was focused on reversing Trump policies through a flurry of executive actions that did, in fact, reverse Trump policies. His largest legislative victory came with the signing of a $1 trillion infrastructure bill.
But that didn't happen until November and it was immediately followed by a high profile legislative defeat that left questions about his ability to control his party. Still, overall, Biden got a fair amount from a policy point of view — part of which is why we are having the economic trouble we are having.
As for other presidents, certainly, President Gerald Ford had a less effective legislative first year. Of course, Ford became president under the most difficult of circumstances, i.e., being appointed to becoming vice president and then the Nixon resignation that left the country scarred.
Thus, Biden did not have the worst legislative year of any modern president but he did not have the best either.
4. Law and Order. There can be little doubt that among the biggest issues of the day is the lack of law and order across America today and along our border. Polling gives Republicans a huge advantage on the border issue and sends a warning to Biden on law and order overall.
Biden has only 38% approval rating for his handling of immigration, according to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, and, according to a Wall Street Journal poll, Republicans have a 52% to 16% advantage over Democrats on which party is better to handle the border issue.
Further, "the percentage of Americans who say crime in the United States is 'extremely serious' has reached its highest point in two decades," according to a 2021 Washington Post/ABC poll and "only a little more than 1 in 3 Americans (36%) approve of Biden's handling of crime, down from 43% in an ABC News/Ipsos poll in late October."
As 2021 comes to an end, our national media is filled with images of smash and grab crimes. Altogether, it is hard to conclude that Biden has had a good year on the law and order issue.
5. Handling of a Crisis. Certainly, the Biden administration has stated to all Americans that the United States remains in a COVID crisis. So how has Biden done?
Well, when he ran for president, Biden tweeted the following: "We're eight months into this pandemic, and Donald Trump still doesn't have a plan to get this virus under control. I do."
As 2021 ended, Biden admitted a form of defeat.
A December poll by ABC/Ipsos showed Biden's approval rating on COVID had tumbled 19% to just 41%.
Along with the Afghan pullout, which became a crisis, Biden's responses to them also contributed to Biden's historically bad first year.
6. Domestic Unity. As the New York Post accurately reported: "Unifying the country was a major campaign pledge for Biden during the 2020 presidential election and was the dominant theme of his Inaugural Address."
The problem for Biden, however, is that, as the New York Post also reported, "Fifty-four percent of the respondents think the country is less united, while only 37 percent say it is more united, a Fox News poll found."
Obviously, as the author of "The Divided Era," I am keenly aware of this issue. Our country has been becoming more divided since the mid-1990s — the start of The Divided Era.
One of the key reasons our divisions are rising is in reaction to ever more intrusive government mandates. Indeed, the more government decides, the more it divides Americans between those who see government as an effective tool for change and those whose object to government overreach and who want to preserve their liberties.
Barack Obama's first year was divisive as well as his administration and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., derided those who opposed their agenda of Obamacare and other spending.
It is also true that the first year of the Trump presidency was, by all accounts, divisive. Trump, however, can point to his miserable treatment by the media and an investigation built on lies.
Biden, by contrast, has benefited from a supportive media and has had no such investigation. To the contrary, Trump is still under investigation.
All of which brings us to ...
7. Popularity polls.
Despite his supporters in the media, Biden polling is among the worst of any first year president in history. According to Rasmussen, Biden's approval rating was 40% on Dec. 27. That is 5% lower than Trump had on the same date.
Rasmussen wasn't alone. Trafalgar also had him at 40% in December, Politico/Morning Consult had him at 43%, the Economist/YouGov had him at 42% and The Wall Street Journal had him at 41%.
Perhaps worst of all, for months the country has doubted Biden on honesty and leadership. Below is data from an October Quinnipiac poll:
When it comes to Biden's personal traits, Americans were asked whether or not Biden ...
- cares about average Americans: 49 percent say yes, while 48 percent say no, compared to 58-37 percent yes in April;
- is honest: 44 percent say yes, while 50 percent say no, compared to 51-42 percent yes in April;
- has good leadership skills: 41 percent say yes, while 56 percent say no, compared to 52-44 percent yes in April.
The majority in a December Wall Street Journal poll answered consistent with that October Quinnipiac Poll. Biden has all of those bad polls despite a favorable press.
Overall, it is hard but to conclude that Biden is in trouble on all the major issues of the day at the end of his first year in office. No president in the modern era has found himself troubled to this degree and most of it is his own doing.
The question for 2022 is whether Biden can reverse his fate. The public, obviously, doesn't think he can.
Tom Del Beccaro is an acclaimed author, speaker and national columnist as well as a radio and television commentator. Tom is the Chairman of carevival.com. Read Tom Del Beccaro's Reports — More Here.
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