"SE PROMENER D'UN PAS AGILE AU TEMPLE DE LA VÉRITÉ LA ROUTE EN ÉTAIT DIFFICILE" VOLTAIRE
juin 9, 2023
Like Truman and Johnson, Biden is an underestimated former vice-president who is excelling in the Oval Office
What does it take to be a great US president? The leaders that Democrats revere have strikingly similar characteristics. Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy and Barack Obama were brilliant orators with a Harvard education and an aristocratic bearing.
The vice-presidents they picked also had a lot in common. Harry Truman, Lyndon Johnson and Joe Biden all made their careers in the Senate — and lacked the charisma and ivy-league gloss of the presidents they worked for.
As vice-presidents, all three were sometimes treated with barely disguised disdain by the staffs of FDR, JFK and Obama. But Truman and Johnson went on to be great presidents in their own right.
Now Biden is showing every sign of following in their footsteps. Despite a razor-thin majority in Congress after the 2020 election, Biden has racked up a formidable record of domestic legislation. His first two years are accurately described by The Atlantic as “among the most productive of any president in the past half century”.
Like Johnson and Truman, Biden’s years in the Senate have given him an appreciation of how to get legislation through. His administration has passed a $1tn bipartisan infrastructure law as well as the largest package of climate measures in US history, embedded in the misleadingly named Inflation Reduction Act.
Biden has also passed important healthcare reforms and the Chips Act to boost domestic production of semiconductors. There has been a modest tightening of gun control legislation, progress on student loan forgiveness and billions of dollars in aid for Ukraine. The debacle of the withdrawal from Afghanistan got Biden off to a terrible start overseas. But, over the past year, his administration’s effective and timely support for Ukraine has restored America’s reputation for strength and competence in the international arena.
The Zelenskyy government’s heroic resistance would not have been nearly as successful without the help of US weaponry and intelligence. After the damage of the Trump years, the idea of the US as the “leader of the free world” is once again credible. A president’s greatness is defined partly by the scale of the challenges they surmount. FDR steered America through the Great Depression and the second world war. Truman dealt with the end of that conflict and the onset of the cold war. Amid the turmoil of the 1960s, Johnson played an indispensable role in the battle for civil rights.
The challenges Biden faces are also epochal. Donald Trump posed an unprecedented challenge to American democracy. The storming of Congress in January 2021 was a perilous moment in US history. Authoritarianism was also on the march overseas when Biden took office, with the number of democracies around the world declining steadily. As Biden made clear in his inaugural address in 2021, he saw a close connection between the struggle for democracy at home and abroad.
Two years into his presidency, those battles are going far better than many dared hope when he was sworn in. Biden’s most important domestic political achievement remains simply defeating Trump in the 2020 presidential election. As president, he has pressed home the advantage. The Democrats outperformed expectations in the midterm elections, holding on to the Senate and only just losing the House. The demoralised Republicans are now turning on each other, while Biden’s Democrats are proving surprisingly disciplined and united. Trump should never be written off.
But the chances of him returning to the White House in 2024 seem to be receding. With the Republicans in control of the House of Representatives, Biden may soon face an effort to impeach him, led by that party’s increasingly deranged far right. But any such efforts are doomed to fail and may even help Biden. His ability to remain sensible, pragmatic and calm in an age of raging partisanship is a considerable political asset. The president’s approval ratings are below 50 per cent but are comparable to those of Reagan and Obama at a similar stage of their presidencies.
Despite his record of success, Biden is still regularly denounced as unfit to lead, or even senile, by the Republican right. Even members of his own administration sometimes talk of him as if he were a slightly rambling old uncle. Recommended Rachman Review podcast23 min listen America’s hard right But it is nothing new for Biden to be underestimated. It has happened throughout his career — in the Senate, as vice-president, as a presidential candidate and now as president.
The reality is that at home and abroad he is already a formidably successful leader. It is now widely assumed that Biden will run for re-election in 2024. Even some of his supporters feel queasy about this, given that he already looks and sounds his age and would be 82 at the beginning of a second term in office. But Biden’s effectiveness as president stems in large part from his Reaganite ability to set a clear direction for policy and then to delegate.
The Democrats on Capitol Hill have done the heavy lifting to get legislation through Congress. The president’s national security staff have organised policy on Ukraine. Biden has presided but he has not tried to micromanage policy. A second term may seem too much of a stretch. But throughout his political career, Biden has shown a capacity to surprise and confound his critics.
Don’t bet against him doing it again.
By Gideon Rachman
in Financial Times January 2023
Gideon Rachman est un célèbre journaliste britannique. Diplomé avec un first class honour degree à Cambridge en 1984, il fut lauréat du Orwell Prize en 2016 et du European Press Prize.
Il a occupé les postes les plus recherchés au The Economist, fleuron de la presse britannique, où il fut être autres le correspondant à Washington , Bruxelles en liaison avec le Charlemagne European Affairs.
Il est depuis 2006 le rédacteur en chef pour les affaires étrangères du prestigieux Financial Times.
Gideon Rachman a reçu en 2010 le prix du meilleur commentateur de l’année en Grande-Bretagne.
Il a publié en 2010 son premier livre dont le New-York Times a écrit :
« perhaps the best one-volume account now available of the huge post-Communist spread of personal freedom and economic prosperity. »
Puis en 2016 Easternisation – War and Peace in the Asian Century, dont Paul Kennedy a écrit « This is truly one of those works you can say you wished our political leaders would read and ponder its great implications. »
The Observer has also listed him as one of Britain’s 300 leading intellectuals.
He has been a visiting fellow at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University (1988–89) and at the Nobel Institute in Oslo (2013).
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