On July 4, President Biden posted this tweet: “The Fourth of July is a sacred day in our country — it’s a time to celebrate the goodness of our nation, the only nation on Earth founded based on an idea: that all people are created equal. Make no mistake, our best days still lie ahead.”
“Best days” for whom? Less than two weeks earlier, the Supreme Court’s extremist conservatives overturned Roe v. Wade, a sacred constitutional right, deepened this nation’s inequalities, and sent millions pinwheeling into fear, anger, and uncertainty. It was a very Biden statement, but in these impossible times its optimism felt misplaced, if not downright insulting.
Being president means becoming the nation’s cheerleader-in-chief. But it’s also about having the vision to read the moment and guide America through unprecedented waters. And Biden isn’t showing that he is capable of meeting the most existential crises in modern American history.
On Monday, the Biden administration asserted that federal law supersedes state law when abortions are necessary in medical emergencies. This followed an executive order last week to protect some reproductive rights. Biden could have done all of this much sooner. For weeks after a leaked draft opinion forecasted that the high court would probably discard Roe’s nearly 50 years of settled law, the administration dithered.
Of course, Biden alone can’t undo the court’s decision. Codifying abortion falls on Congress. But Biden should have been better prepared for what was coming. It took Roe’s demise for him to finally support ending the filibuster, yet he remains steadfastly against expanding the Supreme Court. He still refers to Republicans as friends, although they’ve ignored the “epiphany” that Biden promised would occur when Donald Trump left the presidency.
It’s wearing on voters in Biden’s own party. According to a New York Times/Siena College poll, a staggering 64 percent of Democratic voters want someone else at the top of the party’s ticket in 2024. Biden’s age was cited most often — he turns 80 in November.
Biden’s tendency to be reactive instead of proactive as president isn’t solely about age. As the Senate Judiciary committee chairman overseeing Clarence Thomas’s Supreme Court nomination hearing in 1991, he allowed his fellow senators, all white men, to grill and demean Anita Hill who made very credible accusations of sexual harassment against Thomas.
Biden could have reined in that embarrassment of a hearing. He didn’t.
In a recent Washington Post interview, David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to the president during the Obama administration, said Biden was elected in part because he is a “decent, temperate person . . . People got the president they voted for, and I think those are good qualities that he has, but they may not be the qualities that some people, particularly activist Democrats, are looking for right now.”
Behold the centrist Democrats’ call of the mild. The problem, you see, isn’t Biden’s inertia. It’s those “activist Democrats” who always want too much like voting rights protections, control of their reproductive choices, and a president who will fight all-out for them. We are not living in decent, temperate times, and a majority of the country agrees with those “activist Democrats” on reproductive rights and significant gun reform measures.
At a Rose Garden ceremony Monday to celebrate the new gun reform law, Biden was interrupted as he said, “Despite the naysayers, we can make meaningful progress on dealing with gun violence.”
“We have to do more than that!” a man yelled. “I’ve been trying to tell you this for years!” It was Manuel Oliver, whose son, Joaquin, was killed along with 16 classmates and educators by a mass shooter at a Parkland, Fla. high school in 2018. Biden finished his remarks. Oliver was escorted away.
That bereaved father articulated the frustrations of many Democrats. You cannot put out a wildfire with a teaspoon of water. Nor can a president energize his base without using the full weight of his powers to push against the terrifying direction of this nation. Increasingly Biden looks like a man whose political prowess reached the top of its bounce during his eight years as Barack Obama’s vice president.
After four years of a president as unstable as a busted chair, Biden’s demeanor was welcome. Yet while Trump required a cheat sheet as a reminder to be compassionate, Biden needs to seize from the streets the righteous rage and calls for definitive action absent from his White House.
Back on that giddy November day in 2020 when Biden was declared president-elect, he spoke of looking ahead to “an America that’s freer and more just,” one “that never leaves anyone behind.”
On Biden’s watch, America continues to become less just, less free, and is leaving too many people behind. And with democracy teetering, his presidency is teetering right along with it.