We’ve had great presidents and we’ve had bad presidents and at the moment we’re stuck with one who will, at most, be lousy.
My hopes aren’t even that high to be honest.
I recently had a column outlining why Joe Biden is acting a fool thus far as president. I failed to mention that he’s only the latest in a line of fairly mediocre presidents going back almost 30 years now. In the midst of an ongoing pandemic, a practically nonexistent border, strife with Communist China and civility at an all-time low, mediocre is the last thing our country needs.
America goes through cycles of presidential greatness. There are periods of the truly great like Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln. There’s downright horrible cycles like LBJ and Jimmy Carter. And then there’s presidents who are just, as the kids would say, meh.
Our current funk began, by my estimate, during the George H. W. Bush years and has continued on a downward trend ever since. We’ve moved away from hallmarks like Washington, Lincoln, the Roosevelts, and Ronald Reagan into something akin to the days of the Gilded Age or the malaise of Carter.
Like many presidents before him, Biden has come into office at a time when numerous crises afflict the nation.
We’re embroiled in seemingly endless wars against nebulous foes, we’ve watched our infrastructure erode while our debt skyrockets and our bureaucracy has swollen like a nasty boil while party leaders and grassroots activists have become hopelessly entrenched along their battle lines.
Even this early though, I doubt Biden will even try to solve these problems. That’s not, in my opinion, why he was elected, but more on that shortly.
As a presidential historian, I’ve studied the factors that often shape presidents during their respective tenures. Circumstances often force presidents to become great, or else they are elected on the basis they will meet a particular challenge.
Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and the other early presidents had a nascent country to deal with. Snoozing on the job was not an option for a nation that was beginning to flex its expansionary muscles. Likewise, Lincoln had to behave as a decisive leader should in a time of war, otherwise things would have gone very differently with the Confederacy. Franklin Roosevelt, despite being controversial among conservatives, deserves a measure of praise for his handling of the Great Depression and World War II.
Some presidents though, serve in ages of peace and stability but are wholly unremarkable. Think again of the Gilded Age, a time of unprecedented economic development but with presidents who, quite frankly, did little beyond occupying the White House.
Taking these variables into consideration, let’s look at Biden.
We aren’t living in a state of war per se, not like Lincoln or FDR at any rate, but we do live in a time when overseas our troops languish in places like Afghanistan. Russia, China, and Iran attack our interests through proxy conflicts. At home, the partisan divide is worse than it has been in decades, with conservatives and liberals failing to agree on literally anything. And while the people squabble, Big Tech and corporations like Amazon rule unopposed not unlike the tycoons of the late 19th Century.
Biden’s pitch in 2020 was that he would be a healer who would return stability to the national discourse while working to solve these problems. And it worked.
Biden can’t fix every issue in four years. He probably could solve or at least mitigate one or two of them, but he won’t. Biden was not elected to be a great president; in fact, he is meant to be mediocre by design. Why? Quite simply, for two reasons.
First, Biden truly is a figurehead as presidents go. From the start, it was clear he was the best option in a pool of horrible candidates in 2019, the only one with even a modicum of hope to take down Trump. Sure he had a campaign platform, but no one on the Left was seriously worried about actually implementing his policies. Everyone aside from zealous Bernie Sanders supporters knew Biden was their best chance of toppling Trump. Whether or not Biden is good at his job is of no consequence. The fact that Biden is a useful idiot to pass the most progressive agenda in my lifetime is a nice little bonus.
The second reason Biden is destined for mediocrity leads directly from the first, i.e. Biden is only in office as a placeholder. Now that he’s done his job of beating Donald Trump, all he has to do is occupy the throne for four years until Democrats have the chance to put an heir apparent (presumably Kamala Harris) in his place. No one seriously thinks Biden will run for a second term. The poor guy is clearly exhausted from the 2020 campaign and the daily rigors of the presidency. No, Biden is only there to pave the way for Harris or another younger Democrat and sign as many progressive bills into law as can be handed to him before 2024 rolls around.
In plain American English, Biden was not elected to solve our country’s issues.
Clinton, Bush, Obama, and Trump all had compelling platforms and, to their credit, came into office with purpose. The country hasn’t greatly improved, but at least those four could say they came into office with a plan to govern. Biden has no such plan.
He was elected by voters weary of Trump, not realizing they were only casting their vote for the prologue of the Kamala Harris 2024 campaign. Now, an exhausted old man who should be enjoying retirement is president, being led by the hand while Democrats bide their time. If Biden is remembered for anything, it’ll be for how he kept the chair warm, not for any bipartisan compromises and policy wins.
In other words, we have a fun four years on the roller coaster of mediocrity ahead of us.
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