Joe Biden and the Reality Test
According to recent polls, President Biden is stuck in the political doldrums. A recent average of several national surveys shows him holding a slightly less than 42% approval rating.
Close observers of presidential politics offer a host of reasons for this sustained ennui. The analyses are copious and a good number offer provocative and perceptive insights into the president’s enduring inability to generate enthusiasm for himself and his presidency.
I think a lot of them are missing something. It has less to do with public opinion than public judgment.
Opinions can change often depending on new information and changing circumstances. But public judgment is something more settled. As explained by political scientist Will Friedman, the term “public judgment” is meant to suggest “that people have thought and felt their way forward on an issue in a reasonably well-rounded, fair-minded way.”
The public’s judgment on Joe Biden seems to be calcifying, and it bodes poorly for his reelection.
That inflation has hit America hard is indisputable. Costs of everyday items from the cost of groceries to gas has bumped-up dramatically in the past couple of years. America’s standing in the world, especially with respect to China, is wobbly, at best. The non-stop, insistent drumbeat of “transgender rights” and the normalizing of homosexuality has gotten old. The hectoring of the liberal elites, speaking of all who disagree with their inspired cultural dicta with disdain, has reached an “oh, just clam up” phase. And Joe Biden is presiding over this confection of yuck.
The perception of American decline is now firmly rooted in the minds of most citizens. In April, Pew Research published a study showing that “sizable majorities of U.S. adults say that in 2050 — just over 25 years away — the U.S. economy will be weaker, the United States will be less important in the world, political divisions will be wider and there will be a larger gap between the rich and the poor.”
The joint perceptions of wisdom and strength are also essential in leaders. In these categories, the American people are skeptical of our president. A March 2023 Gallup survey found that only 37% of Americans believe “leaders of other countries respect Biden.” This is about the same percent that thought the same thing of Donald Trump during his final year in office — the difference being that Biden ran for the presidency based on his years as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee.
Yet more than two years into Biden’s foreign policy, “confusion abounds, with a troubling disconnect between the administration’s stated priorities and its conduct,” according to Kori Shake, formerly of the National Security Council and now a senior fellow of the American Enterprise Institute. Shake notes that the 2022 Defense Department budget included “$109 billion in spending on issues such as homelessness, climate change, and public health research that do not boost military power and that should be the responsibility of other government departments.”
Ordinary Americans do not follow the intricacies of international events or the minutiae of economic forecasts, but they are observant. Their gut feelings might not reflect meticulous research but that does not mean they are not correct. As William F. Buckley famously said, “I should sooner live in a society governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the 2,000 faculty members of Harvard University.”
My conclusion about the gathering judgment of my fellow citizens could be off the mark. If it’s not, President Biden’s political future appears dark. And that might well be the best thing for the future of our country.
Rob Schwarzwalder, Ph.D., is Senior Lecturer in Regent University's Honors College.