Discover more from Steady
Don't Look Now, But...
(Biden is having a pretty effective presidency)
Am I getting this right? The same Republicans who spent years castigating President Biden as barely mentally competent now are complaining that he ate Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s lunch in this week’s debt ceiling negotiations? Might one even go so far as to say that “Dark Brandon” understands the “art of the deal” a lot more than the man who preceded him?
Of course Democrats found much to dislike in the compromise bill despite voting aye on it to overcome Republican intransigence and avoid a default on the national debt. It will cut funding for some substantial progressive programs and it certainly is a world away from the budget Democrats would pass if they still held the House majority.
There are also those who argue that Biden, on principle, never should have negotiated in the first place. Instead, the thinking goes, he should have used dramatic unilateral actions like the 14th Amendment to declare the debt ceiling unconstitutional.
But once the Democrats lost the House in the 2022 midterms, some sort of showdown was inevitable. And now Biden has used the brinkmanship to outmaneuver his adversaries and largely clear the next two years of his presidency of budgetary and debt fights. He’s come out stronger and the Republican caucus is turning on itself. That’s a win for him, both substantively and politically — a pretty big win at that.
Meanwhile, one can hope that if (and when) Democrats resume control of Congress and the presidency, changing the current debt limit foolishness will be a top priority (along with things such as the filibuster).
But let’s try to step back from this particular moment and see a broader picture. We are now almost two and a half years into the Biden administration and the conventional wisdom is that he is a weakened president. He is portrayed as old, tired, uninspirational, and only moderately effective. Many speculate that he still might be favored to beat Trump or DeSantis, but that’s mainly because, as the guessing goes, people will vote against them rather than for him.
According to poll numbers, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of enthusiasm for Biden even among Democrats, let alone Republicans or independents. But one wonders what exactly is going on. Inflation is decreasing while the job market remains hot. At the same time Biden has achieved a remarkable number of legislative wins during the course of his term in office. And many of those are monumental accomplishments. For example, his climate measures are outperforming even the most optimistic predictions notwithstanding the concessions on a major pipeline. Oh, and he has also strengthened NATO and stood by Ukraine in the war against Russia.
One thing you learn covering Washington is that the place is incredibly insular and tends to tally success by who dominates each daily, or even the nanosecond, news cycle. But that is not how administrations are judged by history. Daily ephemera are quickly forgotten. Even weeks-long dramas over horse trading and sausage making fade soon after the votes are taken.
Presidents tend to be measured by the sweep of their accomplishments. And by that metric, the early verdict sure looks like Biden is in the midst of a very substantial, if not, indeed, consequential presidency. It’s only more notable when you consider the margins he has had to contend with in Congress.
For all the talk of Democrats being in disarray, it is the Republicans who are now in revolt. When it comes to measuring results — including in the 2022 midterms — MAGA nihilism has repeatedly crashed against the rocky shoals of Biden’s pragmatism.
A lot can still go wrong before the next election. The duration between now and November 2024 represents several eternities in politics. If Biden were to lose, his entire legacy would be rewritten. But as of right now, he has shown an ability to regularly play the hands he’s dealt with cunning and skill.
Don’t take his word for it. Just listen to how much the Republicans are complaining.