I’ve seen tracking polls saying that Mitt Romney is either tied or leading in the presidential race, but we think that they are simply wrong. It’s not a conspiracy theory; those other polls are just simply missing a critical segment of President Obama’s coalition: cellphone users. Failing to survey those who don’t have landlines — who tend to support the president by a significant margin — those polls are blind to the fact that Obama is on track to win re-election on November 6. For our complete Democracy Corps memo on the importance of cellphone polling in this election — with graphs — please click here.
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America's political media — and especially our "punditocracy" — suffer from myriad defects. They love simple answers and often seem hostile to complexity. They tend to obsess slavishly over the latest polling data. And they suffer from a chronic amnesia that erases not only historical context but even very recent events from their narrow minds.
Marking the end of President Joe Biden's first year in office, the media consensus followed a predictable and familiar framing. After 12 months, with the coronavirus pandemic continuing, his legislative agenda incomplete and his approval ratings in steep decline, Biden was all but declared a failure — with no clear way forward.
That depiction of his presidency is no doubt puzzling to Biden because it omits so much of what has happened since his inauguration and almost everything that occurred in the four preceding years. Did Biden end the pandemic, with all its damaging effects on our economy and society? No, and neither could anyone else, least of all his predecessor. But he has done a great deal to ameliorate its worst effects — and has achieved that much against an ultra-partisan opposition willing to sacrifice the nation for its own advantage.
Let's first consider the obvious — or what ought to be obvious.
During the 2020 campaign, then-President Donald Trump warned that America would stumble into "a depression" if Biden won. That would have been worse than the economic conditions caused by Trump's erratic and sometimes ruinous policies, but things were already bad. High unemployment induced by the pandemic (and Trump's mishandling of it) showed no signs of abating quickly. Markets were in turmoil. Further decline appeared inevitable, and economists predicted that we wouldn't return to pre-pandemic levels of unemployment for several years.
Yet now we can see how wrong Trump was. Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, employment and markets have smashed previous records repeatedly during the past year. And with a remarkable six million jobs created in a single year — a record high for any president in memory — those gloomy forecasts about post-pandemic recovery are in the dustbin. The economy is now effectively at full employment, with wages rising rapidly for the first time in decades.
A significant drag on those wage increases is inflation, which the Biden White House underestimated initially. But supply chain woes and price hikes are a global problem, not a consequence of Biden policies — while America's astonishing growth is unmatched elsewhere in the world.
Both the national economy and the conditions of life in America would be far better if Biden didn't face concerted resistance to his vaccination campaign and other efforts to defeat the pandemic. Republican officials and media figures who are themselves vaccinated have cynically — even monstrously — discouraged their constituencies from getting the jab. Evidently, they are willing to accept mass death so they can blame it on Biden. Nevertheless, the administration has succeeded in inoculating over 200 million Americans and saved many of them from a painful, untimely death. If Trump were still president, many more would be dead.
Voters who profess to be "disappointed" with Biden might try harder to recall the horror of the administration he ousted, in a hard-fought campaign that Trump and his minions refuse to concede to this day. Unlike Trump, who accomplished so little of value during four years despite his party's complete domination of Congress when he entered the White House, Biden passed the historic infrastructure program that had been promised — and got 20 Republican senators to vote for it.
Although no Democrat could have restored the "normal" political order that Trump and his Republicans have so eagerly destroyed in a single year, Biden has worked hard to uphold standards we once took for granted. He has ousted the gang of crooked and unethical officials Trump appointed and ended the abuse of basic government functions like the census. Both Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris will release their tax returns this year, because unlike Trump, they have nothing unsavory to conceal.
"Unlike Trump" is what matters most in this era of peril to the republic and the world. That's the real choice, rather than measuring this president against some impossible wishlist. Biden could hardly be more unlike Trump than he is — and we are more secure and prosperous thanks to him.
To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
At Joe Biden's Wednesday press conference, a reporter cited a list of recent misfortunes before asking mournfully: "Did you overpromise to the American public what you could achieve in your first year in office?"
He might as well have asked Biden, "Have you been sitting at a desk in the Oval Office?" Overpromising is what presidential candidates do. You don't get 81 million votes, as Biden did, or even 74 million, as his opponent did, by informing people of all the problems you won't be able to solve.
Biden stoutly denied having led people to believe he would lead them to the land of milk and honey. "I didn't overpromise, but I have probably outperformed what anybody thought would happen," he insisted.
Judging from the polls, the president is a chorus of one in making that claim. Presidents rarely exceed expectations, particularly in their first year, and Biden has not smashed the template.
Ronald Reagan saw his approval rating sink steadily in his first year, and again in his second. In Barack Obama's first year, his approval rating dropped by 18 points. Donald Trump didn't suffer as big a decline in popularity only because he was so unpopular from the start.
The notable exception was George W. Bush, who had a gaudy 84 percent approval rating at the end of his first year. But that wasn't because of what he did; it was because of what Osama bin Laden did. The 9/11 attack instantly rallied the country behind Bush, who proceeded to spend the rest of his presidency squandering that support.
Biden's failure to live up to his own hype is not really in dispute. The website PolitiFact provides a list of his 100 most important campaign promises and determines that he has managed to keep just 16 of them — with 70 either "stalled" or "in the works."
Granted, he didn't say he would fulfill them all in his first year, but some promises have evaporated like the morning dew. Decriminalize marijuana? Amend the Constitution to ban private financing of political campaigns? Eliminate cash bail? Not gonna happen.
In some ways, though, Biden has been bolder than anticipated. The generous child tax credit in his American Rescue Plan went beyond anything he proposed as a candidate. His decision to withdraw from Afghanistan came as a surprise because it would have been politically safer to stay.
But presidents are judged less on what they do than on what happens while they happen to be in office. Biden gets blamed for inflation, which is mostly the product of policies fashioned by others, such as Trump and the Federal Reserve. He gets blamed for the persistence of the pandemic, which is equally persistent in countries where he wields no power. He gets blamed for not forging compromises with Republicans who damn him as a power-mad socialist election thief.
Biden is the latest victim of the unrealistic vision many people have of the office he occupies. Presidents don't guide the economy like a pilot flying a plane. Often, they have about as much control over it as a bull rider has over the bull.
Nor do presidents have the means to extinguish a highly contagious virus that has repeatedly confounded the world's most learned medical experts. Presidents can't effortlessly impose their will on Vladimir Putin, Central American migrants or oil-producing nations.
Nor do they command the obedience of Congress, particularly when they barely control either chamber. Biden may bestride the executive branch like a colossus, but it takes just one member of Congress — say, Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) — to thwart his legislative plans. The Supreme Court, which doesn't answer to voters or anyone else, has the power to upend his most treasured policies, as it did in striking down his vaccine mandate on large private employers.
Biden, of course, has inflicted some of his own wounds, as when he casually suggested that he could tolerate a "minor incursion" by Russia into Ukraine. The Afghanistan pullout was no one's model of how to end a futile war. His conviction that he could sweet-talk Manchin into supporting his Build Back Better bill rested on fond hope and fairy dust.
But most of the things that have gone wrong in the past year are not Biden's doing — and the same is true of most of the things that have gone right. He's not Superman, Santa Claus or Satan. He's just a president.
Follow Steve Chapman on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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