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Biden’s Growing Credibility Gap

Although US President Joe Biden has often paid lip service to the virtues of bipartisanship and consensus-building, he has taken the opposite approach to policymaking. Not surprisingly, polls increasingly suggest that Americans aren’t buying the story that he wants to tell about his presidency.

STANFORD – Presidents, like quarterbacks or top scorers, tend to get too much credit when things go right or too much blame when they go wrong. And, as with star athletes, this feature of public life is largely out of their control. But when presidents themselves try to take exaggerated credit for perceived successes, or to minimize perceived failures, their credibility can easily suffer for it (especially when the media indulges its penchant for blowing things out of proportion). US President Joe Biden is becoming a case in point.

An American presidency is never just about the president. Also important are the political appointments across executive agencies and departments, from the cabinet on down. In this respect, Biden has failed to impress. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, once a rising Democratic Party star, has been tarnished by his inadequate responses to supply-chain problems, airline shutdowns, and the toxic-chemical fallout from a train derailment in Ohio. Similarly, Secretary of Homeland Security Alexander Mayorkas has repeatedly claimed that the southern border is secure, even though millions have crossed over illegally in the past year, while cartels continue to ship huge amounts of deadly fentanyl into the country, through both legal and illegal entry points.

Biden’s approach to legislating has been similarly problematic. Since Congress is supposed to have the final say on most issues (subject to a president’s veto and judicial review), a president’s effectiveness should in part be gauged by how well he (it has always been men so far) does in achieving bipartisan support for policies that will endure after he has left office. As Biden himself puts it, “Building consensus for fundamental changes is really important to ensure that the people buy into them so they can be sustained.”