Must try harder: President Biden’s freshman year rating
With a progressive movement mobilized behind his back, Joe Biden has launched a clean break with the conservative consensus that has dominated our politics since Ronald Reagan. However, while this career centrist politician embraced what he called his “Roosevelt moment,” he enjoyed nothing of FDR’s majority in Congress or his relationship with voters. The fate of Biden’s presidency will likely depend not only on his ability to produce, but also on whether the progressive movement that helped bring him to power will be reawakened again.
Despite a divided Senate and relentless Republican filibuster, the administration passed two important investment bills. The American rescue plan, praised by Bernie Sanders as “the most important working-class legislation passed since the 1960s,” put money in people’s pockets, helping to spark record growth and job creation. The Child Tax Credit would halve child poverty, if extended beyond the year for which it was authorized. The bipartisan Infrastructure Act provides a long overdue down payment on investments needed to rebuild America. The centerpiece of Biden’s agenda, his Build Back Better bill, was torpedoed by Joe Manchin, but its remnants may still provide the first major commitment to addressing the climate challenge.
Biden — who campaigned as a moderate and promised donors that “nothing would fundamentally change” — has openly broken with conservative-era shibboleths. He championed public investment to deal with the Covid threat and industrial policy to meet the challenge posed by climate change and China. In the face of corrosive inequalities, he called for expanding the social safety net and raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy. He offered vocal support to unions and organizing workers. His appointments and executive orders marked a revival of antitrust action to fight corporate monopoly and corruption. His administration forged a global minimum corporate tax and backed Donald Trump’s trade tariffs, breaking with the free trade gospel of neoliberalism.
In foreign policy, Biden finally ended the eternal war in Afghanistan. He joined the World Health Organization and the Paris Climate Accord and extended the New START nuclear weapons treaty with Russia. He pointed to climate change as an existential threat and corruption as a threat to democracy.
Biden’s policy initiatives were popular but inadequate, which speaks to the depth of the hole we find ourselves in. “Biden Boom”— growth of 5.5%, unemployment falling at a record pace, wages rising, especially at the bottom of the scale — has been marred by rise in inflationespecially in vital food and gas prices.
Ironically, his costliest failures have come in areas ruled by establishment officials – the supposed “adults in the room” – appointed as a result of Trump’s clown show. He promised ‘science’ would rule Covid policy, but CDC and FDA scientists were far too timid and politically inept, as evidenced by the year-long delay in handing out free N95 masks and tests. home. The “Blob” foreign policy advisers were caught off guard when the Sudden fall of the Afghan government proved how little we know about this country after two decades.
Biden’s surprisingly bold agenda rushed headlong into the confines of his political majority. Republicans, literally devoid of a positive agenda other than obedience to Trump, lined up in spiteful opposition. Despite the most unified Democratic Party in memory, the 50-50 split in the Senate and the three-vote margin in the House gave immense power to Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema and the Big Pharma Democrats in the House. The sordid spectacle of endless Democratic negotiations with their holdouts was political poison, distracting from the Republican filibuster and making the president look weak.
But Biden didn’t help. This lifelong transactional politician’s inability to cut — or force — a deal with Manchin was inexplicable, and he was also far too cautious in exercising his executive authority: the Department of Education, for example. , is still considering whether to keep his promise to forgive $10,000. in student loan debt. Worse, he missed the primary task of a transformational president: to connect directly with the American people. While benefiting from the contrast to Trump’s chaos, Biden has failed to communicate clearly and repeatedly about the challenges we face, to name ideas and interests to blame, or to boldly lay out what may be done. These failures, compounded by the mainstream media, amplified every setback.
The divided Senate has made impossible the structural reforms essential to cementing a new majority for change – ending the filibuster, safeguarding voting rights, changing labor laws to empower workers, pushing for the creation of ‘one state for DC and Puerto Rico – which could change the math in the Senate. Biden did well by appointing lower court judges diversity of gender, race and origin— but balked at expanding the politically reactionary, Republican-stuffed Supreme Court.
Biden has added climate change and the fight against corruption to his foreign policy agenda, but major power tensions with China and Russia took the lead. Our bloated military budget – larger than at the height of the Cold War – was passed with bipartisan support. The American empire of bases remains intact, bolstered by the buildup in the South China Sea.
What about the moves that pushed Democrats to take the House, Senate and Presidency? Young people see little progress on the climate or on the affordability of a college education. Women see the right to abortion in jeopardy. Progress on prison and police reform has been minimal, while immigration and labor law reform has been taken off the table by the Senate Congressman, a congressional bureaucrat. Meanwhile, Big Pharma, Big Oil, Wall Street and the military-industrial complex continue to pose as bandits.
The contrast with Trump is striking. Despite its chaos, incompetence and corruption, the Trump administration is committed to providing its base: packing the Supreme Court for evangelicals, passing tax cuts for corporations and all country clubs, paying entrenched military interests in Big Ag, and more. After Trump’s defeat, his big lie fed and concentrated the anger of its movement. Nationally, cowardly Republican officials blocked voting reform, while state officials rushed to rig the rules through partisan gerrymanders, voter suppression, and empowerment of state legislatures. states to nullify election results.
The Biden administration enters its second year with the president’s popularity rating plummeting to Trump levels. The GOP base is excited, while Big Lie has alienated some mainstream Republicans. On the other hand, progressive movements are demoralized. Inflation saps the joy of recovery. The chances of holding the House and the Senate seem dim. If the Republicans win either, progress will depend solely on what Biden is willing to do with his executive authority.
Yet a failed presidency is not inevitable. Forcing votes on every popular element of the Build Back Better program — especially the child tax credit, prescription drug reform and paid family leave — would reveal who is standing in the way. Active use of executive authority could demonstrate whose side Biden is on — from canceling student loan debt to protecting workers on the job. Aggressive antitrust action could help deter price increases, and if Covid and inflation ease, Biden could be credited with the strong recovery.
Historically, transformational presidencies are driven by grassroots movements: abolitionists for Lincoln, the labor movement for FDR, civil rights for Johnson. The movements spread the need for change, popularize the agenda, mobilize voters. The fate of the emerging progressive majority and the reform bill will significantly depend on how progressive movements — from climate activists to Black Lives Matter — respond to the threat from the right and the frustrating obstruction of all Republicans. and two corrupt Democrats in the Senate. In the end, Joe Manchin was right about one thing: the only way to advance the reform agenda is to elect more progressives and weed out lawmakers who get in the way. The energy for this will not come from a corrupt, pampered Democratic establishment — or from the White House. It will only come from the base.