To provide an idea of how disastrous the Joe Biden presidency has been after a year, consider the latest news from The Wall Street Journal. Hillary Clinton, who is one of the least popular and most annoying political figures in our country, is plausibly considering a comeback presidential run to fill "a leadership vacuum in the party."
Even more head-spinning—Clinton is starting to sound sensible. Republicans traditionally viewed a Clinton presidency as a victory for the Left. Now Clinton may be the best hope for Democrats to reclaim the middle ground. Democrats must do some "careful thinking about what wins elections, and not just in deep-blue districts where a Democrat and a liberal Democrat…is going to win," she told MSNBC.
To quote Ross Perot's running mate James Stockdale in the 1992 vice presidential debate, "Who am I? Why am I here?" Well, we're here at this juncture because Biden forgot Bill Clinton's lessons from his 1992 and 1996 presidential victories—and from his Arkansas governorship, where he honed his folksy and successful approach.
Elected at age 32, the so-called "Boy Governor" tacked too far to the left, was booted from office two years later, recalibrated in a "third way" direction and then served 10 years as chief executive in Little Rock, before going on to win the presidency. OK, this is supposed to be a column about Biden's first year in office, not about the Clintons.
It's not looking good for the Democrats. The latest Quinnipiac University poll gave Biden a 33-percent job approval rating, which is his lowest to date and is below Donald Trump's rating a year into his term. Low numbers are not a big surprise given soaring inflation, out-of-control federal spending, and Biden's failure to get the coronavirus situation and spiraling crime under control.
Oddly, Quinnipiac found that "50 percent of Americans say the job he is doing is about what they expected." I understand those numbers given that my expectations for his presidency always were low, given his lackluster Senate career and uninspiring presidential campaign. Like other Americans, I was OK with him because he's not Donald Trump.
Biden has lived up to that low bar. He hasn't given comfort to white nationalists (think Charlottesville). He hasn't encouraged police officers to beat up suspects. He hasn't built a cult of personality, enacted a Muslim travel ban, been impeached, peddled conspiracy theories, cozied up to dictators, nor has he tried to overturn an election.
Biden has told his share of whoppers—but they're of the normal political variety rather than of the "we'll create our own version of truth" kind that his predecessor specialized in. I find emotional political movements to be dangerous, and—unlike with Trump—Biden has no throngs of followers willing to arm themselves or invade the U.S. Capitol.
Quinnipiac's most disturbing finding is that 58 percent of Americans believe that "the nation's democracy is in danger of collapse." Nevertheless, Biden doesn't seem to understand that his victory—and, no, Trump wasn't actually the winner because of voter fraud—came with a modest mandate to smooth over our fractured political divisions.
The main problem is that Biden, whose Senate career epitomized don't-rock-the-boat establishmentarianism, is governing like a cross between socialist Bernie Sanders and incompetent Jimmy Carter. After his first 100 days in office, NBC News interviewed progressives who were surprisingly giddy at the new president's priorities.
"Biden has been incredibly responsive to the progressive movement," one New York City congressman told the news service. "I don't think (liberals) would have been better if Bernie Sanders was the president," said a union leader. Progressives are thrilled with Biden's multitrillion-dollar spending plans, his efforts to hike the minimum wage and movement toward government-run healthcare.
This government spending, of course, has (along with pandemic supply issues) led to inflation not seen since the Carter era. "The US producer price index, which tracks what America's producers get paid for their goods and services on average over time, rose 9.7 percent last year, not adjusted for seasonal swings," CNN reported. Americans are grumpy as we pay unfathomable amounts for gas, groceries, consumer goods and homes.
Meanwhile, the administration is "doubling down on a form of cultural liberalism that seems tailor-made to alienate centrists," the Financial Times explained. Few Americans are comfortable with Democratic "wokeness." With Vice President Kamala Harris so unpopular that the White House has relegated her to meaningless tasks, that sets the stage for a 2024 Hillary Clinton v. Donald Trump nightmare.
There's time for a reset. The Bulwark's Charlie Sykes argues that Biden needs some Sister Souljah moments—referring to when Bill Clinton, at a Rainbow Coalition meeting, rebuked a rapper's vile rhetoric. In other words, Biden needs to forcefully smack down crazy progressives on his own side and reassure mainstream voters.
After a year, simply not being Donald Trump isn't enough.
This column was first published in The Orange County Register.