Subscriber OnlyOpinion

Biden has arguably achieved more in his first two years than Obama or Clinton did in two terms

By beating Trump in 2020, US president performed a vital service not simply for American politics but for the entire world

The most underestimated man of American politics, Joe Biden, defied his opponents, the pundits and many people in his own party with a better performance in the midterm elections than any Democratic president since John F Kennedy. He has now defeated the appalling Donald Trump for a second time and who is to say he won’t do it again if they are both candidates for president in two years’ time?

Biden has a remarkably successful record in his first two years in office, getting big pieces of legislation through Congress, including large spending programmes to help working people, increased taxes on the super rich and the restoration of America’s reputation across the globe.

He has arguably achieved far more in his first two years than Barack Obama or Bill Clinton did in two terms yet there is a widespread reluctance to give him the credit he deserves. It seems to be a feature of democratic politics that decent, hardworking politicians get little credit for their achievements from a mass media that is only too willing to indulge populist rabble rousers with the publicity they crave.

The politician in this country whose career resembles Biden’s is Enda Kenny. He too spent many years in the political wilderness and was widely underestimated in his own party and outside it but had the stamina and self-belief to ignore the critics to achieve his ambition of becoming taoiseach and do a remarkable job while in office.


Bond with Kenny

It is no accident that the two men got on famously. In fact Kenny, then in the taoiseach’s office, was playing golf with the then vice-president Biden in Mayo in June 2016, on the day the people of the United Kingdom went to the polls to vote on whether or not to leave the European Union. Although the two politicians knew that a decision on which the future of Europe hung in the balance was being taken on the Irish side of the Irish Sea the mood on the golf course was jolly.

When they got to the last hole on the course at Castlebar golf course, Biden needed to hole a six-yard putt to draw the match. “You can do it Joe,” called Kenny out good-humouredly and the vice-president duly sunk the put. A little over four years later, Kenny sent his golf partner a variation on the theme. “We always knew you could do it Joe,” he texted the newly elected president of the United States.

Biden had made no secret of his regard for Kenny’s achievements as taoiseach. After Fine Gael’s disappointing election result in February 2016, he remarked that given his record on restoring the Irish economy to good health if Kenny had been running for office in the US he would have won 80 per cent of the vote.

For most of their careers Biden and Kenny had to withstand constant sniping, not only from their political opponents, but from the intellectual elite within their own parties who had no understanding of the hard-nosed, unglamorous political graft on which the platform for election success is built.

Second term

By beating Trump in 2020, Biden performed a vital service not simply for American politics but for the entire world yet there appeared to be little appreciation of that in the US media over the past two years despite his legislative achievements. They were obscured by the decision to pull out of Afghanistan which had actually been negotiated by Trump before he left office.

Now that Biden has effectively defeated Trump for a second time, the mantra from all sides is that he is too old to run again in two years. Admittedly at 82 he will not be the ideal age to compete for a second term. The media by focusing on the occasional verbal slip and a fall from a bike has done its best to give credence to Trump’s insulting depiction of “Sleepy Joe”.

Yet most of the cynical pundits would be hard-pressed to keep up with Biden’s gruelling pace in recent months with dozens of trips, foreign and domestic. He criss-crossed the US in the run-up to the midterms, visiting 13 big cities and speaking at rallies which contributed to a stunning performance for his party. He combined this with a series of important foreign trips in recent months, culminating in a crucial meeting with the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, in Indonesia in the last few days.

It is worth pointing out that some of the most effective leaders in the history of the modern world came into their prime when they were far from young. Remember that Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle saved their countries from disaster when of pensionable age.

Or what about Konrad Adenauer, the first and finest chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, who took on the burden of leading his country after the catastrophe of the second World War? He not only rebuilt Germany from the ashes but played a vital role in the creation of modern Europe. Adenauer only stood down as chancellor in 1963 when he was 87. It is too early to write Biden off for another term just yet.