Joe Biden's Patience Is His Biggest Strength And Weakness
His willingness to indulge bad-faith actors sometimes wears them down, but sometimes lets them get the best of him
When the going has gotten tough in Joe Biden’s presidency, he’s shown remarkable equanimity, and placed all his faith in the idea that quiet, thankless diligence will pay off in the long run.
The evidence is impressive, but also mixed. He managed to enact more legislation in his first two years, including large, bipartisan bills, than most of his critics and allies thought possible. Unlike Donald Trump, he doesn’t routinely upend his approach to challenges or crises to manipulate headlines. He’s patient when confronted with obstacles to his agenda, but sometimes to a fault. He’s responded to Republican hostage-taking not by refusing to pay ransoms but by trying to minimize them.
When this approach has overcome obstruction (as when Republicans reluctantly increased the debt limit) he’s taken a victory lap for passing yet-more bipartisan legislation and praised his cynical negotiating partners. When it has hit a snag he’s eschewed unilateral action in favor of trying to grind the obstructors down.
This is the tack he’s settled on in the hope of resolving his two biggest extant political headaches:
His stewardship of the U.S.-Israel alliance as Benjamin Netanyahu indiscriminately bombs Gaza;
A volatile constitutional standoff at the border with Gov. Greg Abbott (R-TX).
In the case of Israel, he’s ignored activist pleas for him to call publicly for a ceasefire, in favor of a diplomatic approach that may actually yield a ceasefire and secure the release of hostages. At the border, he’s kept his cool as Abbott has usurped his authority, in the hope that a stalled border-security bill in Congress will force the standoff to an end.
Perhaps he’ll be vindicated in these efforts, but I can’t help but wonder whether stoicism and magnanimity are working against him, placing fate in the hands of two bad actors.
Netanyahu and Abbott are similar kinds of civic degenerates, but their low character isn’t as widely understood as it ought to be in the U.S. mainstream. And it’s worth pondering how easily either man might’ve ensnared Biden in these no-win situations if he and other liberal leaders had done more from the outset to distinguish reasonable people from discredited people when he took office after the Trump insurrection.
For years before the Trump presidency, Netanyahu had played sides in U.S. politics. In 2015, he accepted an invitation from Speaker John Boehner to trash Barack Obama before Congress, aligning with Republican efforts to scuttle U.S. nuclear-nonproliferation diplomacy with Iran. Through that period and beyond, his right-hand man in the U.S. was Ambassador Ron Dermer a Republican operative.
Then, starting in 2017, Netanyahu did a bunch of undisguised colluding with Donald Trump. As a refresher, Netanyahu: