Troubles Mount for the Biden Administration | Opinion

The fall of Afghanistan is a disaster for the Biden presidency, but it is far from the only one. The rise of inflation and the massive surge of illegal immigrants are sharp blows, too. In fact, Joe Biden's young presidency already faces an inflection point, as the simultaneous failure of so many major policies, foreign and domestic, suggest to many voters that the administration is incompetent. Voters are also beginning to reach a second, troubling conclusion: Biden is pursuing a very different policy agenda from the one he ran on. They thought they were electing a center-left candidate who would restore domestic calm and constitutional probity after the tumult of the Trump years. What they got instead was the most progressive—and expensive—presidency since Lyndon Johnson.

President Biden still enjoys positive job approval numbers, currently 4 points higher than disapproval. But the trend is not a favorable one. In February, Biden's approval was up by almost 20 points. Since then, disapproval has risen by 10 points, while approval has declined by 5 points. With the loss in Afghanistan, it will decline further.

Perhaps the president's biggest asset is voters' perception that Joe is "one of us"—that he's friendly and likable, not some elite technocrat like Elizabeth Warren or Al Gore. Biden could never have pulled off his narrow victory if he had been as widely disliked as Hillary Clinton or, as the Democrats now realize, Kamala Harris.

What Biden does not have is a popular mandate for the large, structural changes that he and his congressional allies are attempting. The November election and Georgia Senate runoffs gave the Democrats narrow control of both the House and Senate, but no popular mandate for big changes. Nor did they run on that platform.

Instead of reading that signal and respecting it, the White House and congressional leaders decided to push for major changes, from opening the floodgates for illegal immigration via executive order to pushing for giant spending bills which will lock in new, long-term entitlements and much of the Green New Deal. Other measures, such as extending the eviction moratorium for renters and suspending repayment of student loans, follow the same progressive ideology. The goal is to transform America, and Democrats are trying to do it in a hurry.

They are rushing because their control of Congress, already razor-thin, could disappear entirely in the midterm election. The president's leverage in a 50-50 Senate is already eroding as the administration's policy failures mount. The border is a full-scale disaster and the public knows it. For months, Department of Homeland Security secretary Alejandro Mayorkas and other administration officials had been repeating, falsely, that the border is closed. The White House must realize how bad the situation is—the president and vice president seem about as eager to visit La Hoya, Texas, as they are to host a fundraiser for Andrew Cuomo.

Joe Biden Afghanistan speech
US President Joe Biden arrives to speak about the Taliban's takeover of Afghanistan from the East Room of the White House August 16, 2021, in Washington, DC. - President Joe Biden broke his silence Monday on the US fiasco in Afghanistan with his address to the nation from the White House, as a lightning Taliban victory sent the Democrat's domestic political fortunes reeling. Brendan Smialowski / AFP/Getty Images

Why not switch to policies that work better? Because that would mean a humiliating return to Trump's border wall and his "remain-in-Mexico" agreement, which Biden fiercely condemned on the campaign trail and terminated soon after taking office. The earlier policies actually worked; Biden's soft rhetoric and inept decisions do not. When Vice President Harris said, "Please don't come," no one believed her. Statements like that are credible only if they are backed by the prospect of tough, sure enforcement. But that's precisely what's missing.

And so the migrants have come, thousands crossing the border illegally every day, overwhelming border control agents and local cities where they are held and shipped, before spreading out across America. The fact that many are suffering from COVID only adds to the misery. So does the surge in hard drugs and gang members flooding across the porous border.

On the economy, Biden ought to be doing much better than he is, as the GDP and employment are bouncing back very rapidly from COVID closures. But polls show Biden is starting to lose support there, too. Consumer confidence has plummeted as prices rise and wages lag. CNBC reported last week that consumer sentiment had fallen to its lowest level in a decade.

Inflation poses several political problems for Biden and his party. First, it dislocates consumers, which translates into unhappy voters. Second, it flashes a big warning sign that the economy is being mismanaged. Third, it imperils the Democrats' plans to dump a lot more money into an overheating economy. Although voters want roads and bridges, they are balking at anything beyond that, fearing that more federal spending means more inflation. The Congressional Budget Office reports that even the smaller of Congress' two spending bills is not fully funded. The larger bill Biden is pushing doesn't come close. That leaves only two ways to cover the yawning gap: taxes on the middle class—which won't pass Congress—or printing money—which will drive up inflation.

On top of these problems comes the complete destruction of America's military position in Afghanistan. Only a month ago, Biden said we had trained and equipped enough friendly Afghan forces to defend the country and hold off the Taliban. As he said at a July 8 press conference, "Do I trust the Taliban? No. But I trust the capacity of the Afghan military, who is better trained, better equipped, and more competent in terms of conducting war." He went on to reject any comparison between Saigon falling to the North Vietnamese and Kabul falling to the Taliban. North Vietnam, he said, had a far more capable military. "The likelihood there's going to be the Taliban overrunning everything and owning the whole country is highly unlikely." Only a month later, that "unlikely" prospect unfolded, and the Pentagon was rushing troops to evacuate Americans.

It's a grim spectacle—and Biden will take the political fall for it. As Chicago politicians and mobsters say, he has to "wear the jacket." With so much incoming fire from so many directions, it had better be a flak jacket.

Charles Lipson is the Peter B. Ritzma Professor of Political Science Emeritus at the University of Chicago, where he founded the Program on International Politics, Economics, and Security. He can be reached at

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.