It was one year ago today that millions of Americans looked to the future. As Amanda Gorman told us, “The new dawn blooms as we free it for there is always light if only we’re brave enough to see it, if only we’re brave enough to be it.”
The youngest inaugural poet in U.S. history also reminded the country that “history has its eyes on us.”
Joe Biden was inaugurated president of the United States on January 20, 2021, after a failed coup was followed by the most difficult transition of power in our history. It is fair to consider that context when asking what the administration has accomplished in its first year.
From my perspective, Biden has done reasonably well in a number of areas, spectacularly well in a few, and fallen short in several others. The political pundits, on the other hand, have largely followed Republican talking points describing the year as a disaster. Let’s consider the facts.
In response to a global pandemic, we saw the largest vaccine rollout in history.
When Biden came into office, the “plan” for federal delivery of covid vaccines was to simply give them to the cash-strapped states to figure out how to get the vaccines into our bodies. Biden immediately invoked the Defense Production Act, bought more vaccines, worked with states to establish vaccine sites, and established vaccine centers in pharmacies across the country. 75% of Americans are now fully vaccinated and 63% have had at least one dose. This rate is in spite of the fact that a Republican party focused on tribalism pushed people bereft of empathy and compassion to refuse the vaccine, contributing significantly to the second year of pandemic disruption. With the omicron surge, the unvaccinated make up a large percentage of those hospitalized and dying from the disease.
Unemployment was reduced to historically low levels and millions of jobs have been created.
The unemployment rate in 2017 as Donald Trump came into office was 4.7% and as he left office it stood at 6.4% for a net jobs gain of -2.8 million during his term. Unemployment when Biden came into office on January 20th was 6.4% It now stands at 3.9% for a net jobs gain of +6.2 million in just the first year. Both the low unemployment rate and the number of jobs created are historic in nature. The stock market has been at an all-time high under Biden.
Just remember, contrary to the conventional wisdom, the economy always does better under a Democratic president.
Without a single Republican vote, the Administration and Congressional Democrats passed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan in March to jump-start the economy. This put money into the pockets of ordinary Americans, and it worked. The new law significantly cut child poverty by putting $66 billion into 36 million households. It expanded access to the Affordable Care Act. More than 4.6 million Americans who were not previously insured were able to get healthcare coverage; the total covered is a record 13.6 million. And the economic impact of the pandemic has been less than feared. While the costs of the Great Recession in 2008 were huge and lingered, the costs of the coronavirus slump were far smaller.
The Administration oversaw the passage of a $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill and rolled out $27.5 billion in new aid last Friday to help repair the nation’s bridges.
Getting the bipartisan infrastructure bill through this Congress was a BFD. It is designed to help build and rebuild roads and bridges, address aging water and sewer systems, and expand broadband access. This past Friday — just sixty days after signing the historic act — the Biden administration urged states to get to work bringing thousands of aging bridges up to par, while improving safety and uncorking bottlenecks, with the help of $27.5 billion in new federal aid.
Biden got us out of a very unpopular 20-year war.
Joe Biden inherited the previous president’s February 2020 deal with the Taliban to withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanistan by May 1, 2021, so long as the Taliban did not kill any more Americans. On January 20th, the U.S. had withdrawn all but 2,500 troops from the country.
In April, Biden said he would honor the agreement he had inherited and promised to evacuate the country “responsibly, deliberately, and safely.” The Afghan army that the U.S. had supported over three previous administrations crumbled as the U.S began to pull its remaining troops out in July. By mid-August, the leaders of the Afghan government fled, abandoning the country to chaos.
There were some casualties, but in the largest human airlift in U.S. history the U.S. military peacefully evacuated more than 100,000 people. Evacuations have continued on planes chartered by other countries.
By any sane measure, Biden has had a reasonably good first year. But these aren’t normal times, and the fight continues.
There are many other success stories to highlight. Reducing taxes, making America respectable again in diplomatic circles and foreign countries, reducing hate crimes, and fighting gun violence are some of the ways the administration is making progress.
And there are missteps to call out. Commentators have rightly highlighted the administration’s missing that the Afghan government would collapse, underplaying Covid testing, and prioritizing infrastructure over voting rights.
But until recently, Biden’s “biggest miscalculation might well be refusing to address the disinformation of the Republicans directly in order to promote bipartisanship and move the country forward together.” He thought he could work with a party that is fundamentally not interested in governing, only in amassing power.
Biden’s amazingly good record is in spite of the fact that the people who attempted to corruptly — and, on January 6, violently — overthrow the 2020 presidential election are still controlling the Republican Party, attempting to block every measure the administration puts forward and engineering crises to blame on Biden. Last evening’s ruling by the Supreme Court, releasing Trump records to the January 6th committee, should be useful in public hearings to help illuminate the breadth and depth of the Trump administration’s support for a coup d’état.
The Biden administration’s amazingly good record has also come in spite of the fact that the news media seems bent on portraying everything in the worst possible light for the new administration. Examples include the economy, attendance at funerals, and whining about “I want my life back” just for starters.
Yamiche Alcindor, anchor of Washington Week in Review on PBS, noted after President Biden’s two-hour news conference yesterday,
Pres Biden, in the longest news conference in presidential history, made news, pushed back on critics, called out lies, took responsibility for mistakes he believes he made, expressed surprise at GOP, talked foreign policy and didn’t lash out on reporters. Quite the change.
Quite the change, indeed. Millions of Americans are thankful we are looking to the future.
Yes, there will always be detractors. We always have to ask, as President Biden did yesterday about the Senate Minority Leader, “What’s Mitch for?”
Yes, there is still much work to do to save our democracy. The Senate voted tonight against changing the filibuster to protect voting rights, based on some very faulty history from Senator Joe Manchin and total Republican obstruction.
Yes, history has its eyes upon us.
More to come…
UPDATE #1: Matt Robison covers politics for The Editorial Board. He goes much farther than I do in my piece when he posted a members-only article on January 20th with the title, Reality Check: President Joe Biden’s year-one grade? A+ that adds, “Any other answer is insane.” After a laundry list of disasters we faced the second half of 2020, he writes that we can imagine what a second Trump term would look like with faster global warming, endless vendettas, the jailing of dissidents, reductions in LGBT rights, nuclear standoffs…and the list goes on right up to the end of democracy.
So he encourages the media and pundits to stop kdding with the “Biden is limping” nonsense. We should not accept the premise of the underlying question here.
A year ago we were all trapped in a flaming car that was speeding to the edge of the cliff. Joe Biden sprayed us with a fire extinguisher and slammed on the brakes.
The next question is not “isn’t his driving a little slow today?” … We’re not on fire and we’re still on the top of the cliff.
I am in full agreement with Robison’s point of view.
UPDATE #2: For a critic’s take on how the national media covered President Biden’s end-of-first-year press conference, this next day analysis by Dan Froomkin is very enlightening. When a senior political editor at the Washington Post tweeted early in the press conference that the Democrats were primarily to blame for “tanking” Biden’s agenda, respected Congressional scholar Norman Ornstein responded with:
Right, because unified GOP opposition on confirmations and the overwhelming majority of items on the substantive agenda, along with McConnell saying directly that he’s 100% behind blocking the entire Biden agenda, means nothing in comparison to two Democrats in the Senate. Oy