One year after his inauguration, Joe Biden is the most unpopular president since polls have been conducted — with the exception of his predecessor, Donald Trump — and his party is headed toward defeat in November’s midterm elections.
What happened? It’s largely because he has lost the center. He lost the voters who sometimes vote left, sometimes right and who make and break presidents and congressional majorities.
His popularity rating now stands at an average of 42% in the polls. None of that is irremediable. But it calls for a change of course.
One of Joe Biden’s problems is that he came to Congress with costly, ready-made solutions — all drawn from the old ways of the Democratic Party — as if he had to finish the work of Franklin D. Roosevelt quickly and immediately.
While he made it into the White House thanks to his image as a moderate politician, ready to seek compromise, he has come across as intransigent and a bit doctrinaire.
He nevertheless produced bills that were quickly adopted: an economic recovery plan of $2 trillion and an infrastructure restoration plan of $1 trillion — a project that Presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump were unable to implement. But they ended up being the subject of a certain consensus, even among Republicans.
That took a turn for the worse at the end of the summer or the beginning of autumn — when, incidentally, his popularity rating fell below 50%, largely because of the catastrophic departure of American forces from Afghanistan and the shocking images that recalled the fall of Saigon that were seen by all Americans.
Add to that the COVID-19 pandemic, which has not been brought under control, although he had promised during the election campaign to make it his priority; increasing inflation, which affects the price of a gallon of gasoline; and supply-chain problems, which make many products difficult to find, and you have the recipe for Biden’s unpopularity.
Some of his troubles are largely outside his control. Others come from within his own party.
Actually, the second component of his economic recovery plan, a bill called Build Back Better, is blocked in Congress, largely because of the opposition of certain Democrats.
That’s because BBB is very expensive — $3.5 trillion over 10 years, with all kinds of social measures that Democrats have long dreamed of: preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds, construction and renovation of public housing, parental leave, the broadening of health insurance for the elderly, etc.
But Sen. Joe Manchin, a more conservative Democrat, finds that too expensive and is blocking the bill, saying that the cost should not exceed $1.5 trillion. After a standoff that went on too long, Biden admitted that it would be necessary to pass his bill in stages.
Moreover, Manchin and his colleague, Kyrsten Sinema, refuse to change the filibuster rule, which effectively requires a supermajority of 60 votes in the Senate, in order to permit the passage of another of Biden’s bills that would make it easier to exercise the right to vote.
Of course, when the president fails to convince his own party, that gives an impression of powerlessness.
There are, however, ways of doing things differently. People often forget, for example, that Obama allowed Congress to determine the parameters of the Affordable Care Act, his emblematic health insurance bill. The result was not the universal and public program that many Democrats had dreamed of, but basic health insurance, with which the great majority of Americans are pretty satisfied.
That said, not all is lost for Biden. Elections are decided in the center and his Republican adversaries are, more than ever, entrenched far to the right.
In particular, there is now a clear majority of conservative judges on the Supreme Court, six to three. And the constitutionality of laws curbing the right to abortion as much as possible — in particular, in Texas — is going to be heard by the court in the months to come.
Traditionally, Republicans win midterm elections in the United States because Democrats tend to vote less when there is no presidential election.
But there would be an infallible way of motivating Democratic voters, and that is to infringe on the right to abortion, recognized by the Supreme Court a half-century ago.
Only 30% of Americans want to recriminalize abortion. The center, clearly, is on the other side.