The fate of “building back better” remains fraught with peril, while the president’s bold words about the Freedom of Voting Act and the John Lewis Voting Advancement Act are tougher than ever. On Tuesday, he asked elected officials, “Do you want to be on the side of Dr. King or George Wallace?” In what appeared to be a question tacitly aimed at Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kirsten Sinema of Arizona, who still refused to accept the cut-off that would allow voting rights legislation to overcome Republican opposition. Even worse, Omicron has led to hospitalizations and left large sections of the population desperate about when the pandemic will end. “It’s déjà vu all over again,” as baseball legend Yogi Berra liked to say.
Others complain that the president does not even do a good job of displaying his many accomplishments. In an article criticizing Biden for failing to boast enough about what his administration has done, a columnist urged “jobs, punches, infrastructure, prosperity and peace.”
Then there is inflation. All the good economic news in recent days is overshadowed by the price hike, including low unemployment and a booming economy. Although many economists initially believed that the price increases would be “temporary,” the widely accepted expectation is that inflation will remain high for a while. One Nevada voter, Laura Goodenz, who told CNN she used to lean toward Republicans but turned toward Democrats in the last election, commented: “I don’t want to say this, but when Donald Trump was here, it wasn’t like this.”
Does all this add up to a doomed presidency? This question will naturally enter Democrats’ minds as they speculate about where this is headed, especially with the distinct possibility that Trump could run again in 2024.
Those who are concerned should find some solace in the fact that modern presidents have been able to return from difficult moments like these. Challenging the first conditions does not necessarily put the commander in chief on his way to a one-term presidency. He can struggle at the polls, deal with tough economic challenges and criticism from various factions in the party, and he can still be considered a successful two-term president.
Just look at Ronald Reagan, who served from 1981 until 1989 and is considered one of the most transformed presidents of recent times. In early 1982, Reagan was struggling to survive above water. The economy has entered a serious recession, as a result of the anti-inflationary moves of Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker. Democrats were outraged by Reagan’s efforts to destroy the Social Safety Net, while many conservatives feared the president was not willing to go far enough.
Reagan’s approval ratings have fallen to 46%, according to a May 1982 Washington Post-ABC poll. (While this was higher than Biden’s current ratings, it was low compared to Lyndon Johnson at a similar moment in his presidency (67%). OR Richard Nixon (66%).
Reagan was close to Jimmy Carter (43%) and Gerald Ford (45%). In August 1982, Reagan’s approval dropped to 41%, according to Gallup.
But conditions began to change dramatically in 1983 and 1984. As the economy recovered, Reagan’s standing changed too. Finally, the president found his footing, figuring out a way to identify himself with the nation’s economic recovery and calm the nerves of conservatives who wanted him to go much further on issues such as limiting reproductive rights.
He used the themes of tax cuts and anti-communism to unite his coalition. In 1984, he expressed his desire to stand up to the Soviet Union and published an advertisement declaring it “Morning in America.” That year, Reagan scored a landslide victory over Democrat Walter Mondale.
A few years later, Democrat Bill Clinton was also struggling in his second year in office. The president had a rough start, with some notable nominations blazing. The recession, which was one of the reasons Clinton won the election, did not go away as quickly as he had hoped.
Clinton’s controversial 1993 health-care plan seemed to piss off nearly everyone: Liberals favored a single-payer system over its regulatory approach to cost-cutting, and conservatives criticized the plan as socialism. The administration’s success in raising taxes on high-income Americans also revitalized the Republican Party.
In June 1993, his popularity rating had dropped to 37%, according to Gallup. When Republicans swept the 1994 midterms, controlling both houses of Congress for the first time since 1955, it didn’t take long for critics to speculate that Clinton would end up being a one-term president like his predecessor, George HW Bush. In a moment of frustration, Clinton allegedly told a group of close advisers: “I want my presidency back.”
He found a way. As a result of the government shutdowns in 1995 and 1996, support for the administration began to rise, with voters blaming House Speaker Newt Gingrich and his Republican cronies for the dysfunction in Washington.
The president’s hard-line stance after the April 1995 Oklahoma City bombing drew widespread acclaim. On the advice of strategist Dick Morris, Clinton turned the center on a number of issues, including welfare reform, stealing thunder from the Republicans. The economy began to grow.
Despite the anger on the left about his shift to the center, in general, the strategy put him in a strong position to defeat Republican Robert Dole in 1996. Clinton presented himself as a bridge to the future while viewing Dole as a bridge to the past. Although House Republicans would vote to impeach the president in 1998, he finished his second term with a 66% approval rating, according to Gallup.
And sure enough, Biden remembers the experience of President Barack Obama, under whom he served. Obama took over under terrible circumstances, and his early years were anything but fun. He began his tenure with a nation still reeling from the collapse of financial markets in 2008. American forces were also bogged down in a failed and unpopular war in Iraq.
When the president introduced a major healthcare proposal, the Affordable Care Act, it sparked fierce opposition from conservatives and left many Democrats in Congress afraid of the cost they would pay for the plan. Even the passage of the legislation did not allay these fears, as the ACA was initially unpopular with voters.
As with Clinton, many on the left were unhappy. They thought Obama was moving too far toward the middle. As with Biden, there were also concerns that the president had not done enough to promote his accomplishments, including a major economic stimulus bill that helped set the nation on the right track.
Obama’s approval ratings fell from 68% at the start of his presidency to 46% in October 2010. The midterm elections, which re-established control of the House of Representatives for Republicans, were devastated. He admitted that he was “humiliated” by the result, which he described as “bombing”.
But Obama also recovered and thrived. Americans began to feel the effects of the economic recovery, and the president found his political standing during confrontations with Tea Party Republicans who were pushing the GOP to new extremes, such as when they threatened to push the nation into default by not raising the debt ceiling. .
Obama was in a much better position by 2012, when he faced former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney. Once again, Obama ran an effective campaign, reviving hope about the promise of his political vision and portraying Romney as a right-wing figure with little sympathy for those who are struggling economically. Obama, of course, went on to win re-election and leave office with an approval rating of about 59%, remaining a hugely influential figure in the party.
While the current challenges Biden faces are very real, they should not be taken as a clear indication of the direction his presidency is heading. This difficult moment is a snapshot of the term, not the conclusion. In the modern era, we’ve seen many presidents recover from a rough start. Not everyone ends up like Carter, Bush or Trump, the one-term presidents who campaigned for re-election under poor conditions (Carter was dealing with the Iranian hostage crisis and stagflation; HW Bush with the recession; Trump with the pandemic and ongoing political turmoil) . Biden’s problems will likely fade, and he and the nation will eventually look to a successful two-term administration.