During the Tet Offensive in February 1968, then-President Lyndon B. Johnson seemed to realize that the Vietnam War was "mired in stalemate," and he reportedly declared, "If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost middle America." Johnson's reaction to CBS News reporter Walter Cronkite's commentary that the war was unwinnable came after public opinion had already turned on the administration's policies and it has been reported that Cronkite's views were determined before he traveled to Vietnam—yet the concept of a Cronkite moment has endured.
Last week President Joe Biden had his own Cronkite moment for his handling of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. But is Biden willing to admit he had his Cronkite moment? The president, who was elected for his supposed capacity for empathy, showed little—snapping at ABC News's George Stephanopoulos for stating, "We've seen those hundreds of people packed into a C-17. We've seen Afghans falling…"
Biden quickly interrupted, "That was four days ago, five days ago." It had been two days—but regardless, it was a heart-wrenching moment, and Joe Biden seemed not to show any caring at all.
America Isn't Back
If it wasn't during the George Stephanopoulos interview, Biden's true Cronkite moment may have come on Sunday night when comedian John Oliver opened his HBO series Last Week Tonight and called out the president.
"America's war there is drawing to a close after almost twenty years of fighting," said Oliver. "We all knew the end was likely to be ugly, the only question was, how ugly? Well, this week, we got our answer."
Oliver showed images of the packed plane that Biden dismissed as if it was ancient history.
"Holy sh-t," Oliver said of the footage. "And the thing is, that is just the people that managed to get onto the plane. There were horrific videos—that we are not going to show you—of people clinging to the wheels of a plane and falling to their death as it took off. And while Biden insisted that 'we planned for every contingency,' that is pretty hard to believe given that just ten days ago, the U.S. was desperately trying to negotiate with the Taliban asking to spare our embassy in Kabul; a day later, that embassy was told to destroy sensitive files; and by this time last week, we were evacuating it altogether."
Oliver was far from the only talking head to question Biden's handling of the Afghan pullout. On ABC's This Week, correspondent Terry Moran was pointed in his suggestion that the president "isn't taking responsibility for Afghanistan chaos."
Poll Numbers Falling
It isn't just those in the media that began to turn on Biden, on Sunday a report cited a CBS poll that said it found "a majority of Americans… no longer consider you to be competent, focused, or effective at the job," The Daily Beast reported.
Biden took it in stride, grinning widely.
"Look, I had a basic decision to make," he said. "And I decided to end the war."
It has seemed that Biden has been far more concerned with the timetable of the exit from Afghanistan instead of how it is being accomplished, which explains why for the first time his approval rating has sagged beneath the fifty percent mark.
Presidents can't dictate policy based on polls of course, but Biden has only doubled down in his opinion that he's the smartest guy in the room at all times.
"My job is to make judgments no one else can, or will, make," Biden added. "I made them. I'm convinced I'm absolutely correct in not deciding to send more young women and men to war—for a war that in fact is no longer warranted."
It isn't just in actions with Afghanistan where Biden has seen his numbers fall. An NBC News poll saw Biden's handling of the coronavirus pandemic fall sharply from sixty-nine percent approval to just fifty-three percent his month. Perhaps as president, Biden needs to do more than make snap judgments. Making the hard decisions isn't the best course of action if one repeatedly makes the wrong decision.
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.