One year into the Biden presidency: some criticisms are valid…some are not
Today, January 20, marks the one-year anniversary of Joe Biden’s presidency. He has had his fair share of challenges: the Covid pandemic, the economy, foreign policies, etc. He has had some successes and some failures. As a result, his average percentage of public approval ranges from the low to mid-forties. His critics have identified his response to the Covid 19 pandemic, Afghanistan, the economy, the failure to achieve legislation on the Build Back Better and voting rights as his principal failures. Some of these criticisms are valid…some are not. I will comment on Afghanistan and the pandemic.
Last August, Biden received harsh criticism for the withdrawal of all troops from Afghanistan. He made mistakes on several aspects of that withdrawal, but an understanding of historical context is needed. The war in Afghanistan had gone on for twenty years. Back in February 2020, then president Trump negotiated with the Taliban leaders a deal in which U.S. and Taliban soldiers would not attack each other, but the U.S. would have to remove all of its military personnel by May 2021. The Trump administration excluded the Afghan government from even participating in these negotiations. So, Biden´s options were quite limited:
- Remove all U.S. soldiers by May of 2021 according to Trump´s agreement
- Negotiate a few extra months for the removal of the troops (this is what Biden did)
- Escalate the war by sending thousands of additional soldiers back into Afghanistan
Those who criticize Biden for removing all military personnel from Afghanistan have a right to their opinion. But unless they leveled the same criticism against Trump in 2020, they are inconsistent and guilty of hypocrisy.
A second area of criticism leveled against Biden has been in his response to the Covid 19 pandemic. Biden inherited a very chaotic situation from Trump. Infections and hospitalizations were so numerous that ICU space at many hospitals was totally filled up. To his credit, Trump did accelerate the production of vaccines with his Operation Warp Speed program, but his ridicule of mask wearing, his recommendation of drinking bleach as a cure, and his blocking and manipulation of scientific evidence were immoral and cost him the election. Early in his presidency, Biden made great progress against the pandemic, but (mistakenly) claimed victory over Covid. Then the Delta variant hit… and then the Omicron variant. Infections and hospitalizations have skyrocketed again. The Biden administration failed to order enough tests. The CDC has given confusing information and guidance about the spread of the pandemic. The President and his team have made mistakes in their handling of the pandemic, but we the people are also partly responsible. The growing scientific evidence tells us that the best ways to fight Covid are to get the vaccinations, test frequently and isolate when we test positive, wear masks in public spaces, and wash our hands frequently. If we have not followed these guidelines, (and if there are not extenuating circumstances), we citizens have contributed to the spread of Covid.
Vaccine mandates require special comment. The Biden administration mandated that health workers at institutions that receive federal funding (Medicare, Medicaid, etc.) be vaccinated. It also mandated that employees at large private companies (with over 100 employees) receive the vaccination or be tested weekly. Mandates are points of tension between individual freedom and public safety. The Supreme Court recently ruled that the Biden administration was correct regarding the health worker mandate but overstepped its authority regarding mandates for large private companies. The drinking of alcohol provides a helpful parallel. People can legally drink alcohol in their own homes, even to the point of getting drunk. The government, health agencies, and religious organizations can recommend that people don’t drink excessively, but adults legally have the right to do so in their homes. (Total banning of alcohol was attempted during Prohibition, but did not work). Nevertheless, governments appropriately mandate that people cannot drive their cars while they are under the influence of alcohol. Individual freedom is limited when public safety is at stake. Although there is a very slight risk with any vaccination, the evidence shows that not getting vaccinated against Covid is much more dangerous. Unvaccinated persons are 17 times more likely to become hospitalized than their vaccinated neighbors. This greater rate of hospitalization puts public safety at risk due to greater strain on hospitals (no available ICU space, needed surgeries are postponed, stress and burnout among health care workers, etc).
Vaccines are highly successful in fighting Covid. Are federal, state, and private sector mandates part of that successful battle? The courts will make their rulings as they weigh individual liberty versus public safety. Nevertheless, if more people voluntarily received the vaccinations, we would approach herd immunity and the pandemia could be reduced, and mandates would not be necessary.
The one-year anniversary of Biden’s presidency is a good time to evaluate the past and make the necessary corrections. Biden should do so…and so should we.