He can take it.
The Joe Biden presidency will complete its first week on Wednesday, and the earliest reviews have been favorable. Politico published a story noting that Biden had kept nearly all of his day one promises. Early polls are surprisingly robust in today’s partisan era, with Biden enjoying an approval rating of above 50%. As Ed Kilgore writes, “he begins in a better place than his predecessor and has a fighting chance to break out of the partisan ghetto of limited support.” This success is one reason why Mitch McConnell agreed on Tuesday to a power-sharing agreement that will let Democrats take over Senate committees. Undermining Biden this early on would have given ammunition to Democratic centrists whose vote will be key in any plans to shred the filibuster during this term.
One week is far too early to learn how successful Biden will be at the job. But there is already discussion about how to properly criticize the new president. On the one hand, there are breathless reports from conservative media attacking Biden before he has his cabinet confirmed. Many liberals have laughed at and mocked conservatives such as Sean Hannity, who criticized Biden for not gaining a handle on the pandemic on his first day in office. They note the ridiculous effort of Marjorie Taylor Greene to impeach Biden even before he was inaugurated.
But at the same time, there is no guarantee that liberals will respond well when Biden is inevitably criticized. This point was made clear in, of all places, a New York profile of late night comedy writers. These writers believed that Trump fueled late night television, with the medium becoming a safe haven for the #resistance. With Trump gone, the nature of their comedy will change. One writer was particularly worried about Biden criticism:
It’s going to be interesting to see how those people respond to jokes about the Biden administration doing some of the same stuff that Trump did. It’s easy to hate Trump because he’s hateable, but I’d be pretty surprised if Biden got all the kids out of cages or took down the border wall. Is that gonna be a tough pill to swallow for some of our audience? It’s not something I worry about when I’m writing jokes, but if it causes a big enough dip in our ratings, it will certainly come up in some fashion.
In Joe Biden’s view of the presidency, public and media criticism is a healthy part of the body politic. Like Democrats and Republicans before him, he wants to embody the public will to a certain degree and is respectful of opinion polls and media pressure. But pushing Biden will not always work. He has his own ideas about how the country should be run and how his administration should be constituted. For instance, pressure from liberals to change Biden’s White House and cabinet appointees did little to shift those appointments. However, it likely amplified arguments for the sort of far-reaching stimulus that Biden adapted in his $1.9 trillion proposal released last week.
The most important early example of presidential criticism, however, was last week’s kerfuffle over the lodging requirements of National Guard troops. Thousands had been brought to Washington, D.C., after the infamous riot during the January 6th Electoral College vote tabulation. Following this historic failure, the nation’s capital beefed up security for the January 20th inaugural. The troop coverage helped dial back any protests that were scheduled.
There was no security threat, and with the end of the inauguration Capitol Police decided to evict the guard members from their previous resting spots. Thousands were forced into parking garages with insufficient toilet facilities and electrical outlets. The outcry was swift and the response was immediate. Within hours of the decision and the start of mass criticism, Joe Biden personally apologized to the guard members. They were allowed back into their prior resting places. The pressure worked.
The ability to criticize the president of the United States is a sacred right in this nation. Every president who has tried to curtail it has suffered the wrath of contemporary observers and historians. The Biden administration is no different. Americans would be wise to take a careful look at Biden and how he is meeting their needs. They must look past the grifters and the dead-enders and judge Biden fairly, and if he does not meet their expectations, they should let him know about it.