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Monday, October 2, 2023
Oct. 2, 2023

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Estrich: What more do you want Biden to do?


Chances are that you don’t approve of the job Joe Biden is doing as president. The polls are consistent: according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll completed Tuesday, only 39 percent of Americans approved of Biden’s handling of his job, which is close to the low point of 36 percent earlier this summer. Some context: The Democratic base in this country is roughly 42 percent. Biden’s approval rating has been below 50 percent since August 2021. And earlier polls have found that a majority of Democrats want a different candidate in 2024.

Some of this is understandable. Mortgage rates. Gas prices. Inflation. By a 2-1 margin, Americans think the country is on the wrong track, which should temper some of the more optimistic projections of the effect of abortion and Trump on the midterm. The pocketbook issues are what they are, and for most voters, they count. It’s always the economy.

But there’s a disconnect somewhere here. Biden just came off one of the most successful legislative sessions since Obamacare. He literally changed where America stands on climate issues. He did something huge. And he managed to do it in no small part precisely because he had the experience in the Senate to know how to make the institution respond. He cut the deals that had to be cut. He earned his pay. So why no uptick in support?

And it’s not just his legislative accomplishments, significant as they are. Biden is a genuinely decent and honorable human being. In the Senate, he was known for hard work, compromise, diligence and decency. We used to call him “Uncle Joe,” and it was said with affection, because of his decency and integrity, because he was a real person who had been touched by tragedy and carries with him a sort of dignity and gravitas that is a measure of his character. When he says he knows the American people, as he did in a speech last week, he is right. He does. He is one of us in a way Donald Trump never was.

Moreover, he is saying all the right things, the popular and true things, not only about defending democracy, which has been a consistent theme, but also about law and order. His proposals on crime have hit all the right notes, supporting police as well as reform, emphasizing prevention as well as detention. With Republicans twisting themselves into pretzels in the hopeless effort to defend Donald Trump, and attacking the FBI in the process, the crime issue was finally there for the taking for Democrats, and Biden has taken up the challenge.

What more do you want him to do?

Donald Trump as president was in our faces every day. Hardly a day passed, and certainly not a news cycle, without an outraged tweet that left us talking, engaged and divided. No one talked about politics at the dinner table because it was too heated. Was that really better?

I think Biden is an honorable and able politician, in the best sense, and an effective president who would be even more effective if he enjoyed the support he deserves. But he doesn’t enjoy that support: The Reuters numbers are consistent with the poll calculated by FiveThirtyEight to be 53/42 — disapproval over approval.

What should Biden do? From where I sit, he has been the effective president I hoped he would be. But a majority is not sitting there. That’s why I’m asking you.