The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion The Biden presidential scorecard at 500 days

President Biden speaks during the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) leaders' meeting in Tokyo, May 24. (Yuichi Yamazaki/Bloomberg)
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Come next Friday, the 500th day of his presidency, Joe Biden, gazing from the Oval Office toward flags surrounding the Washington Monument, might or might not think: Sadly, the flags still have only 50 stars, not 52 or even 51. Statehood for the District of Columbia, and even for Puerto Rico, were, it is difficult to remember, important progressive aspirations long ago, when Biden’s presidency was young.

These measures were to be made possible by ending the Senate filibuster. This would also make possible the federal seizure from the states of the constitutional responsibility for conducting elections. Article 1, Section 4: “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof.” But progress, progressives have been learning for nearly 500 days, takes patience. Or as Henry A. Kissinger once said, “The illegal we do immediately, the unconstitutional takes a little longer.”

Progressives’ Trumpian conviction that elections are ripe for rigging was fueled by their indignation about what they called Georgia’s new “voter suppression” law. It was the subject, in January, of perhaps the most unpresidential speech in living memory, Biden’s Atlanta eruption in which he asserted that if you disagree with him about Georgia — “Jim Crow 2.0” — you are a compound of Jefferson Davis, George Wallace and Bull Connor. Well.

If the Georgia law’s purpose is voter suppression, it is failing spectacularly: More than 857,000 unsuppressed Georgians voted early before Tuesday’s primaries, about triple the number who voted early in the 2018 primaries.

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Welcome to the “Through the Looking Glass” world of unfalsifiable beliefs: Time was, obsessives about the John F. Kennedy assassination said that the complete absence of evidence of a conspiracy proved the conspiracy’s diabolical thoroughness. Today’s voter-suppression obsessives say the surge of Georgians voting proves the law’s wickedness, because it energized voters.

Biden has had the experience common to presidents: Presidents do not control their agendas; the world gets a vote. When Harold Macmillan, Britain’s prime minister, 1957-1963, was asked what most troubled him, he reportedly replied, “Events, my dear boy, events.”

Pesky things, those. George W. Bush began by aiming to be a bipartisan education president, collaborating with Sen. Edward M. Kennedy on “No Child Left Behind” to banish “the soft bigotry of low expectations,” etc. Things went swimmingly through his 234th day as president, which was Sept. 10, 2001.

Perhaps the most important of Biden’s 500 days was Feb. 24, when Russian President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, setting in motion momentous events, substantially influenced by Biden’s deft diplomacy. These events are pulling Germany toward a world role commensurate with its geopolitical potential, and they are bringing NATO, through Finland’s coming membership, to about 833 miles of Russia’s border.

Biden's first-year report card is in. What grade did he get?

Unfortunately for Biden, what Americans usually want in foreign policy is as little of it as possible, so his stunning achievement in the Ukraine crisis — reviving the concept of “the West” — will pay scant dividends. Similarly, a tight labor market is the best anti-poverty program, and a downward distributor of wealth — but not when inflation more than erases wage gains.

The war’s disruption of global energy markets has underscored the incoherence of Biden’s fossil fuel objectives: lower supplies and lower prices. He has used maximum rhetorical shrillness, warning that fossil fuels pose an “existential” threat to Earth — the end of all flora and fauna, including us bipeds. He has combined such words with actions that mock them: Using the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to tweak — or to seem to be trying to tweak — the price of gasoline, while asking some unsavory regimes (Saudi Arabia, Venezuela) to pump more oil.

A lifeless planet is a secondary terror. Biden’s promised “transition away from” oil will perhaps resume when motorists simmer down. The public might understandably conclude that Biden is least serious when using his most alarmist words.

When you’re hot, you’re hot, and when you’re not, infant formula disappears. Panicked parents, deprived babies? What next? The Wall Street Journal reports: “During the past 80 years, the Fed has never lowered inflation as much as it is setting out to do now — by 4 percentage points — without causing recession.”

Four consecutive presidents while in office have experienced their parties’ losses of the Senate and House. Biden could become the fifth, and could manage this in just 24 months.

If he seeks reelection, he will need an opponent so ghastly that voters can respond as the New York Sun did with its five-word 1904 endorsement of President Theodore Roosevelt’s reelection: “THEODORE! With all thy faults.”

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