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Biden’s “transformative” presidency is all but over

Ed Clements
January 21, 2022

With one whole year gone since Joe Biden was inaugurated as US President, Ed Clements writes that any semblance of a transformative presidency has all but disappeared, especially when his policy fails to win over members of his own Democratic Party.

President Joe Biden has spent most of his uninspiring first year in office being pushed about by members of his own Party, avoiding press conferences and failing to pass his legislative agenda. It has been a year that has revealed, above all else, that Biden is simply ill equipped to utilise the powers afforded to him as the President of the United States. Despite a cosy relationship with the mainstream media his popularity ratings continue to tumble. In other words, the Biden presidency could be said to be going almost exactly as expected.

Biden represents everything wrong with the Democrat Party (and indeed democratic politics more broadly): remarkably entitled and unwilling to do what needs to be done if it means offending corporate interests or his Republican counterparts. But as was inevitable, Biden's "not Trump" image while bestowed on him the privilege of becoming the so-called leader of the free world it will also likely be his demise. With Trump having faded (temporarily) into the background all that remains is an old, wispy-haired figure with no new ideas of how to operate in political world that has long since left him behind.

However you feel about what is contained within the infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better (BBB) bill, everyone will surely acknowledge that the process for getting these passed was an unmitigated legislative disaster for Biden. In fact, the way it played out exhibited such a gross level of ineptitude that one has to wonder whether Biden really wanted to pass BBB at all. By relinquishing all their leverage by voting on the (more popular) infrastructure bill first with a tacit promise from Senator Joe Manchin that he would support BBB, the Democrats ably led by Biden stumbled into the most unsurprising political trap that was so obvious that even the most sycophantic Biden cheerleaders had cause for pause.

Unsurprisingly, given that Manchin has seemingly made it his absolute moral duty to stymie Biden's agenda this has led to some suggestions that Manchin is in fact the President and Biden the subordinate. Although, Vice-President Kamala Harris did not take too kindly to this characterisation when asked by Charlamagne Tha God on his popular Comedy Central TV show. Harris appealed to "Republican framing" to try and deflect the question but this looked clearly desperate and was not the least bit convincing.

The reason for Harris's discomfort was obvious. The characterisation is pertinent and inescapable and is undoubtedly a major reason that Biden's poll numbers are such a disaster. Biden's appeal in the presidential campaign was that he could unify a divided country and reach across the aisle to Republican colleagues to receive their support. Yet, even when in control of both houses of Congress (albeit narrowly), Biden lacks the political dexterity to navigate the obstruction from within his own Party that would enable him force through his flagship piece of legislation.

Biden has many tools at his disposal to convince Manchin to change his vote. But his approach is outdated. Having provided Manchin's wife a very lucrative federal position, it is surely time now to show some strength. But the reverence he has for his peers in Congress coupled with his anodyne character means that the impasse is likely to remain. With the midterms looking ever more ominous for Biden and his Democrat Party colleagues, there is a very real chance that he might actually live up to at least one of his campaign promises. 'Nothing will fundamentally change.'

Edward Clements is a recent MA graduate in History and Politics from University College London. He specialised in 20th century US history with a particular interest in the civil rights movement. He previously studied Philosophy and History at Newcastle University.
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