Leave Joe Biden Alone

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Every administration has its ups and downs; today I examine why the Biden White House is taking more than its fair share of hits. But first, here are three great new stories from The Atlantic.

A steady hand

Any evaluation of a president’s performance usually begins with a soul-baring about whether the writer voted for or against the incumbent. I voted for Joe Biden, and I like him.

I am not, however, a partisan Democrat, and I was never a member of the Democratic Party. (My parents were typical Depression-era, blue-collar Democrats turned post-1968 Republicans.) In college, I became a New England moderate-conservative Republican, but I worked for a centrist Democrat on Beacon Hill and for a moderate Republican, the late John Heinz, in the Senate. And so I always kind of liked Biden as someone to whom I could relate: a working-class centrist who spoke his mind, even when his thoughts were garbled or when he seemed comically full of himself.

The Joe Biden who ran in 2020 appeared wiser, sadder, somewhat deflated, and seemed to be taking on the presidency as a public service and a burden. Time and tragedy had tempered Biden, and I liked him even more than I did in his flashier, Jason Sudeikis–like youth. These days, I think he’s done a pretty good job, especially given the fact that he’s dealing with a pandemic, revelations about an attempted American coup d’état, and an economic slowdown over which he had no control.

Oh, and by the way: He’s also managed (so far) to head off World War III and a possible nuclear conflict. We seem to forget that this is Job One for every American president, but while we’re griping about the gas prices (over which Biden also has no control), the Russians are replaying the Eastern Front against 40 million Ukrainians and also threatening NATO. It’s been reassuring to have a steady hand in charge of our foreign policy.

So why can’t the president catch a break? The public blames him for almost everything, and his approval ratings are cratering. What’s going on here?

Forget about the Republicans; controlled by their wackiest members (I would say “the fringe,” but they are now “the base”), they have fallen into a vortex of nihilism and desperation. They’re almost a lock to win the House in 2022, but they’re not sure why they want it, other than to protect themselves both from having to live among their own constituents and the slow but steady approach of justice for GOP involvement in January 6.

As USA Today columnist Jill Lawrence pointed out this morning, the Republicans are determined to impeach Biden because they have no other play—even if it’s not what voters want. It’s what enough of their voters want, and it will make sufficient noise to cover their lack of a plan to govern the country.

One might have hoped, however—and by one, I mean “me”—that the Democrats would hold their fire and stop their whispering about what happens if Biden steps down, or even dies. And if Biden does hold on—well, there are some prominent young Democrats who haven’t decided if they’re going to support him. (And by young Democrats, I mean “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.”)

My suspicion is that the full weight of our foreign and domestic crises has not broken through the self-absorption and solipsism of not only our political parties but the American public. We are just not capable of understanding that at home, we are inches away from the meltdown of our constitutional system of government, and abroad, we are one errant cruise missile away from a nuclear crisis.

But this is all the president’s fault because Joe Biden is old and talks like … well, like Joe Biden.

This is part of a more general problem in American politics: We have come to regard the presidency as a temporary appointment to Superman, and the White House as a gleaming Fortress of Solitude full of potential miracles. In doing so, we let ourselves off the hook for any responsibility either for our own actions as voters, or for any requirement to face our problems together with resilience and understanding.

Further reading:

Today’s News
  1. Wall Street, and President Biden, are preparing for the possibility that the Federal Reserve will announce the largest interest-rate increase since 1994.
  2. New York’s Court of Appeals ruled that an elephant named Happy is not legally considered a person, and is therefore not illegally detained at the Bronx Zoo. Jill Lepore profiled Happy last year.
  3. Nevada, South Carolina, Maine, and North Dakota have primary elections today. In South Carolina, a Donald Trump–backed candidate faces off against Representative Tom Rice, one of just 10 House Republicans who voted for Trump’s impeachment after January 6.


Evening Read
Photo of young fans screaming for the Backstreet Boys at a show in 1996
Paul Bergen / Redferns / Getty

Why Fangirls Scream

Story by Kaitlyn Tiffany

On the morning of August 25, 2014, a 16-year-old girl arrived at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in baffling condition. She was short of breath but had no chest pain. She had no history of any lung condition, and no abnormal sounds in her breathing. But when the emergency-room doctor on duty pressed on her neck and chest, he heard noises like Rice Krispies crackling in a bowl of milk—spaces behind her throat, around her heart, and between her lungs and chest wall were studded with pockets of air, an X-ray confirmed, and her lungs were very slightly collapsed.

Read the full article.

More From The Atlantic

Culture Break
An illustration of a orange human figure with floating colorful shapes that suggest viruses superimposed on the image
Ina Jang

Read. The prose in White Girls, by Hilton Als, “holds the emotional terror of losing so many friends and would-be lovers” to the AIDS epidemic.

Or try another suggestion from this list of books that explore the messiness of sickness, health, and human biology.

Watch. Gear up for the new Amazon Prime series The Summer I Turned Pretty (out June 17) with a rewatch of another Jenny Han adaptation, Netflix’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before.

Or pick out a movie from our list of 26 films critics were wrong about.

Play our daily crossword.

Thanks for reading, and we’ll see you tomorrow. Thinking about Biden and his gas-price problems got me thinking about my teenage years, when every song and movie seemed to be about the energy crisis. (Even James Bond was trying to solve it!) But I have to give a shout-out here to my hometown area of Springfield, Massachusetts, and some local boys called NRBQ and their 1973 national hit “Get That Gasoline Blues.” Everything old is new again.

— Tom

Isabel Fattal contributed to this newsletter.