Biden’s first year: why the US president was and remains a “lame duck”

Biden’s first year: why the US president was and remains a “lame duck”

Andrey Shitov

In American political jargon, a lame duck is a politician with limited capacity who is serving his term in office and is a convenient target for attacks. After the failed elections for the ruling Democratic Party of the United States, which took place a week ago in various American cities and towns, the press and analysts began talking in unison that in the next regular midterm elections, the party in power may lose control over one or both chambers of the US Congress. And then, they say, the leader of the party and the current president of the country, Joe Biden, will turn into a “lame duck”.

Formally, according to overseas canons, this is correct, but in fact, in my opinion, it is somewhat inaccurate. Biden, who turns 79 on November 20, was initially perceived by observers as a president of at best one full term due to his age. In this sense, his status has been and remains vulnerable. Another thing is that the political failures that are pursuing him really complicate the situation even more for him and for his party. Make them that very convenient target.

Neophyte success

First, a little explanation to avoid confusion. The federal political cycle in the United States is two years old. Congressional elections are held on even-numbered years, and presidential elections are held every four years.

Most states and municipalities coincide with the same single voting days and the solution of their own electoral problems. However, there are also exceptions. Of the 50 states, five elect their governors in odd-numbered years: mainly, according to their authorities, just so that the attention of voters is not distracted by federal races. Three of these states vote one year before the presidential elections, and two – a year after them.

The last-option elections have just been held in Virginia and New Jersey. In the first case, Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin, a political neophyte, defeated former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat. The victory is significant, since no one had heard of Yangkin before, and McAuliffe has long enjoyed fame and authority not only in his native state, but also in the country: a quarter of a century ago he was the co-chairman of the election campaign of his friend, President Bill Clinton, then headed the national Committee of the Democratic Party, and in 2008 he chaired the campaign headquarters of Hillary Clinton.

In addition, until recently, Virginia was considered one of the key “controversial” states, the arena of fierce political battles between the “blues” and “reds”, as it is customary in the United States to conventionally designate Democrats and Republicans. But since then, as she twice voted for Barack Obama, and then for the same Clinton, she was included in the category of persistently pro-democratic. Last year, Biden won there by 10 pp; the metropolitan Washington Post then wrote that “the era of Virginia as a wavering state appears to be over.”

Yangkin’s success now shows that the liberal edition was likely wishful thinking. This in itself is important for assessing the prospects for further political struggle in the United States, including at the presidential level.

Is victory worse than defeat?

But perhaps even more interesting is that, according to American analysts, for the Democrats, almost worse than the defeat in Virginia was… the victory in New Jersey. In any case, MSNBC and other commentators call the circumstances of this victory “more troubling” for the ruling party.

New Jersey is usually perceived in the United States as one of the unshakable strongholds of the “blue”; Biden in 2020 was ahead of Trump there by 725 thousand votes (about 16 pp). Governor Murphy was promised an easy and convincing victory in advance – especially since he firmly pursues a “party line” in his state, including on “vaccination mandates” from COVID-19 for local government officials and contractors. Nevertheless, he, one might say, scribbled this victory – by a margin of only 65 thousand votes.

Moreover, in the same New Jersey there was a sensation, the echo of which spread throughout the country. One of the pillars of local politics, the President of the Senate of the State Legislative Assembly, and also a major trade union boss, Democrat Stephen Sweeney, lost the election in his district to Republican Edward Derr, who works… as a truck driver.

The chauffeur-turned-senator claims to have spent $ 2300 on his entire election campaign (against more than $ 600 thousand from his rival), and at the stage of the primaries he generally met the expenses of $ 153, paying only for coffee and buns for his fellow party members. According to him, he decided to go into politics after he was denied the right to concealed carry of arms, although he never had problems with the law. Critics point out that in his past posts on social media, he “compared vaccination mandates to the Holocaust and defended the rebels [stormed] the Capitol.”

In general, the results of local elections for the American party in power look, to put it mildly, discouraging. The Associated Press commented on the topic: “Democrats on the ground are warning their party that the rising Republican tide is real.”

Meanwhile, in the ruling party itself, another wave is expected – “voluntary retirements” among its representatives in the lower house of Congress. The Hill newspaper in an article on this topic indicates that 14 Democratic congressmen “have already announced that they will not seek re-election in 2022.” And in light of the “Virginia defeat” and “painful setbacks” elsewhere, other legislators may follow suit, “hoping to avoid a grueling struggle for re-election or return to the role of a [parliamentary] minority.”

The people are “upset” and “alarmed”

According to AP, the leadership of the Democratic Party from the ground “is sending an urgent signal: the state of affairs is worse than you think!” Presumably, then she herself understands that he has problems. Moreover, according to the general opinion of experts, one of the main reasons for the dissatisfaction of voters is the internal confusion and vacillation in the ranks of the Democrats themselves, the inability of their leaders to carry out even key decisions through the Congress, although the latter is still under their complete control.

So, because of the incessant strife between the “progressive” and “moderate” factions of the Democratic Party, the House of Representatives of the Congress only last Friday finally voted for the infrastructure plan of the White House, approved by the Senate back in August. When Biden introduced the initiative in the spring, it was considered politically advantageous, including for many Republicans. Then it was estimated at $ 2.25 trillion, but now it has been cut by almost half – to $ 1.2 trillion; real new budget allocations (in addition to regular planned investments in the maintenance of dilapidated infrastructure) should amount to $ 550 billion over the next five years.

Presenting the decision to reporters, Biden called it a “monumental” achievement for his administration. But critics in absentia, including in the Democratic Party itself and in the media close to it, sarcastically that it is still better to achieve success before the elections than after them. They also reminded that other key components of the President’s Build Back Better promise remain frozen in Congress and are even more controversial than the infrastructure project.

In person, reporters asked the owner of the White House if he believed that his program was doomed to failure, since the Republicans were not initially going to support it, and the moderate Democrats had already achieved what they wanted in an infrastructure package. Biden declined to give a direct answer, but in confused discussions on this topic admitted that American voters demand that politicians “stop talking and get down to business”, that people are “upset” and “alarmed.”

Why be surprised?

This is most likely still putting it mildly. Biden’s popularity rating fell to an all-time low of 38%, according to a recent poll by USA Today and Suffolk University. At the same time, 46% of the respondents believe that the president is working not better, but worse than they expected. This opinion is shared by 44% of independent voters, whose sentiments are always monitored in the United States with particular bias, and even 16% of those who voted for the Democratic leader a year ago.

“This disapproval,” says the Hill newspaper, “is already leaving its mark on Biden’s chances of re-election in 2024.” In the course of the poll, 64% of respondents, including 28% of Democrats, spoke out against the president’s entry into a new election race.

In my opinion, this is not surprising, even on the basis of the past election promises of Biden himself. Remember, in the first weeks of his presidency, he insisted that he was fighting four crises at once: the COVID-19 pandemic, the economic recession it caused, global climate change, and the exacerbation of racial divisions in the United States? And of course, he expressed his readiness to unite the country and the people to overcome all these misfortunes.

Well, a year has passed since his election. There is no smell of unity in the country. The protruding struggle against “systemic racism” and other forms of discrimination is taking on ever stranger and sometimes ugly forms; in any case, intolerance in American society is clearly not diminishing. In Yangkin’s victory in Virginia, an important role was played by the “theme of education,” that is, by and large, questions about what and how to teach children in schools and whether it can be done according to the new canons of liberal political correctness against the will of parents.

The pandemic has not been defeated, and the absolute rates of morbidity and mortality remain the highest in the world. Although the proportion of Americans vaccinated is approaching 60% of the population, there are also enough anti-vaccines, and they are very determined. A ghost from the 1970s looms in the economy – stagflation; The November report from the publishers of the Investor’s Business Daily’s Economic Optimism Index is titled “America at a Crossroads: Economic Confidence Torn to Shreds by Rising Energy Prices and Ongoing Fear of Inflation.” Added to the global and transcendental climate crisis is a specific historical energy crisis, which is, according to the well-known definition of Russian President Vladimir Putin, “the man-made result of the short-sighted policy” of the closest friends and allies of the United States in the EU.

You can’t even tell right off the bat how to trump the White House under these conditions. I’m not even talking about such a well-known foreign policy failure of the Biden administration as the story of the departure, or rather, the flight of the United States from Afghanistan.

“Trumpism without Trump”

Of course, all this is trying to take advantage of the political opposition in the United States. One of its main heralds, the popular TV presenter Tucker Carlson on Fox News, gave a sarcastic monologue about the results of the after-hour elections, in which, in particular, he noted that both in Virginia and, for example, in Texas, Latin Americans were massively voted for the Republican candidates, although Democrats are used to seeing them as part of their own indigenous electorate.

The conservative Washington Examiner ran a column by renowned journalist Paul Bedard, entitled “Trump Wins 4-0 on Election Day.” It meant that the four candidates won, supported by the former president, “who is at the peak of popularity and influence.” Donald Trump himself with gratitude distributed the publication via Telegram, and a little later said that he intends to announce in a year whether he will participate in the 2024 elections.

It is another matter that many are skeptical about such a prospect. The liberal media in the United States are vying with each other to say and write about the fact that today’s Trumpist standard-bearers learn to live and win without Trump and often deliberately distance themselves from him. “Trumpism without Trump” seems more popular than it does with him, business news service Bloomberg pointed out. “By winning without rapprochement with Trump, Yangkin demonstrated the ability of a [Republican] party that is no longer dependent on Trump,” Atlantic magazine said.

And the British Guardian, located in the same ideological camp, generally published a text that personally “Trump, apparently, embodies Biden’s best hope for re-election.” In the USA Today poll mentioned above, 58% of respondents, including 25% of Republicans, said they did not want to see the former president at the head of the party list in 2024.

A plague on both your houses

On the whole, in my opinion, both the current hat-shit of the American conservatives and the depressing decadence of the liberals are somewhat premature. I would rather agree with one of the grand dames of the overseas establishment, Susan Glasser, who wrote in her New Yorker column that “both Trump and Biden lost the election.”

But in Virginia, at least no one complained about the falsification of the voting results and there was a peaceful transfer of power, the venerable journalist recalled. In her opinion, this gives rise to hope that “the crisis in American democracy, perhaps, can still be avoided, if only this one does not run, like him there.” She still hates Trump with every fiber of her soul.

Well, I also believe that the foundations of the American political system are stronger than it sometimes seems in light of the startling upheavals of recent times. But the water wears away the stone.

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