Joe Biden's Achievements
As the midterms near, it's high time to acknowledge how far the country has come. Here's my top 10.
Do you remember that Saturday in November, four days after the 2020 election and record turnout, when Joseph R. Biden was officially declared the winner—when people in cities and towns across America danced and celebrated in the streets, clinked glasses and drank champagne, cheered and sang and even wept? I’m remembering how lifted, how relieved most people felt that change was coming.
Two months later, on Jan. 6, 2021, we all had reason to worry if we’d even reach Donald Trump’s eviction and Joe Biden’s inauguration. Even on Jan. 20, when Marine One choppered away from the White House grounds with Donald and Melania inside (oh, that happy couple), I found myself reluctant to believe that they were finally leaving. A smiling Joe Biden’s arrival on Pennsylvania Avenue and walk to the White House was a moment to breathe a sigh of relief.
The Senate’s passage of the Inflation Reduction Act yesterday, containing the most significant investment in the nation’s history to confront the climate crisis and lower the price of prescription drugs, was an unexpected but deeply encouraging sign for all of us who had begun to worry that the Biden agenda was seriously faltering. Its now inevitable passage—likely to be approved by the House and signed by Biden within a week—is, as Biden famously said in 2010 about the Affordable Care Act, “a big fucking deal.”
But I have been reflecting in recent weeks both on how much has been achieved in these first two years and how conflicted so many people have come to feel about his presidency—and I don’t just mean intransigent, Trump-fueled Republicans who never were going to give him a chance anyway. I’m thinking just as much about demoralized Democrats, discouraged by the slow pace of his Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate the former White House occupant’s role in Jan. 6, their understandable anxiety caused by rising inflation (which, by the way, is a global phenomenon), and the lingering sense that despite the Democrats’ majority the country often feels defined by the tyrannical, anti-democratic, anti-government minority.
Talk of his age, his stiffer movements, and the presumed mistake of a 79-year-old man planning to run for president for a second term all seem part of this impulse to doubt him rather than praise him. All this is illustrated by approval ratings that seem stuck below 40 percent (driving plenty of anxiety about the outcome of the midterms). I’ll save for another day the role of the media in focusing on the negative, accelerating the downward trend of opinion and driving a narrative of lost confidence that Biden has struggled to escape (particularly since the chaotic exit from Afghanistan last summer).
But today is my chance to praise him—to express gratitude for what has been accomplished. I pause to do so even as the country continues to struggle with profound and deeply toxic divisions, the continuing spread of and belief in election fraud disinformation, and an increasingly extremist minority party backed by a Supreme Court bent on stripping away civil rights—rights of women, rights of minorities, rights of voters.
I also share with you my plaudits, even after tweeting a simple notion about Biden’s achievements, then facing the bombardment of nearly 4,000 responses, some of which heartily asserted that the president has not gotten his due and many determined to say how little they respect the 46th president.
This day has come, so here’s my list—let’s call it Biden’s Top 10 Achievements.
In his first 100 days in office, Biden organized his team to strategically confront COVID-19 and get over 200 million doses of vaccine in Americans’ arms. The number of deaths in the US resulting from the virus dropped from 4,380 people on the day he took office to about 700 people a day in three months. Today, 74 percent of Americans have received at least one vaccination.
Within the first two months, he touted and passed the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill. This provided direct payments to many struggling Americans, temporarily extended unemployment support, channeled needed funding into the COVID vaccination program and made available $350 billion for state, tribal and local relief.
In his first year of office, the economy added a record 6.4 million jobs—an average of 537,000 jobs a month—and the unemployment rate dropped from 6.3 percent to 3.9 percent. This is the largest one-year drop and the most new jobs in a single calendar year in US history. That growth has continued, with the most recent unemployment figure of 3.5 percent the lowest in five decades, and the 528,000 new jobs in July representing twice what was expected.
In November of his first year, Biden oversaw the passage of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, which dramatically increases national investment in bridges and roads, airports, public transport, broadband, waterways and energy systems. That ended four years of bemused talk (and no action) about the promised “Infrastructure Week.”
Biden responded to Vladimir Putin’s brutal invasion of Ukraine by leading a remarkably unified NATO and our Western allies. In addition to pushing for and enacting crippling sanctions, as well as advocating for significant funding to support democratic Ukraine’s war efforts, his success was visible in the Senate’s overwhelming bipartisan vote last week to back the expansion of NATO to include Finland and Sweden.
While quarantining with COVID, Biden oversaw the intelligence operation that led to the killing of top al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, providing a clear promise to global terrorists that even after the troubled exit from Afghanistan, the US will continue to seek justice.
The passage in June of federal gun legislation, while not sufficient to overcome the epidemic, represents the most significant gun bill in nearly three decades. The new law provides incentives for states to pass red-flag laws, expands existing law to keep guns from people convicted of domestic abuse and expands background checks for those between 18 and 21 trying to buy a gun.
Biden is scheduled to sign into law two major bills this week, including the CHIPs and Science Act which boosts US semiconductor production and the PACT Act to expand health care benefits for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits. Despite some dispiriting attempts to sabotage the veterans bill, both eventually passed with significant bipartisan approval.
The likely passage of the Inflation Reduction Act in the House (as noted above) promises the largest investment ever to combat climate change and reduce carbon emissions, plus reduce the price of prescription drugs and cut the deficit. It’s also an inspiring message that Biden won’t give up on legislation that he thinks matters, even when the prospects for success seem dead and gone.
President Biden came into office promising to keep his focus on the middle class and working people, the crisis of climate change, the need to reestablish good government, the repairing of America’s traditional alliances and the restoration of leadership that respects American values and basic decency. By and large, he has remained true to these promises and turned the corner from the criminality and self-serving purposes of the Trump regime. He also has reminded America that real leadership requires empathy and compassion.
These achievements lay the foundation for the promise of the coming two years—and what follows. Joe Biden should take a bow.
Yet so much is riding on the ability of the Democrats to hold onto majorities in the House and Senate, a midterm challenge that is always problematic for the party in the White House. That Biden has accomplished as much as he has with a 50-50 Senate is particularly remarkable, but the coming months will reveal whether he can successfully help ignite the passion of Americans needed for record turnout.
As much as I want to linger in the world of praise, I’d be remiss to not emphasize the continuing dangers his presidency and legacy face. Failing to successfully confront the rising anti-democratic, pro-authoritarian, increasingly extremist GOP forces and hold Trump and other top leadership responsible for its seditious conspiracy and coup attempt may cause the country to quickly revert to its worst impulses.
So, too, that means finding a way to pass voting rights legislation that strengthens and secures our democratic experiment. Failure to accomplish this could mean that his lasting legacy will be having overseen the final democratic presidential administration.
But let’s not underestimate how far Biden has come. In a January piece entitled “Biden’s Bumpy Road Ahead,” I noted that “the president faces intransigent Republicans and demoralized voters that seem to have forgotten the disastrous hand he was given.” Even before Biden took office:
“We were teetering on the precipice of expanding death and destruction with no sure picture of how we could extract ourselves from the downward spiral. Would there be a national vaccination strategy and system to make it possible to get the deadly virus under control? Would Trump come up with one more criminal act to deny the legitimately elected president from taking office? Would the country continue to lose jobs and face growing lines of jobless Americans unable to feed their families? These were shaky times driven by a malignant man desperate to hold onto power.”
Remembering where we were then and recognizing how bad things could have gone, count me in for the choir of praise. Honestly, for the moment, I’m feeling lucky.
How about you?
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