Barack Obama’s triumphalist return to the White House this week was a massive Washington media event. The cameras were out en masse as the two-term president was mobbed by Democratic congressmen and presidential staff on his former turf, as though he were a returning hero.
In contrast, his successor, Joe Biden, rapidly sinking in national polls, cut a lonely and forlorn figure. He looked lost, sidelined, even forgotten amidst the adulation of his predecessor, an embarrassing scene for Obama’s former vice president. Indeed, this may have been Mr. Biden’s saddest moment yet as America’s 46th commander in chief.
The optics looked horrible for Biden, who is rapidly losing the confidence of the American people, his standing hit as well by a series of gaffes on the international stage. The last thing he needed was a reminder that he lacks popular appeal and is increasingly isolated. Obama positively revelled in the moment, basking in the adulation.
A casual observer could be forgiven for thinking we were witnessing two different generations of leaders, with the younger, and high-energy Obama contrasting heavily with the septuagenarian Biden, turning 80 this year.
Yet Biden’s presidency is in essence a continuation of the Obama era. Many of his key staff are holdovers from the Obama administration. Around 75 percent of his top 100 aides appointed by the midpoint of his first year in office had served Obama, leading critics to dub the current presidency “Obama’s third term.” The Obama-era figures include Anthony Blinken, Biden’s Secretary of State, and John Kerry, his Special Presidential Envoy on Climate.
There are striking similarities as well between the two administrations in policy outlook, too. At home, both have been big-government, high-tax, heavy-spending presidencies with distinctly liberal agendas that have significantly eroded economic freedom in the United States.
On foreign policy, Biden and Obama have shared a mindset that eschews the powerful projection of American power in favour of a greater focus on working through international organisations such as the United Nations. While Obama was widely seen as “leading from behind”, as one of his aides described it, Biden has literally been “sleeping from behind” as he amply demonstrated at Cop26 in Glasgow last November when he took a widely publicised nap.
Both the Obama and Biden eras have been scarred by foreign policy calamities, from Obama’s inability to respond to the Assad regime’s barbaric use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians – subsequently rectified by President Trump who acted decisively with US missile strikes – to Biden’s catastrophic withdrawal from Afghanistan that handed nearly 40 million Afghans to the Taliban wolves.
Both presidents have been rightly condemned as indecisive and lacking in backbone, with America’s adversaries taking full advantage of what they perceive to be American weakness and decline. It is no coincidence that on the two occassions when Vladimir Putin has invaded Ukraine, it has been under the noses of Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Both have also supported an appalling nuclear deal with Iran which is strongly opposed by every US ally in the Middle East.
The Obama/Biden presidencies are practically inseparable. They have been disasters for the world’s superpower, and textbook examples of leadership failure and the perils of appeasement. They both saw fit to begin their presidencies by casting out the very same bust of Sir Winston Churchill from the Oval Office. Clearly, neither possess the Churchillian grit, spirit or courage to lead the free world with strength or conviction.
Nile Gardiner is the Director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at The Heritage Foundation.