Cambridge history professor explains why it’s way too soon to give up on Biden’s presidency

Cambridge history professor explains why it’s way too soon to give up on Biden’s presidency

So far in 2022, President Joe Biden’s approval ratings have continued to be disappointing for Democrats, including 40% in a Rasmussen poll and 39% in a YouGov poll. And Democratic strategists are fearing that the 2022 midterms could bring a major red wave if Biden’s approval ratings don’t improve. But Cambridge University history professor Gary Gerstle, in an op-ed published by The Guardian on January 26, lays out some reasons why it’s way too soon to give up on Biden’s presidency.

“Things are not looking good for Joe Biden,” Gerstle acknowledges. “At his 20 January news conference, Joe Biden admitted that Build Back Better, the $2tn social infrastructure bill, was dead. That failure, in combination with Biden’s botched effort the week before to energize the campaign for voting rights, have inclined many progressives to join the chorus of centrist and right-wing voices pronouncing Biden a failed president.”

Gerstle adds, however, that progressives should “take a step back” and “refrain both from heaping excessive blame on Biden himself and from losing hope.”

In 2021, Gerstle notes, Democrats had much smallrt majorities in the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives than President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had in 1933 when he was sworn into office.

“The transformative New Deal that Franklin D. Roosevelt launched in 1933 rested on overwhelming Democratic majorities in Congress: 58 to 37 in the Senate and 313 to 122 in the House,” Gerstle explains. “Had FDR been saddled with Biden’s bare majorities, the legendary accomplishments of his 100 days — 15 separate pieces of legislation passed by Congress between March and July 1933 — never would have come to pass.”

Gerstle goes on to note that Biden’s first six months as president were much better for him than the next six months.

“The $2tn American Rescue Plan passed in early March 2021 funded massive government investments in vaccine production and distribution, stimulated economic growth and employment, and markedly reduced childhood poverty,” Gerstle recalls. “The pandemic began to ease as the Biden Administration easily blew past its goal of inoculating 100 million Americans in its first 100 days…. The second six months of the Biden Administration, however, were as dispiriting as the first six months had been inspiring.”

Gerstle continues, “The arrival of the Delta and Omicron variants — along with the refusal of large numbers of Americans to get vaccinated — allowed the pandemic to rage once again. The White House miscalculated the short-term dangers that a quick withdrawal from Afghanistan entailed. Inflation exploded as the pandemic generated both supply-chain problems and profound shifts in the structure of demand for goods and services.”

Gerstle recommends that Biden “rescue two or three components of Build Back Better, with clean energy and early childhood care being the most important.” And the president, according to Gerstle, should “strengthen the resolve of the attorney general, Merrick Garland, to bring the full weight of the law down upon the January 6 insurrectionists.”

“Progressives today can look to the American past for examples of political movements transitioning from short-term defeat to long-term success,” Gerstle argues. “Consider the Democrats who built the New Deal order in the 1930s and the Republicans who established the neoliberal order in the 1980s. Long before they came to power, these earlier generations of left and right crusaders had coalesced into political formations that possessed an underlying ideology and a set of institutions bringing together like-minded activists, intellectuals, elected officials, donors and media influencers.”

Gerstle wraps up his op-ed by stressing that Democrats need to think long-term.

“Dislodging the Republicans from national power over sustained stretches of time means winning not just the White House and Congress, but statehouses, where rules governing all elections in America — local, state and national — have long been made,” Gerstle writes. “Not an easy task, to be sure, especially given the Republican Party’s ruthless will to power. But then, this would not be the first time that progressives, faced with adversity, steeled themselves for the long march.”


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