1 July 2021
An Early Sunset?
Bye, Bye, Biden?
By J.R. Thomas
Only six weeks ago we speculated here that Joe Biden might be seen as an historically noted president, perhaps one who brought down racial barriers in the USA, reduced income and wealth inequalities, and set his country on a new path of fraternity and equality (not so much liberty perhaps). Or his might be seen as a disastrous presidency, bringing economic collapse, record federal government debt, hostility between races and classes, and damaging the American dream by his overindulgence of the Democrat Party left wing. But, we thought, whichever it is, Joe is setting himself out to be a memorable president, a leader who represented a turning point, whose policies and ideas might be studied by historians centuries hence.
Already, though, we are shuffling our feet and clearing our throats and vigorously polishing our spectacles, and having to admit we might be wrong. Indeed, that President Biden will be overshadowed by his controversial predecessor and be recorded as a blip between… Well, between what? That we cannot answer; perhaps between two Trump administrations; or just the overture to President Harris’s term as America’s first female President; or even as the coda to Trumpism, as American politics returned to a milder and more harmonious format. The latter might be a best guess; the USA has had periods of upheaval before, between long periods of calm acceptance of the status quo of existing systems. The last serious turmoil was perhaps the period from 1901 to 1921, encompassing the two term administration of Teddy Roosevelt, 1901 – 1909, a leftish and disruptive populist, and Woodrow Wilson, 1913 – 1921, who built on Roosevelt’s centralising of federal power and the Presidency.
But, you will be asking, why this sudden change of view? Mr Biden, once inaugurated in January, certainly set off to make his mark, with a flurry of activity that nobody expected, and a range of radical leftish initiatives and policy proposals that were unexpected, even within his own party. Huge spending programmes were proposed, though not the means to secure the wherewithal to fund them; constitutional changes were proposed to improve participation in the democratic system (and make the Congressional voting system less focussed on the status quo), both to the benefit of the Democrats; the border controls with Mexico were to be amended and relaxed; and the Trump foreign policy of withdrawal reversed, along with a policy of pushing woke policies through overseas embassies (cultural imperialism, you say? No comment.) In spite of Joe’s new dislike of press conferences and media meetings generally, he seemed invigorated, cheerful, and vigorous.
This frenzy of radicalism seemed to catch his opponents off balance. Even his predecessor president, holed up in Mar-del-Lago, was quiet as his GOP acolytes silently and not so silently infiltrated the centres of anti-Trump feeling in the Republican Party to ensure that the Donald’s grip on the Party was secured. The radical groups in the Democrat Party also had little to say, maybe through astonishment, or not believing their luck in having such an unexpectedly ally as their President.
The only fly in this left-leaning ointment was Vice President Kamala Harris, also seemingly reluctant to communicate with the great American public and then unexpectedly handed by her boss a smoking grenade, that of sorting out border controls and a better system to admit immigrants in the south west. If Joe had been a young man seeking to neutralise a potential rival for the nomination at the next election he could not have done it better. Kamala was clearly reluctant, and strangely badly informed on the subject; she has indeed, after nearly five months, just paid her first (brief) visit to a crossing point. And that seems to have been after Washington jokes about her inability to locate the border in her atlas were becoming embarrassing.
But now Joe’s initial fire seems to be burning out. His massive spending plans have struggled to pass through Congress, opposed by more conservative Democrats in the House and the Senate alike. Last week the President agreed a mere US$1.2 trillion infrastructure spending plan (mere! But a modest percentage of what he wanted) with the GOP leadership to get it through Congress, with his environmental protection and social programmes shunted aside at least for the time being. The President said this was bipartisan politics in a time of crisis, but to the left of his own party it looked like defeat, and to the GOP like a victory. Inflation is rising and the next test will be how Chief Secretary to the Treasure Janet Yellen deals with that juggernaut approaching down the freeway – or whether the present post-Covid boom will turn into a super-tech company led bust as consumers go back to more traditional ways of spending money. The immigration problem has not gone away even if Veep Harris has found where the problems begin; voters are not likely to be receptive to enhanced immigrant support programmes whilst poor citizens in the most affected states are struggling to get back on their feet after the chaos of lockdown.
Maybe Joe has been studying his old strategy books. Last week’s airstrikes on Iraqi based terrorist camps may have been a well informed attempt to hit some bad guys – or were they just a diversion to growing problems at home? Americans were not happy about the last time they found themselves dragged into Iraqi issues and whilst nobody thinks Joe will put boots on the sand, the Trump policy of gradually fading out of foreign adventures is one of his better remembered legacies.
At least the President’s foray to St Ives, England, for the G7 was a triumph for his standing on the world stage, with praise from Boris Johnson for a fellow big spender. Wasn’t it? Well, yes and no. Praise from Boris is one thing, but the Democrats on the left side of the room wonder if Joe overlooked that Boris is a Conservative and furthermore was equally keen to pump President Trump’s delicate hands. But the real problem has been that the self-restraint of the US media seems to have begun to crumble, perhaps under too much exposure to Cornish sun, or maybe and more likely, too much exposure to Britain’s disrespectful journalists. Numerous funny stories as to the President’s various misspeaks and forgetfulness, to say nothing of the amount of time he is out of public sight, have flourished like Cornish rhododendrons since the summit, adding to those already been whispered around Washington. Now a group of Republican Congressmen led by Mr Trump’s former White House doctor say Biden is seemingly increasingly mentally unfit and want him to take a cognitive reasoning test. (You might think this is a bit rich coming from Trump’s doctor, of course). The President will not be doing any tests, but once this sort of chat gets in the public arena, and especially when the media start to report it, the public are going to get interested. Mr Biden has had a remarkably easy ride from the press so far, but editors and reporters resent his arms-length handling of them, and in any case the press always needs new stories to keep sales up.
And down in Florida a cheerfully fit and bronzed ex-President is looking increasingly active and lining up a series of speaking engagements. The Trump sun is rising again; but is the Biden one sinking?