Talking Points

Biden is following — and falling — behind on Ukraine

By the time President Biden announced a ban on Russian oil imports, Congress was on the cusp of passing legislation that would make his edict a formality, even with some characteristic Capitol Hill dysfunction on display. Europe was getting close.

"Leading from behind" was a common Republican criticism of former President Barack Obama when Biden was vice president, but it is hard to defend the current occupant from the charge here. And it is a common thread for Biden.

The Biden administration brought up the rear on relaxing COVID restrictions, after Democratic governors followed party operatives' advice that the time had come to declare victory. Under pressure from civil rights activists, Biden redoubled his efforts on Democratic voting bills — after it was clear he didn't have the votes to pass them.

Biden was elected as an experienced leader, but for much of his career he has been a follower. The controversies that dogged him during the Democratic primaries came from his attempts to find the center of gravity in the party at any given time and position himself a millimeter to its right or left, depending on what was politically advantageous at the time.

That's why he's gone from architect of the 1994 crime bill, intended to burnish his law-and-order bona fides during the Clinton years, to criminal justice crusader in the Black Lives Matter era. He has similarly undergone a transformation from liberal hawk to the great unwinder of the forever wars as the Democratic winds have shifted.

Some of these changes are for the better. But the weathervane tendency has also contributed to his presidency's biggest disappointments. Biden attempted to repurpose much of the progressive agenda, albeit with more tax hikes and a smaller price tag, and then couldn't get it across the finish line. 

You could make a case for Biden's COVID caution or oil ban skepticism — until he caves. He is following the parade rather than leading it, careening from segregationists to socialists depending on their level of power in the Democratic Party. That might work in the Senate, but it's not the kind of leadership voters seek in the White House.