Although the author supposedly interviewed 300 of Biden’s staff to write this summary of the president’s first two years, he tells the story from the perspective of a fly on the wall describing how all these events and conversations unfolded with very little attribution. He reels out one accomplishment after another from the rollout of the covid vaccines, to pulling Europe together to back Ukraine’s fight against the Russian invasion, and the passage of lots of legislation: The American Rescue Plan, the Infrastructure Act, the CHIPS semiconductor bill and the Inflation Reduction Act.
But it’s not a puff piece. There are plenty of warts on this self-proclaimed “Gaff Machine” who misspeaks regularly. And the president evidently throws his share of temper tantrums. The author goes into great detail about the botched exit from Afghanistan, neither making apology nor placing blame. Getting legislation passed is messy at best. Foer details the troubled relationship with Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema. And he paints Ukranian president Volodymyr Zelensky as rude, arrogant and ungrateful.
And yet all of these problems blend right into Biden’s role as a politician, smoothing and pushing, listening and responding. In the end Foer gives Biden’s first two years a stamp of approval since Republicans did not get the sweep of Congress often seen in the midterm election. Foer is clear that public anger over the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade probably fueled Democrat success in the midterms more than Biden’s performance, and yet that is politics too. And Foer sees Biden as the master of that game.
The question is the title. If Biden is the last politician, what’s next? An autocrat or dictator? Can we have democracy without politicians?