Joe Biden Just Isn’t Built for This Command in Chief Thing


Photo Illustration by Kelly Caminero/The Daily Beast/Getty

Photo Illustration by Kelly Caminero/The Daily Beast/Getty

Electing Joe Biden was like trying to escape from a mass murderer by jumping in the nearest functioning car. American democracy escaped but it turns out the car is full of clowns, and it’s running on one of those donut spare tires that’s only good for 70 miles of a slow-speed chase.

It’s time we come to grips with something: Joe Biden just isn’t up to the job of commander in chief.

I believe Joe Biden’s initial handling of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was adequate. But his recent failings have been harder to stomach. It is now clear that the Biden administration never had a consistent position on whether sanctions are supposed to deter. And while I respect his dedication to avoiding a direct confrontation with Russia, the back-and-forth with Poland over whether (or how) to send MiG jets to Ukraine should have been handled more discreetly (or covertly). But most troubling was Biden’s recent declaration that Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power”—only to later walk it back.

The ‘Tear Down This Wall’ Moment Matters—The Walkback Doesn’t

You might say that it is obvious that an autocrat committing war crimes should be replaced. (But America doesn’t have to volunteer for the job; taking a moral, if rhetorical, stand is a sufficiently courageous response from the leader of the free world.) On the other hand, you might declare this presidential proclamation a very bad idea, with the potential blowback outweighing the benefits.

You could defend either option. Instead, the Biden administration provided the worst of both worlds. His ad-libbed line wasn’t bold; it was careless. But then walking it back made him look old, tired, and weak.

During Trump’s presidency, I repeatedly said that words matter. Biden is very different from Trump, but—for different reasons—neither man is good at the rhetorical part of leadership. Biden has never been precise or circumspect, and it seems that age has only made matters worse.

It’s not that a president’s words should always err toward caution. But bold and provocative statements should be calculated. Cavalier language (whether too weak or too bellicose) can send the wrong signal and provoke a war. Conversely, the right words have the power to heal and inspire. On the rare occasion that Biden is able to express powerful moral clarity, he (and his staff) might want to own his statements.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has demonstrated the importance of rhetorical leadership, and, in so doing, the painful contrast between his style and Biden’s.

Our last two presidents have utterly failed at this core job skill. To complicate matters, there is no obvious Demosthenes waiting on the horizon. Biden’s successor may well be the man who preceded him: Donald Trump. (Biden said recently that he’d be “very fortunate” to face Trump in a rematch. This strikes me as an unwise statement. Democrats rooted for Trump to win the 2016 Republican primary, assuming he’d be easy to beat.) America deserves better than a binary choice between an evil senior citizen and an incompetent one.

Meanwhile, Biden’s heir apparent, Kamala Harris, clearly went to the “Veep” school of communications. This means that moving on from Biden is not a simple fix because his two most likely replacements would probably be worse.

Meanwhile, Biden’s first term is only going to get harder. With Republicans poised to take control of Congress, we can expect two years of Hunter Biden investigations and gridlock for Biden’s nominees and policies.

But his troubles transcend domestic politics. In an increasingly dangerous world, Biden (perhaps unwisely) keeps mentioning “World War III.” But even putting current hostilities with Russia aside, we must be cognizant that an increasingly belligerent China is taking notes, while Iran continues to enrich more uranium. Meanwhile, the Taliban just reversed their “promise” regarding girls’ education in Afghanistan. We need a Lincoln, but we got an Edsel.

In times of crisis, American leaders have always risen to the task. But any hope that Biden is up to be anything more than not-Trump has now evaporated.

Biden entered his presidency brimming with hope and goodwill. His deficiencies were mostly camouflaged by his front porch (basement, really) campaign (thanks, COVID-19) and his uniquely dangerous and chaotic predecessor. He kicked things off with spending-induced inflation, the border crisis, the Afghanistan withdrawal debacle, and his constant and consistent pandering to the left (to play just a few of his greatest hits). As a result, his approval rating—even among key demographic groups—has plummeted.

The serious nature of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has only highlighted his shortcomings.

The Joe Biden bandwagon is breaking down. The world’s monsters are gaining on us. And we need to find a newer vehicle to take us to the promised land.

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