Nobody in January of 2022 would have expected that by December we’d be writing headlines about the darn good year President Joe Biden had. His big domestic agenda bill, Build Back Better, seemed dead in the water after a senator from West Virginia demonstrated the power of one guy and a massive snit. That same senator and another Democrat from Arizona withheld the two votes that could have sent the filibuster to the dustbin of history, which also meant that there’d be no bill protecting voting rights — the very bill that the senator from West Virginia had insisted would for sure get 10 GOP votes. Funny how the unicorns never showed up.
As the year progressed, inflation kept hanging on, and gas prices, which presidents have never actually had any real control over, kept increasing, and wingnuts thought it was very clever to put little stickers on gas pumps with Joe Biden pointing to the price and saying “I DID THAT!” (The stickers also showed up on fast-food drive-up windows, because wingnuts apparently blame Joe Biden for … ?) Didn’t do any good to point out that inflation was a worldwide problem having more to do with the pandemic’s disruption of supply chains, particularly the computer chip shortage (subsiding but still a problem even as we head into 2023) and the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February. By early summer the conventional wisdom was that inflation and the economy were likely to sink Democrats in the midterms. Democracy itself looked imperiled, because just look at all the crazies that were winning Republican primaries.
And then that’s not what happened, because inflation began easing, gas prices fell, job numbers kept growing, and the most batshit GOP election deniers were way too extreme for most voters. Crucially, the Supreme Court in June did exactly what Republicans had spent decades engineering it to do, striking down the right to abortion as brazenly as possible. Non-MAGA Americans turned out like they did in 2020 and said the hell with that shit.
Along the way, Joe Biden kept reminding us that he’s pretty darn good at getting things done. We saw it in the international response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, especially as Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the Ukrainian people refused to fold. Biden helped keep European allies on the same page, and it was refreshing to see a president being presidential instead of treating allies like delinquent renters he’d like to evict.
Two years in, a big reason for Joe Biden’s continued success is still that he’s so completely not that other guy.
As the summer progressed, Democrats in Congress got things done, too, even with a tiny majority in the House and a 50-50 Senate, with Vice President Kamala Harris to break ties. Let us count the bills:
- Bipartisan gun legislation:It took the horrific massacre in Uvalde and several other mass shootings, but for the first time in decades, Congress actually passed some significant legislation beefing up gun laws, closing loopholes in background checks, toughening up anti-trafficking measures, and keeping guns out of the hands of more domestic violence convicts. It provided funding to help states enact and enforce “red flag” laws as well. And for once, action on guns is no longer entirely choked off by the cold dead hands of the NRA.
- The Chips and Science Act: It’s a $280 billion package of technology and science funding aimed at ramping up US microchip manufacturing, as well as a lot of investment in basic science and research and development. It’s expected to boost manufacturing of computer chips here in the USA, and it marks a real change in American industrial policy, in that now we actually have an industrial policy instead of a vague commitment to “free trade” and hoping corporations will make everything better by getting wealthy by any means necessary.
- The PACT Act:This is the bill to improve healthcare and research for veterans affected by all the burning of toxic sludge at bases in Iraq and Afghanistan. Republicans initially killed the bill in a big snit over “principles” that almost nobody remembers now, but were actually shamed into coming back and passing it. They remain mostly shameless anyway.
Let’s also not forget the terrific work Biden and Senate Democrats have done to help repair the damage Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell did to the federal judiciary. The Supreme Court remains horrible, but it now has Ketanji Brown Jackson, who right out of the gate proved she’s going to bring incredible smarts, rhetorical brilliance, and energy to her tenure. And Chuck Schumer has outdone McConnell in confirming federal judges — not just in numbers, but also in diversity and quality. (It helps not to just cram in every dues-paying Federalist Society nominee.) And by diversity, we’re not just talking about race and gender, although that’s impressive all on its own: 75 percent of Biden’s confirmed appointees have been women, and two thirds people of color. Beyond that, the federal bench is getting an unprecedented infusion of professional diversity. Finally, it’s not just prosecutors and corporate attorneys, but significant numbers of public defenders — like Jackson — and civil rights lawyers too. Biden’s impact on the judiciary may end up being his most impressive legacy.
When the midterms came along, the Red Wave turned into a ridiculously narrow GOP majority in the House, and Joe Biden became the first president in ages to not see massive losses in the first midterm of his presidency. Democrats not only gained a seat in the Senate, but they also took over several state legislatures. 2023 is likely to feature endless Republican mischief in the House, but the Senate will keep on confirming incredibly smart, diverse candidates to the federal judiciary, and Joe Biden has plenty to toast tonight, the end.
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