It has become painful for me to watch the Presidency of Joe Biden. Not because he is not up to the task, nor has he accomplished so little. On the contrary, his first 15 months in office have produced an envious record of relief, recovery and reform – to borrow a slogan from the New Deal. He has had his failures, notably the ham-handed withdrawal from Afghanistan, even though he was wisely implementing the policy of his immediate predecessor and extricating US troops from the historical blunder of another predecessor. His handlers treat him like he is a loose cannon ready to explode with bloopers and their helicopter protectiveness offers succor to rightwing pundits who never hesitate to link his age with dementia.
Let me get one thing out of the way. On March 1, 1985, my brother and I, along with 6 other prominent Arab Americans, met with President Ronald Reagan. We left that meeting stunned by how out of it the President behaved. I am not a physician and saw no test results. But this man was already in the early stages of dementia. Others, especially those close to him, knew this but nothing was said. When he saved his re-election in the second debate of 1984 with his challenger Walter Mondale by quipping that he would not make an issue out of Mr. Mondale’s “youth and inexperience”, he could barely get the words out of his mouth. Importantly, the former Vice President displayed the good humor and genuine respect that the President of the United States deserved.
Those were apparently old and quaint rules of deportment. Mr. Biden handles his job with aplomb and his record is one of enormous accomplishment. Instead of focusing on his battles with Congress, let’s just list a few:
Jobs: 2021 continuing into 2022, this has been the greatest year of job creation in American history, with more than 6.5 million jobs created.
Unemployment Rate: The unemployment rate dropped from 6.2% when Biden took office to 3.6%, the biggest single year drop in American history.
Unemployment Claims: The average number of Americans filing for unemployment when President Biden took office rose to over 18 million were receiving unemployment benefits. Today the number is 1.42 million, the lowest number since 1970.
Economic Legislation Passed: Most significant by economic impact of any first-year president.
Child Poverty: Experts estimate the lowest child poverty rate ever in 2021.
Expanded Access to Health Care: Nearly 5 million Americans have newly gained health insurance coverage.
Reduced Hunger: The number of households reporting that they sometimes or often did not have enough food to eat dropped by 32%.
Judges Confirmed: More judges confirmed to lower federal courts than any president since President Kennedy.
Judges That Reflect Our Nation: More Black women appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals than any president – even over 8 years – in history.
Cabinet: First majority non-white Cabinet in history, with most women in the Cabinet, including first woman Treasury Secretary, first LGBTQ+ and Native American Cabinet officials, and first woman Director of National Intelligence.
Climate Investments: Largest investments ever in the power grid, electric vehicle chargers, and climate resilience.
Clean Water: Largest investment and national, bipartisan plan to get safe and clean drinking water to all Americans.
Cleaner Cars: Strongest vehicle emissions standards ever to save drivers money at the pump and reduce pollution.
Wind: First-ever approvals of large-scale offshore wind projects.
Personnel: Most diverse Administration in history – most women, people of color, disability, LGBTQ+, first generation American, and first-generation college graduates.
Agree or disagree, quibble over facts or impact, but there is a powerful narrative to be told. And Democrats should leave it to the one person who can tell it. Joe Biden rose to the Presidency with a strong personal story, and an ability to empathize, which only enhanced its decades of government experience. His personal gaffes are part of his story and, to supporters, only provide a leveling effect that make him more an everyman. His handlers are not serving him well by overprotection. By doing so they are allowing his opponents to focus their version, which includes not only his age and health, but the portrait of his party as elitist, preachy, arrogant, and socialist. Mr. Biden is none of these and he is being prevented from doing what he does best: i.e. communicating in an authentic and honest way.
The old Lee Atwater-Karl Rove rule of campaigning is to take the opponent’s strengths and turn them into weaknesses. Thus, the very competent management experience of 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Mike Dukakis was flipped to his disadvantage and 2004 nominee John Kerry’s exemplary war service was turned into a display of narcissism.
Joe Biden is 79, as is a lot of people. He has lived, suffered, succeeded, understood, led, and bonded with tens of millions. Let him tell his own story, make silly and laughable mistakes (like all of the rest of us), and tell reporters to shut up when he feels like it.
Let Joe be Joe.