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Wait, Is Biden a Better President Than People Thought?


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Biden is making a comeback with his breakthrough on climate legislation — but limitations to his leadership still shadow his presidency.[//i]

John F. Harris


Altitude is a column by POLITICO founding editor John Harris, offering weekly perspective on politics in a moment of radical disruption.

Many progressives have spent the Biden years in a mood of rising despair and even rage about the prospects for achieving the kind of fundamental change they believe the country and world urgently need. They wish Joe Manchin was a different kind of senator. They wish the Democrats were a different kind of party.

Above all, they wish Joe Biden was a different kind of president — or that a different leader altogether was in his job.

Suddenly, the mood is looking up. Manchin’s surprise decision to back $370 billion in tax credits to stimulate clean-energy technologies and other progressive environmental priorities came after many Democrats had concluded hope was pointless. Assuming the deal survives further legislative maneuvering in coming days — not a forgone conclusion — it invites a reappraisal of Biden’s leadership. Maybe that isn’t hopeless, either?


Successful presidents, however, don’t just sign bills. *They re-order the politics of their times. As a presidential candidate in 2008, Barack Obama cited Ronald Reagan as an example of a president who “changed the trajectory of America in a way that Richard Nixon did not and a way that Bill Clinton did not.” Would anyone say that Biden has re-ordered the politics of climate change, creating a lasting consensus? Has he changed the trajectory of America, at a moment when a recent poll by Monmouth University found 88 percent of the electorate believes the country is on the “wrong track.” Most of all, is there any precedent in Biden’s half-century on the national stage of him demonstrating that type of leadership — of transforming the way Americans view an important moment or national choice?

Joe Biden, like Joe Manchin, has shown the ability to surprise people. But it seems unlikely that he can transform himself or the limitations that have shadowed his presidency to date.


*[//b] Oh Joe is Re-ordering the political landscape all right. Just not in a way Progressives/Democrats want.

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