Members Only | January 20, 2022 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Reality check: President Joe Biden’s year-one grade? A+ 

Any other answer is insane.


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As President Biden marked the anniversary of his first year in office Wednesday, the reviews have come in. A raft of pundits and pollsters describe him as “limping,” “struggling” even “failing.”

Have you people lost your minds?

The answer to the question “what grade do you give Biden’s first year in office?” is “A+.”

Anything else is insane. 

Have you people lost your minds?

Think back to where we were by the second half of 2020, almost four years into:

Think now of the barrels of real and virtual ink spilled over imagining the Biff Tannen-esque dystopia (not a joke – Trump in power was literally the model for the worst future the screenwriters of 1989 could imagine) of what a Trump second term would be like right now. 

America run by the worst of the worst sycophants and scoundrels, and the Trump family stealing and self-dealing in ever-larger amounts.

Faster global warming. Endless vendettas. Jailing dissidents. Clawing back LGBT rights. MAGA budgets and widespread hunger. Endless trade wars and rising nuclear standoffs. An impenetrable wall of judges. A choke hold on immigration. The end of democracy.

So to repeat: are people kidding with this “limping” nonsense?


Do not accept the premise of the underlying question here. A year ago, we were all trapped in a flaming car that was speeding to the edge of a cliff. Joe Biden sprayed us with a fire extinguisher and slammed on the brakes.  

The next question is not “but isn’t his driving a little slow today?” 

The president could be doing literally nothing right now except sitting in the Oval Office and playing with his German Shepherd – and maybe occasionally nominating sane, competent, non-larcenous people to open agency posts and judgeships – and that would be outstanding.  

We’re not on fire and we’re still on top of the cliff. 

But what if, after fulsomely acknowledging that by electing Biden we have saved ourselves from going into absolute free fall (for now, though there’s always 2024), we made a serious, mature attempt to weigh Joe Biden’s performance in office? Even here, the media has been way off, and the assessment is badly distorted. 

It is legitimate to acknowledge flaws. After all, haven’t there been missteps? Doesn’t America have problems? Yes, of course there were, and of course we do. Reality has a funny way of not being like a Trump fantasy realm of never-ending magic perfection.  

We can’t allow ourselves to be had by the “but her emails” crowd.  

But we can’t allow ourselves to be had by the “but her emails” crowd.  

You hear a lot of this on the economy, for example, from opportunistic right wing spin doctors: “Bu bu but inflation!” Inflation has been high and has lingered longer than expected. Voters have every right to feel anxious, upset, and irritated about it. 

At the same time, the vast majority of economists agree that the economy is doing far better today than a year ago or than they expected. That’s why consumer confidence is high and rising.  

The effects of higher prices have been largely offset for many by higher wages and much greater levels of employment, business is booming, the stock market is way up and prospects ahead are good

Clearly, most things have gone well in the economy, and a few have gone poorly. Not exactly a “struggling” economic record, nor a sign of a wandering president; though to hear Fox News tell it, anyone who speaks these economic facts must be off their rocker because inflation!

It’s the same elsewhere. 


But the Afghanistan withdrawal had deadly errors! But not enough covid tests! 

Yes, the withdrawal from Afghanistan had many mistakes and tragically, horribly, 13 Americans and many Afghans were killed.  When have we ever gotten out of a war easily, or without tragic loss? 

Yes, we should have stockpiled covid tests and masks earlier this year. We have also achieved the fastest and biggest vaccination program in history.  

We even see some of the same dynamic on the left, reflected in voters who tell pollsters that they are “disappointed” in the president. 

But BBB got stymied! But we didn’t pass election protection! But we need more on climate! 

Yes, administration officials, including the president, have occasionally given confusing or awkward messages or raised expectations too high.  This president has also been more successful in passing meaningful legislation in his first year than any in living memory, leading to truly historic economic gains, lifting 3 million children out of poverty, finally investing in desperately-needed infrastructure, including major climate progress and environmental justice, and saving millions from eviction. 

Along the way, outside of Congress, he reversed the Trump administration’s assault on the environment, gotten more judges confirmed in his first year than any president in 40 years, ended the European trade war and stopped the panic of global allies.  

Are voters unhappy about how the world is right now? Clearly. Does this really reflect Biden’s performance? Nope.

Neither should we be hornswoggled by the fallacy that failing grades are coming from voters. Any pollster worth their salt will tell you low approval ratings are not a serious assessment of performance. They are a mirror of voter’s feelings about their situation. 

Amid higher prices and the omicron wave, voters are understandably very unhappy. They voice low approval ratings and grades to pollsters, which is the major avenue they have for signaling that unhappiness, especially the Republicans whose responses account for the bulk of negative Biden ratings. 

Again, are voters unhappy about how the world is right now? Clearly. Does this really reflect Biden’s performance? Nope.

Joe Biden’s job performance in his first year is mostly praiseworthy.  But that is beside the point. 

One of Biden’s favorite lines is “don’t compare me to the Almighty, compare me to the alternative.” He has done what we, the voters, asked him to do. 

He saved us from disaster. That deserves the highest marks. 

Matt Robison covers public policy and governance for the Editorial Board. The host of Beyond Politics Podcast and Great Ideas Podcast, for WKXL in Concord, NH, he lives with his family in Amherst, Mass.


  1. Dan Rahm on January 31, 2022 at 7:44 pm


    Robison: “The answer to the question ‘what grade do you give Biden’s first year in office?’ is ‘A+.’ Anything else is insane.”

    No, dude — you’re misusing and/or abusing the letter-grading standards

    Sure, if you assign Trump an F (or even an F minus) for his first-year performance, you’d have to give Biden an A+ in comparison

    But you are being extra-magnanimously super-generous to Trump in assigning him a mere F minus — in reality he was closer to an X, Y or Z minus (no, we will not venture into Greek letters, territory abandoned by even the World Meteorological Organization)

    Your own documentation demands a much lower grade than F minus for Trump’s first year (But to pick nits, you’re comparing Biden’s first year to Trump’s first 3½ years — apples and oranges, dude)

    By objective standards, in our opinion Biden deserves a B or B+ for his first year, with “areas needing improvement” including:

    Universal, easily accessible COVID rapid testing
    Vaccine mandates for interstate and international travel
    Immigration system abuse mitigation
    Immigration program reform
    Stronger advocacy of Electoral Count Act reform
    Removal of ALL Trump tariffs on allies (fights inflation)
    More realistic negotiation of the Build Back Better Act
    Fewer “senior moments”

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