It’s been almost 90 years since humorist Will Rogers uttered his famous lament: “I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.” Sadly, for that party and, no doubt, quite amusingly for those otherwise affiliated, the observation would still hold were Rogers alive today.
The Democratic Party’s “big tent” may be smaller today than it was even a half-century ago when it made room for civil rights and anti-war activists, big city union hardhats, and southern segregationists, but make no mistake, 21st century party leaders must still attempt to herd an extremely unwieldy assemblage of cats.
And seldom has this difficult reality been on sharper display than during the first nine and-a-half months of the Biden presidency – a time in which the nation’s new leader has sought to respond to a long and hugely daunting list of unprecedented global and national crises, all while his party has clung to congressional majorities that have constantly wobbled between razor thin and nonexistent.
Remind yourself for a moment of the scale and scope of the challenges Biden faced when he took office in January and the limited and inadequate collection of tools that were at his disposal to tackle them.
Forty-one weeks ago, our nation had just survived a violent attempted coup d’état and the outgoing president who had spurred it on by refusing to acknowledge the fact of his defeat was about to be impeached for a second time. Meanwhile, daily deaths from a global pandemic were peaking at their highest levels, the national economy remained a mess, and a dire, worsening, and largely unaddressed environmental emergency continued to place the planet in an ever-tightening grip.
Only Abraham Lincoln and possibly Franklin Roosevelt entered their presidencies under more difficult circumstances.
What’s more, unlike Lincoln and Roosevelt who took office at a time in which their parties enjoyed large congressional majorities, Biden entered the oval office with no such advantage. Indeed, it was only thanks to two near-miraculous come-from-behind wins in a pair of January Georgia Senate runoffs that Democrats wield any authority at all on Capitol Hill.
Now add to all this the fact that the impossibly narrow Democratic Senate “majority” (51-50 thanks to the presence of Vice President Harris) includes determined ideological conservatives like West Virginia’s Manchin and Arizona’s Sinema, and that the antiquated Senate filibuster rule that requires 60 votes to pass almost anything meaningful, and it’s a marvel that the nation has not descended into complete political gridlock and chaos.
In comparison to Biden, the Apollo 13 astronauts were well-equipped when they jerry-rigged their spacecraft, quite literally on the fly, a half century ago.
Amazingly, however, no national crash has ensued.
Instead, under the President’s coherent, sober, and science-based leadership, the nation has aggressively locked horns with the pandemic by undertaking one of the largest and most successful mass vaccination campaigns in human history – a campaign that, despite persistent sabotage efforts from some on the political right, has saved millions of lives.
Meanwhile, thanks in large measure to Biden’s aggressive and on-the-mark stimulus policies, the economy has revived at a record pace and huge strides have been made in slashing poverty – especially child poverty.
And then there is the climate emergency, where, thanks to the President’s vision and simple common sense, the U.S. has rapidly transformed its role from that of science and reality-denying roadblock to a global leader. There are still miles to travel in this realm, but the massive infrastructure legislation finally approved this past weekend by small bipartisan majorities in both house of Congress further cements this vitally important policy 180.
Now add to all this the literally thousands of talented and diverse appointees Biden has named to the judiciary, the ambassadorial corps, and the leadership of numerous regulatory agencies – most of whom have already effected huge and positive federal policy shifts in everything from student loans to toxic chemicals to human rights – and the magnitude of his administration’s accomplishments in less than 300 days looms even larger.
Has the Biden presidency been perfect? Of course not. Like all of his predecessors, Biden has made his share of mistakes. Like Barack Obama, he’s likely wasted too much time in search of imaginary common ground with ideological conservatives determined to undermine him at every turn. While necessary, the Afghanistan withdrawal could have proceeded more smoothly. And as with many other presidents, one also yearns at times for a leader with the kind of rhetorical gifts that would enable him to easily skewer and deflate his adversaries and inspire widespread support for the kind of wholesale progressive changes the nation needs.
But, in the end, this is quibbling. In light of the huge political challenges under which he’s been forced to operate (and especially in comparison to the lawless corruption and intellectual vacuity of his predecessor that inspired night terrors in millions – maybe even billions – of humans), Joe Biden has achieved a remarkable record of accomplishment. Whatever the future holds, our nation will be forever in his debt.