"They are who we thought they were, and we let 'em off the hook." Coach Dennis Green's immortal words are even truer of this presidency than they were of the 2006 Chicago Bears, to whom his team blew a 20-point lead despite not giving up a single offensive touchdown.
Less than a month in, some of us are already in a position to point out that the Biden administration is turning out to be exactly what we thought it would be. The question is whether the same uncritical observers who exaggerated or distorted the failings of his immediate predecessor while ignoring or explaining away those of the man under whom he served as vice president are going to let him off the hook.
I'm not holding my breath. After all, if you are like me, you are probably old enough to remember a dark time when being a journalist was a very dangerous thing in America, when our hallowed free and independent press was under threat (the White House press secretary once asked reporters what they would be grateful for on Thanksgiving, among other horrors), which is to say, two months ago.
Biden, we were told, was going to "undo [Donald] Trump's assault on journalists," which is why when unhinged members of his staff threaten to "destroy" them for such obvious misdeeds as reporting upon their personal lives and conflicts of interest, they are assigned to work only with reporters from other, more sympathetic publications.
During last year's election Biden announced that he would begin his presidency with an executive order announcing a 100-day moratorium on deportations. He was only off by about 26,248, which is good for about a third of Trump's first-year total. (Whatever else might be said of his record on immigration, Trump deported vastly fewer people than Barack Obama, something that most journalists are inclined to explain away, except when the man himself apologizes for it.)
Meanwhile, apart from a wholly symbolic national masking recommendation, Biden's handling of the novel coronavirus has not in any meaningful sense deviated from the course set by his predecessor. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is certainly a departure from the preposterous rhetoric of the campaign trail about some bold new approach to a disease that has arguably been endemic for months. It is also totally unsurprising.
What about economic issues? So far from withdrawing from Trump's supposedly disastrous "trade war," Biden has (wisely, I think) kept tariffs in place. Despite repeated promises from Democrats, including ones repeated over and over again by Jon Osoff and Raphael Warnock during the run-off Senate elections in Georgia, Biden is not committed to $2,000 individual stimulus checks. Nor is he even remotely inclined to carry out the plans for cancelation of up to $50,000 in outstanding student loan debt urged on him by Elizabeth Warren and others. Even his proposed child benefit package, which was supposed to be the cornerstone of his bold new progressive economic agenda, is less generous than a similar one outlined by the guy who once lost a presidential election after dismissing half the American people as worthless scroungers.
None of this should be remotely surprising. Biden's election was a triumph of the center-right consensus that captured all of our institutions—political, social, economic, cultural—long ago. That consensus is about as likely to be subject to the kind of scrutiny that revealed the caging of children to an astonished American public long after it had become a normal practice during the Obama administration. The most remarkable thing is not the fact that Biden is governing in exactly the manner he was expected to, but the unanimous support his candidacy received from would-be progressives in 2020.
This is the guy whose campaign effectively ended MeToo, first by dismissing what had once been widespread concerns in mainstream liberal circles about his bizarre handsy behavior and then by suspending what had previously been the acknowledged norms surrounding accusations of sexual assault. He is a lifelong stooge of financial interests, an unflagging supporter of the war in Iraq, an opponent of racial busing, and the kind of septuagenarian white man who cannot help but observe while watching television that "every second or third ad out of five or six should turn out to be biracial couples."
He is who we thought he was.