I read with interest and some amazement "The Ronald Reagan guide to the Joe Biden presidency" (Nov. 28). Jamelle Bouie of the New York Times maintains Biden's first year is comparable to Ronald Reagan's first year in 1981.The approval rating of both went down.
Bouie, a young man born in 1987, could have no memory at all of Reagan. I was in the U.S. Senate during all of his tenure and remember well Reagan's remarkable first days and the year that followed.
When Joe Biden's presidency began on Jan. 20, 2021, America's economy was actually doing fine considering that the pandemic — something with which no living person has had any experience — was approaching its first anniversary.
Through President Donald Trump's personal pushing and intercession, a vaccine deemed over 90% effective had been discovered, tested and approved in an amazing nine months, despite most scientific projections saying it would take three to five years or more. The announcement of the Pfizer vaccine came just days after the election — a coincidence, some say. The vaccine restored hope for better days ahead.
Despite displacements up and down the economy due to the pandemic, on Inauguration Day 2021, the stock market was behaving well as it has continued to do during Biden's first year. On Biden's first day the Dow stood at 30,930, a number signaling economic strength. The Dow had achieved a very healthy 56.7% increase over Trump's four-year term.
Compare all this to Reagan's first day on Jan. 20, 1981, which followed the presidency of Jimmy Carter. The Dow that day was slightly under 1,000, and stood slightly below its level on the day Carter had taken office four years earlier.
Upon Reagan's inauguration the Iranian revolutionary regime finally released 52 American hostages it had held for 444 days of captivity. The Iranians did not fear Carter, but for Reagan they figured they'd better clean up their act.
Furthermore, on that first day of Reagan's presidency, Paul Volcker, chair of the Federal Reserve Board, faced a prime interest rate of 21.5%, 10 times higher than the rate on Biden's first day. Inflation in 1981 was running at 13.3% — several times higher than on Biden's first day, not unlike the unemployment rate of over 10% that greeted Reagan.
In short, Reagan's first day was a serious mess, far worse than Biden experienced.
Volcker was a Carter appointee Reagan would later reappoint — just as Biden is now reappointing Jerome Powell, a Trump appointee, to the Fed post. The main thing to fix was the inflation number and Reagan told Volcker to continue doing what he must to battle inflation, even though Reagan understood that he was inviting a recession. But it was the right thing to do.
Reagan got his recession, which certainly dragged down his poll ratings, as he knew it would.
So yes, both Biden's and Reagan's approval ratings declined in their first year. And yes, both declines were caused by policy choices each new president made. But there the similarities end.
Reagan's policy choice was the right one. Biden's policy choices have been uniformly wrong: on immigration, crime, Afghanistan (the worst case), rampant government expansion and resulting inflation, one after the other. It's enough to bring down anyone's positives.
Having said all that, I liked Joe Biden during my Senate years. I found him to be a very friendly guy — hard not to like. We were not among each others' closest friends, but we were good friends. We served on the Foreign Relations Committee together for 10 years.
I had hardly arrived in Washington when one evening the Senate stayed in session late. The Senate dining room stayed open so I went down for dinner. Sen. Joe Biden came to my table asking to join me. I said "sure," and he proceeded to tell me that he had a soft spot for Minnesota senators.
He noted that he was 29 when first elected in 1972. One must be 30 to serve but his birthday was in November and the swearing in wasn't until early January. During that interim Joe lost his wife and daughter in an automobile accident, and he decided to stay home with his two surviving sons. Biden is a strong family man. He advised Mike Mansfield, the Democratic Senate leader, but Mansfield was not about to lose a senator whose election was a surprise (Delaware was not then the safe Democratic state it is now).
Mansfield was a reserved fellow, so he asked Minnesota's Hubert Humphrey to come with him to persuade Biden to join the Senate.
We Minnesotans know who did most of the talking at that meeting. Hubert told Joe he could commute daily from Wilmington and be home every night with his boys, and that he and Mansfield would try to arrange votes so Joe would not miss many.
Biden was convinced. He loved the Senate from Day One, and he ever after had a soft spot for Minnesota senators.
I still consider Joe a friend and I suspect he feels the same way.
Rudy Boschwitz was a Republican U.S. senator from Minnesota, 1978-91, and ambassador to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights, 2005.