Amid plunging poll numbers, progressives are abandoning the President and the President himself is lashing out. It’s easy to blame this on the myriad crises facing the country, but the real reason is that Biden himself has been on every side of every issue and no one knows who he really is.
President Biden’s sinking approval rating is no secret. Republicans never liked him and independents started souring on him after the botched retreat and subsequent rout in Afghanistan. Recently, however, progressives have been abandoning him as well, pushing his approval into the low 30’s, the danger zone if ever there was one. It’s easy to attribute the drop to the veritable conflagration of crises gripping the nation from inflation to the border, but other Presidents have weathered storms in the past without losing their base and, generally speaking progressives have rejected the premise that these challenges are President Biden’s fault. Gas prices are a case in point: Progressives have been posting on social media for months claiming that the President has limited control over the cost of this commodity. They also argue regularly that the economy overall is in better shape than described by conservatives. This has led some in the pundit class to attribute the erosion to recent setbacks in the Supreme Court on issues of particular interest to the progressive wing of the party, particularly the rollback of Roe v. Wade, the expansion of gun rights, and limits on the administrative state, but everyone knows the President has less control over the Court than gas prices and others have dealt with decisions that didn’t go there way without a similar drop.
At the same time, the reaction to the recent Supreme Court rulings is illustrative, capturing a portion of the truth, if not the entire reality of the President’s eroding standing with his constituents. The Washington Post recently reported on growing anger about his reaction to the abortion decision, writing “To many increasingly frustrated Democrats, Biden’s slow-footed response on abortion was just the latest example of a failure to meet the moment on a wave of conservative rollbacks, from gun control to environmental protections to voting rights. Some aspects of the White House reaction have felt to some Democrats like a routine response, including stakeholder calls and the creation of a task force, to an existential crisis.” White House officials disagree, of course, believing his response to be in the “mainstream” of public opinion, and taking the unusual step of reprimanding progressives. “The president has been showing his deep outrage as an American and executing his bold plan — which is the product of months of hard work — ever since this decision was handed down,” explained White House communications director Kate Bedingfield in a statement this weekend. “Joe Biden’s goal in responding to Dobbs is not to satisfy some activists who have been consistently out of step with the mainstream of the Democratic Party. It’s to deliver help to women who are in danger and assemble a broad-based coalition to defend a woman’s right to choose now, just as he assembled such a coalition to win during the 2020 campaign,” she continued.
Progressives, equally needless to say, were not pleased with this response. Haley McMahon vented her frustrations on Twitter. “If the White House’s official position is that abortion advocates are ‘consistently out of step with the Democratic Party,’ then it shouldn’t bother asking for our votes.” Ms. McMahon was more irate and vulgar in her follow up, adding “Also, Biden and the Democrats have done absolutely fuck all to ‘deliver help to women who are in danger,’ whatever that ultra-vague bullshit means. I cannot emphasize enough how badly telling pro-choice people to go fuck themselves right after Roe is overturned is going to go.” She was responding to another tweet from Jordan Zakarin, who noted “Remarkable statement from the White House, defending it’s tepid response to abortion by trashing…the left.” Matt McDermott likewise observed, “It is remarkably concerning that there are members of the Biden Administration who seem more frustrated at pro choice activists than at Republicans who systematically dismantled abortion rights.” When you consider that these comments are all directly related to a development that the mainstream media believes will improve Democrats chances in the midterm elections later this year, it becomes obvious that this is more than just a minor quibble or intra party spat.
Instead, the issue goes to the core of President Biden’s troubles: No one really knows who he is. On the campaign trail and since taking office, he has talked a good progressive game, passing popular progressive themed Executive Orders on the border and equity, advocating for assault weapons bans and other restrictions on the second Amendment, and pushing for big bills like Build Back Better. These, however, are all suddenly newfound positions after a 40 year career in politics. He’s frequently and more forcefully advocated the very opposite of what he is saying now. In 2006, barely 15 years ago while he was preparing a run for the White House, he said flat out that abortion wasn’t a right. He told Texas Monthly, “I do not view abortion as a choice and a right. I think it’s always a tragedy, and I think that it should be rare and safe, and I think we should be focusing on how to limit the number of abortions. And there ought to be able to have a common ground and consensus as to do that.” He continued, “I’m a little bit of an odd man out in my party. I do not vote for funding for abortion. I voted against partial birth abortion—to limit it—and I vote for no restrictions on a woman’s right to be able to have an abortion under Roe v. Wade. And, so I am—I made everybody angry. I made the right-to-life people angry because I won’t support a constitutional amendment or limitations on a woman’s right to exercise her constitutional right as defined by Roe v. Wade. And I’ve made the groups—the women’s groups and others—very angry because I won’t support public funding and I won’t support partial birth abortion.” As late as 2019, then-candidate Biden was a supporter of the Hyde Amendment that bars federal funding for abortion.
Political expedience and hatred of President Trump caused progressives to ignore all of these previous positions and believe he’d be a forceful advocate for abortion rights. I do not say this to blame progressives: President Biden was happy enough for them to believe he was firmly in their camp. The same could be said of the President’s position on fossil fuels. During the campaign, he was a strong proponent of the need to transition to renewable sources, even mixing it up with Donald Trump on the topic during one of their debates. Then, he declared, “Climate change, climate warming, global warming is an existential threat to humanity. We have a moral obligation to deal with it. And we’re told by all the leading scientists in the world that we don’t have much time. We’re going to pass the point of no return within the next eight to 10 years. Four years of this man [President Trump] eliminating all the regulations that were put in by us to clean up the climate, to clean up– to limit the– limit of admissions [sic, emissions] will put us in a position where we’re going to be in real trouble.” At the time, he endorsed a plan that would’ve cost families up to $6,500 according to a Wall Street firm Biden himself cited. He further emphasized the need for a rapid transition, “We need other industries to transition to get to, ultimately, a complete zero emissions by 2025.” When President Trump asked point blank, “Would you close down the– Would you close down the oil industry?” Biden replied, “I would transition from the oil industry. Yes.” He rode into office on a wave of Executive Orders limiting oil and gas exploration, but then prices started to rise. This shouldn’t have been surprising given that increasing the price of fossil fuels has always been a key part of the plan. That is, until consumers noticed and President Biden immediately tried to change course, releasing millions of barrels of oil from the Strategic Petroleum reserve, demanding oil companies produce more, and begging foreign countries to increase their production. Putting this another way, once the cost of the policy became apparent, he abandoned it other than as lip service.
Again, this shouldn’t have been surprising to anyone that has closely followed the President’s career. If anything, it’s been a long established pattern. He was a vocal advocate of the 1994 crime bill until it was no longer politically expedient in an environment where progressives have increasingly questioned police practices. He once bragged about his ability to work with actual segregationists in the Senate and opposed federal bussing to integrate schools, decrying the “racial jungle,” but then suddenly became a champion of Critical Race Theory and the larger equity agenda. He claimed he was going to unite the country before launching into unprecedented attacks against those who disagreed with him, calling political opponents everything from Neanderthals to Confederates. He has long been known as a believer in the institutional procedures of the Senate and the protection of minority rights provided by tools such as the filibuster. Now, he argues the need to bypass it whenever convenient. To be sure, some of these changes in position and rhetoric have pleased progressives, but that doesn’t make them anything less than gargantuan shifts in what we might call core beliefs. Putting this another way, is there any position that the President now holds on any issue that was the same as it was a few years ago?
I am hard pressed to think of one, and the end result is a President who appears to have no core beliefs, nor the desire to fight for anything except his own self-aggrandizement. You might say Joe Biden is for anything he believes will make him look good at any given moment. This is evident as well in his penchant for making up stories about being arrested in South Africa, marching for Civil Rights, acceptance to military colleges, and more. Progressives are almost certainly starting to realize that, and therefore they no longer see setbacks like the recent Supreme Court decisions as shared losses, something to recover from together. The illusion that they are in this fight as one is gone. They are increasingly viewing themselves separately from the party leader, who they no longer trust to be fully committed to their goals. The President Biden isn’t who they thought he was, and it’s difficult to see how things get better from here. If you know who someone is and what they believe, you can agree to disagree. You can respect these differences of opinion, believing that they stem from fixed beliefs. You might argue with them. You might get frustrated with them, but you trust that their beliefs are firmly held and understand that differences of opinion are inevitable. President Trump, for example, has no issue telling his supporters to get vaccinated even though he knows they are skeptical. He can support candidates like Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania who lack a strong conservative track record, and his supporters will readily disagree without abandoning him outright. President Biden, it appears, has no such luxury and can look forward to being on a short leash for the rest of his term. He can also look forward to a near endless stream of articles questioning whether he should run again. This is what happens when no one knows who you are, perhaps not even you, yourself.