President Biden in His Labyrinth

The tenant of the White House has not been successful in his management of the Ukraine crisis, confronted with out-of-control inflation and his party’s inability to approve significant measures.

The president’s message was heard loud and clear over the loudspeakers: “My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.” It was 1984, in the middle of the Cold War. Ronald Reagan’s mistake, making a joke in front of a microphone that he did not know was switched on, could have triggered World War III. He was 72, seven years younger than Joe Biden who, last Saturday in Warsaw, let loose nine off-script words that, according to some European leaders, could have derailed peace negotiations with Ukraine.

Until the day that Biden took office, Reagan was the oldest president to have reached the White House. He committed frequent faux pas, said that trees caused more pollution than cars, that he was trying to increase unemployment and that progressive tax was a foreign spawn of Karl Marx. Despite all that, and even though many believe he was already suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, he went down in history as “the great communicator.” His own biographer, Louis Cannon, a loving admirer, described him as “distracted, lacking in concentration and curiosity.” He was famous for falling asleep in meetings, which led to he himself joking that he had given orders to be woken up immediately in a crisis, “even if he was in the situation room.”*

“Sleepy Joe,” as Donald Trump calls Biden, already has a long history of botches, faux pas and switched-on microphones that fueled expectations during the debates, in which all he had to do to come away successful was not say anything too ridiculous. “Biden did not win the presidency because he is the best leader, but because he is not Trump, and that is not a quality that is going to help him in other elections where Trump is not present,” says Elizabeth Sanders, professor in the Department of Government at Cornell University.* She has analyzed all U.S. presidents since the beginning of the 20th century in a military and economic context.

The Cemetery of Dreams

That is what will happen in the midterm legislative elections in November, where traditionally the party in power suffers significant legislative losses, translating to an average of 25 fewer seats in the House of Representatives (the current difference between the two parties is only 12). Since 1946, only two presidents have been saved from this blow thanks to their high popularity levels: Bill Clinton (66%) and George W. Bush (63%). This week, Biden has reached the lowest rating of his term (40% in the last survey by NBC), which is why, if any electoral result could surprise David Bateman, professor at Cornell University and co-director of the PRICE initiative in the government department, it would be if the Democratic Party managed to retain the chambers.

“It would take something huge that captured media attention for a prolonged period to drastically increase his popularity,” he reflects.* And, of course, it cannot be something that requires legislative approval, because Congress has proved to be the cemetery where Biden’s dreams go to die. The Build Back Better plan, which promised the biggest investment seen for generations for strengthening the middle class, and the most important efforts to fight climate change that have been seen in the country’s history have become a pitiful firework show that have brought to light the divisions within the Democratic Party and the inability of the party in power to govern in the slightest. The stubbornness of two conservative-leaning Democratic senators has buried Biden’s dreams and, paradoxically, may have saved him from himself.

“If they had approved it, inflation would have shot up even more,” believes Sanders.* War was able to save George W. Bush’s presidency after the 9/11 attacks, but not Biden’s, because nothing that happens in Ukraine will be able to compete with the voters’ wallets; it does not matter that the head of state brags about having strengthened NATO and united the allies. The highest inflation in the last 40 years is the only superlative that the Americans will remember at the ballot boxes. “It seems that the Democrats knew they were going to lose power in November and have decided to spend as much money as possible before they have to let it go,” sighs the professor.*

She almost feels sorry for Biden, because “when it comes to war, there is nothing he can do.”* In fact, it is the only thing for which the head of state has achieved bipartisan support, with public opinion divided on his management of the crisis. While Europe was pulling its hair out over Biden’s departure from the script in Warsaw, where he dared to say what everyone was thinking — that a war criminal like Vladimir Putin cannot continue in power — in the U.S. those who are angry with the damage control operation that followed his untimely outburst predominate.

Spontaneous Additions

Writing in a column in The Washington Post, Max Boot, speaker for the Council on Foreign Relations, says it reminds him of the moment in which Pope John Paul II visited Warsaw in 1979 and called on the Poles to resist the iron grip of the Soviet Union with “do not be afraid.”* Some even called it Biden’s “Reagan moment,” because it is said that the famous utterance, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” was also a spontaneous addition by the head of state that, two and a half years later, came true.

If the Russian people take Biden’s words to heart, his place in history would change, but what is most likely, according to Sanders, is that sooner or later, Ukraine will fall to Russian tanks, “and that will make him look bad.”* Although the majority of Americans are fed up with Putin’s behavior and the West’s lack of courage to stop him, less than 20% want to risk triggering World War III by giving Ukraine everything it is asking for. “The faux pas was going back and insisting that the president did not want to say what he said,” Marc Thiessen, analyst for the American Enterprise Institute, wrote in The Washington Post. “That makes us look weak in Putin’s eyes,” he complained.*

Hard times await Biden, not only because Americans have much more confidence in Volodymyr Zelenskyy than in their own president (72% compared to 48%), and even in French President Emmanuel Macron (55%) or the recently-elected German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (53%), according to a survey by Pew Research Center.

Also because everything points toward things getting more difficult at home. The Delaware Attorney General is investigating Biden’s son Hunter for corruption, tax evasion and undeclared lobbying. The Republicans’ return to power in the Congress will allow them to open committees to investigate his government and the cohesion of Americans will lose strength in the November elections, compared to the presidential one. The political tension that has characterized the last three presidencies leaves little room for moderation.

About to turn 80, nobody expects Biden to run for president again, but the view that his predecessor will take advantage of the empty spot to return will reawaken, at the end of his term, the talent that saw him win the election. Biden is not Trump.

In Figures

40%: Joe Biden has reached the lowest ratings of his term this week, according to the latest survey by NBC. And this comes just a few months before the midterm elections, where generally the heads of state show signs of loss of power.

20%: The percentage of Americans who want to risk letting loose a world war by giving Ukraine all the help it needs. Its leader, Zelenskyy, arouses more confidence than the United States’ own president (72%), just like Macron (55%) and Scholz (53%).

*Editor’s Note: This quotation, accurately translated, could not be verified.

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