How not to be president

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On Sept. 11, 2021, to mark the 20th anniversary of the attack on our nation, President Joe Biden attended a ceremony in New York City with former Presidents Barack Obama and Bill Clinton. Biden did not speak, but he was the cause of an inadvertently illustrative image. A photographer caught him with his mask down, apparently shouting to get somebody’s attention, while the fellow attendees stood by somberly. Standing next to him, Obama — never one with a good poker face — seems to give him a sideways glance, as if to say, “C’mon, man. You’re the president. Act like it!”

The scene was a perfect snapshot of a challenge Biden is thus far failing: adapting his emotive persona to his new position. Uncle Joe has spent so many years trying to be just one of the guys that it’s unclear whether he can be leader of the pack. The former senator has spent decades in public life chasing the presidency to become the proverbial dog who finally caught the car. And he looks nearly as out of place in the Oval Office as the dog would look sliding into the driver’s seat of his new quarry.

This man has been in national politics since 1973. He has witnessed up close how nine American presidents before him behaved. Some mediocre, some great, most in between. But all in all, a very clear picture of the job description has been available to him, especially as the vice president of a two-termer. How can he not get it? And if he does get it, why can't he act the way he should?

The retort of Biden partisans is the tu quoque non sequitur — what about Trump!? Well, sure. Donald Trump likewise consistently failed to behave as the president should. His Twitter feed was proof of that before it was shut down. But acting presidential was supposed to be the main reason to choose Biden over Trump last year. The “adults” were to be back in charge — the adults being the people who understood how to operate the machinery of government. Instead, the amateurish nature of this presidency has been its most striking feature in both private and public displays.

Back in the spring, the buzz around Biden was that he planned to have an impact that would rival Franklin D. Roosevelt, making the government in his own image. But he has failed at the most straightforward functions of a president.

The Constitution empowers the president to propose legislation to Congress and veto legislation he does not like, which gives him a part in the lawmaking process. But most of his constitutional duties involve the implementation of the law. There are particularly four major executive tasks the Constitution assigns to the president, either explicitly or implicitly: He is to serve as the head of state, to command the armed forces, to serve as the nation’s chief diplomat, and to take care that the laws are faithfully executed. In just the past month alone, Biden has failed miserably in each of these jobs.

In many of his public engagements, his demeanor has been plain bizarre, varying from exhausted in some instances to way too intense in others. He’s like a singer who cannot find the key. If ever there was a moment for Biden to act presidential, it would have been on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Yet Biden botched it completely, giving no public remarks and leaving behind only an embarrassing photograph.

Biden’s failures as commander in chief are best encapsulated by the disaster in Afghanistan. And his responses to this unfolding catastrophe have seen him act in a most unpresidential manner, blaming everybody from the Afghan government to the military and intelligence community, even his predecessor in the Oval Office. Yet the founders invested the president with supreme power over the military because clear lines of accountability are necessary during combat operations. Biden has the final call but acts as though he does not. Perhaps the most sickening lack of leadership was his refusal to take responsibility for the Aug. 29 drone strike on an innocent Afghan family. He slunk away on vacation while his underlings admitted that, yes, it was a botch.

The president is also in charge of maintaining good diplomatic relations with foreign governments, and here Biden has failed with France, the nation’s oldest ally. Angered over the agreement between the United States, Britain, and Australia to provide the latter with nuclear submarines, French President Emmanuel Macron recalled his country's minister to the U.S. No doubt, the United States has an interest in keeping Australia strong in the face of an aggressive China, but surely, this could have been done without aggravating France so profoundly.

The most important domestic job of the president is to take care that laws are faithfully executed. Is he doing that? Look no further than Del Rio, Texas, for the answer. There is a massive humanitarian crisis on the country’s southern border because the president of the United States refuses to enforce the immigration laws. Those laws are in need of change, yes — but that is the job of Congress, not of the president by ignoring them, and certainly not to such disastrous effect.

Or, consider Biden’s efforts to extend the eviction moratorium imposed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The administration knew this would be struck down by the courts, and yet the president went ahead with it anyway merely to, as Biden himself suggested, play for time while the challenge went to the courts. So, what on Earth is the president doing enforcing a mandate that he knows is unconstitutional? And why is he burdening the Supreme Court with the duty of striking it down?

In all of these fiascoes, the 46th president has seemed either disengaged or dishonest. He rarely takes questions, especially when the news cycle turns against him. And when he does, his answers are often not to be believed. He assured the country that the Afghanistan withdrawal would go smoothly. Not so. He told us the goal was to get every American in Afghanistan out of the country. Not so. He told the country that vaccine mandates were not under consideration. Not so. Eight months into his administration, a giant credibility gap has opened up, a massive, yawning difference between what the president says and what is actually happening.

The presidency of the United States is a big job. Arguably, it has become too big. Perhaps the administrative machinery of this government has become too byzantine and burdensome for any one individual to direct it effectively. But the Biden administration is hardly a fair test of this proposition. Biden has failed at the most simple, basic functions of the presidency in the first months of his administration. And each time, he has expressed denial rather than reconsider his approach, suggesting this is a preview of the next three years. This man has been either unwilling or unable to act as a president should, despite being in Washington, D.C., for nearly half a century. Why should we expect him suddenly to start? C’mon, man.

Jay Cost is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a visiting scholar at Grove City College.

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Tags: White House, Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, Congress, Afghanistan, Border Security, China, Emmanuel Macron, Diplomacy, Immigration, Spending

Original Author: Jay Cost

Original Location: How not to be president

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