As President Joe Biden’s first year nears its end, his failures have certainly overshadowed his successes in the court of public opinion. From December 17 to January 6, the RealClearPolitics national average of polling data on Biden’s job approval rating stands at 42.1%, a significant decrease from his 55.5% average at inauguration. Plagued by economic troubles, foreign policy missteps, a resurgent pandemic, and legislative impotence, Biden has faced an onslaught of criticism from both the left and the right. However, even with these definitive setbacks, he has had some major accomplishments.
In fact, Biden’s extreme unpopularity of late has been a complete reversal from early 2021. As late as mid-August, Biden boasted an approval rating above 50%. Much of this early promise from Biden owed to his strong COVID-19 response, surpassing his 200 million vaccination goal in his first 100 days with time to spare. Biden’s inauguration came in the middle of a significant decline in COVID case numbers and hospitalizations across the nation, going from 190,000 cases on January 20, inauguration day, to more than 66,000 cases on February 20. With daily cases dwindling to as low as 8,200 on June 14, the public perception was that Biden had brought the pandemic to a close.
“Going into the end of the school year, I think a lot of people thought we were out of the woods with COVID and returning to normalcy. There was definitely an attitude that things were getting back to normal,” said Niles Bowditch ’24.
Yet summer presented a major challenge in COVID: the Delta variant. On the very next day, June 15, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared Delta a variant for concern. August was a turning point, with the virus reentering a clear upwards trajectory and daily case numbers reaching as high as 177,000. By the first day of school, September 1, almost 200,000 cases were reported across the country, more than on Inauguration Day. As the Omicron variant emerged in December, cases went from 134,000 on December 10 to peaking at 1,344,000 on January 10 of this year, an astronomical increase from Trump’s peak COVID case number of 294,000. Thus, much like his predecessor, President Donald Trump, Biden has come under fire for his handling of the pandemic, specifically in preparing resources such as testing.
“The Biden administration has done a really awful job on testing. I definitely think that we could have used our industrial production for a much stronger and robust COVID response. I think leading up to the pandemic and in the summer, it was harder to predict the demand for these resources, but [Omicron] definitely felt more predictable. Hundreds of epidemiologists have said that variants likely follow a cyclical pattern,” said Mr. Kyle Gekopi, a social studies teacher at the high school.
In fact, despite Biden’s well documented criticisms of the Trump administration’s response to the virus, many Americans have drawn comparisons between the two.
“Many experts foresaw the spread of new variants, much like what we saw with Delta. I certainly remember Joe Biden critiquing Trump for his inadequate response at the beginning of this pandemic. It feels like a lack of foresight has certainly set us back, and many are feeling déjà vu to the beginning of this pandemic, seeing so many activities shut down. So I think he really dropped the ball,” Bowditch said.
Even Biden’s early success at keeping COVID under control, what had seemed like one of his major accomplishments, cannot be completely attributed to him. When Biden entered office, case numbers had already been rapidly declining under the Trump administration. Nevertheless, Biden’s initial progress in controlling the pandemic is undeniable.
Yet August proved to be a turning point in Biden’s presidency in more ways than one. In Afghanistan, where the US had been mired in a seemingly interminable war since 2001, the gradual withdrawal of American troops begun under the Trump administration only intensified under Biden, with the President committing to withdraw completely by August 31. However, as more and more American troops departed, the US-backed Islamic Republic of Afghanistan was losing land to the Taliban at an increasing rate, conquering their first province on August 6 and capital city of Kabul by August 15, coinciding with the last day Biden boasted an approval average of at least 50%.
Indeed, as the situation in Afghanistan was made apparent, President Biden’s evacuation was widely publicized and put under international scrutiny, with citizens of the United States and its allies, including Afghan refugees, left stranded in a nation controlled by previously hostile Taliban militants.
Putting aside the chaos in Kabul, Biden’s withdrawal, an ostensibly fatal failure for his presidency, has actually been one of his greatest achievements. Started by President George W. Bush, the War in Afghanistan has taken its toll on the American people, costing $2.3 trillion of taxpayer money and tragically ending the lives of 2,401 US military personnel. Biden finally ended this costly and evidently unsuccessful war, a monumental success.
Another of Biden’s major accomplishments also lies in foreign intervention. With the exception of a woefully misinformed drone strike in Kabul that claimed the lives of 10 civilians, including 7 children, Biden has dramatically reduced the number of drone strikes carried out by the US military, which indiscriminately kill large numbers of civilians, separating him apart from Obama and Trumps’ expansion of the drone war.
Dogged by rising inflation, supply chain issues, and labor shortages, some of the most scathing criticisms of Biden have been directed towards his economic policy during the pandemic, with his lack of response and pandemic welfare programs coming under fire. However, blame for the struggling economy cannot be placed entirely on Biden.
“Women, fair or unfair, have to care for children far more than the men do, and women have not returned to the workforce in huge numbers. There are also a large number of retirees who are older and more at risk of it, and to them, it’s just not worth going back to work. So there are significant portions of the population that have chosen not to come back and that has not been to do with government welfare,” said Mr. Robert Emmett, AP Economics teacher at the high school. “I don’t think the government has nearly as much control over [these economic problems] as they would like to have, and it’s largely just out of their control.”
Rather than exacerbating inflation or labor shortages, Biden’s pandemic relief, such as the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan sending $1,400 stimulus checks to millions of Americans, have boosted the American economy.
“Unemployment benefits are necessary when 80% of this country lives paycheck to paycheck. The whole idea of unemployment benefits is to make sure that you don’t have to foreclose on your house or things like that. A short stint on unemployment should not be catastrophic to your life’s projection, so I do think unemployment really does serve a very valuable purpose,” Emmett said.
Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure law has also been a monumental accomplishment. Garnering the support of almost 30 Senate Republicans, the act addresses the underlying problems in the American infrastructure. In contrast, for the other major item on Biden’s infrastructural agenda, his signature Build Back Better Bill, Biden has repeatedly failed in securing votes, with Senators Manchin and Sinema, ironically members of his own party, being his fiercest opponents and receiving no bipartisan support.
Indeed Biden’s legislative impotence has defined his first year. Key campaign promises in voting rights and infrastructure have yet to be realized, with the two aforementioned Democratic senators continually obstructing their own party’s slight majority. Such a stark deviation from the American norm of partisan loyalty may not be Biden’s fault, but the fact of his inability to keep promises remains.
For that matter, the level of liability Biden actually has for many of his failures is dubious. COVID and Afghanistan were quandaries that predated his presidency. Yet to the American public, it is evident that his limited, albeit notable, accomplishments have not been enough to outweigh the deluge of disasters that he has accumulated.