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Last year, on the occasion of President Joe Biden’s first 100 days, I wrote that he was giving the world a lesson on moving forward. At that point, he had pushed the big, bold American Rescue Plan through Congress, and we all had high hopes for the rest of his agenda.
I also wrote about how he stumbled going up the steps of Air Force One soon after taking office and how he got right back up and bounded to the top. I saw it as a metaphor for how our country had stumbled under four years of President Donald Trump and how we were beginning to rise again.
Biden has stumbled as of late, with an approval rating at in 30-40 percent range — an all-time low. It’s as bad as Trump was at this stage in his presidency. And we all know Biden is infinitely better than his predecessor; however, he’s having a tough time showing it because he isn’t talking about his successes enough.
Now that all the hoopla has passed about assessing his first year in office, it's time to look forward as he heads into the second year of his presidency, Biden is primarily being judged on his response to the pandemic, inflation, empty store shelves, and his inability to get both his Build Back Better and voting rights legislation through Congress. Fair or unfair on some of these issues, whatever happens on a president’s watch ends up being their responsibility.
And Biden's stumbles have occurred mostly because he seems to always be playing catch-up. With the exception of the misstatement during his press conference about Russian aggresssion towards Ukraine, and that could be a ticking time bomb for the president.
First, there should have been ample COVID tests available, instead of reacting slowly to the rise of Omicron. Tests and masks will be in ample supply at the end of this month and the beginning of next, just when experts say Omicron will start to fade. Is it too little too late?
The Afghanistan withdrawal was messy, because again, instead of preparing for troop removal, the Biden administration pulled the rug out from under the Afghan people, and then all hell broke loose. People were caught off guard, resulting in American servicemen as well as Afghans being killed. Was that too little too late?
And when Biden was busy acting like the 101st senator, getting into the weeds of his infrastructure bill that he was hell-bent on passing with bipartisan support, he should have paid more attention to tackling voting rights last summer. That’s when the issue was hot, when state legislatures were busy passing anti-voting laws, and when, in protest, Texas Democratic state legislators bolted to Washington pleading for action. The need for action was imminent then.
When he went to Georgia this month to finally give a speech on voting rights — and a rousing one at that — many civil rights organizations didn’t show up because they thought it was too little too late.
Don’t get me wrong, both the American Recovery Act and the infrastructure bill were huge, but nobody really knew what they contained. During Biden’s press conference on Wednesday — only the second of his presidency — he admitted that he needed to get out on the road and tell the American people why there is now funding for roads, bridges, transportation, schools, and small businesses as well as the availability of high-speed broadband and the potential for lots of jobs.
For the president to turn it around during year number 2 and to up the ante for the midterm elections, he first needs to stop acting like a senator from the 1980s who thinks Republicans and Democrats can work together.
And given how long as Biden has been in government, he needs to be better prepared and be one step ahead of problems on the horizon. Finally, he needs to get out of Washington, go across the country, and talk about what he did deliver, how he combatted COVID, why the Democrats are doers and why the Republicans stand for nothing.
He needs to continue giving tough, authoritative, no-holds-barred speeches as he did at the Capitol on January 6 and in Georgia earlier this month. And he needs to find a way to address all of the anti-voting bills through some measure, executive order, or action from the Justice Department.
The American people wanted someone calm and reassuring in the White House. That’s why 80 million of them voted for Biden. Now people complain that he’s “too old,” “too tired, “doing nothing,” and “out of touch,” according to a focus group cited in a Washington Post story.
By being reactive rather than proactive, the administration does look slow, old, and out of touch, particularly dangerous for the 79-year-old president. The same thing happened to George H.W. Bush in the early 1990s, when he encountered an electronic scanner at a grocers’ convention and marveled at this revolutionary technology. However, the problem for Bush was that those checkout scanners had been in use since 1976. He was a one-term president partly because the perception was that he was out of touch.
As a PR guy, I think the perception that Biden is slow to react is beginning to solidify in the minds of voters, and that he might be a bit lethargic. Until last week, he hadn't held a press conference in almost a year, and he was trying to make a point about his stamina since the presser went on for almost two hours, and he had a few typical Biden slip-ups, most notably about Russia invading Ukraine.
That’s why there’s no doubt his advisers are trying to keep Biden in a bubble. They are afraid of his slippery tongue, and within the White House, many of them most likely feel he’ll come off as slow, old, and out of touch.
And that’s wrong.
Call me sympathetic to the president, but the truth is he’s done a great deal for this country during the last year, and if he means what he says, that he’s going to be a more ubiquitous presence around the country, then more and more people are going to realize how much better off we are than we were two years ago. And that all the Republicans do is obstruct. And only Biden, with his bully pulpit, can deliver messages of action and progress on behalf of the Democrats.
He said it himself during his press conference. He hasn’t been out in the community, and he hasn’t looked people in the eye, mainly because of COVID, but also because he’s been acting like a U.S. senator and not a president. He has been spending too much time in the weeds and not enough time in coffee shops and neighborhoods around the country. That’s where Joe Biden shines. He loves interacting with people, where his smile and empathy are on full display.
However, he is the president, and as the Ukraine situation unfolds, he's on the hot seat. Similarly, with ISIS agression in the Middle East. As the old saying goes, "We plan and God laughs," being president means there's never a day with stability. But Biden has the experience and the know how to pull the country through, and that is priceless.
Biden has lifted this country out of a true mess left by Trump. He’s put us on the road to recovery from COVID and helped steer an economic recovery. He passed two huge bills that will pump money and jobs into the American economy. And he’s brought stability back to the White House and to the government.
President Biden has, without a doubt, given the world a lesson on moving forward. And now all he must do is be better prepared and talk more about his successes.
John Casey is editor at large for The Advocate.