Saturday, May 01, 2021

Biden Going Big

As we go past the official "First 100 Days" of a Biden Presidency, the common refrain in the Beltway media is how "Biden is going big" in terms of pushing an aggressive economic agenda rivalling the New Deal for ambition and scope.

To Elia Nilsen at

The Biden administration’s theory of policy so far is to go big. The same goes for its politics.

Taken together, President Joe Biden’s $2.25 trillion American Jobs Plan and newly introduced $1.8 trillion American Families Plan come out to slightly over $4 trillion in proposed new spending. It’s an enormous investment in American job creation; the last bipartisan infrastructure bill Congress passed in 2015 clocked in at about $305 billion — about one-thirteenth the size of Biden’s proposed plan. And Obama’s $800 billion stimulus plan of 2009 was about one-fifth of Biden’s plan, not even taking into account the $1.9 trillion in Covid-19 relief that has already been signed into law.

That sheer amount of proposed federal funding is meant to do a lot of things, but the main goal is to get as many jobs to as many people in as many voter constituencies as possible. Under Biden’s plan, infrastructure no longer calls to mind images of white men in hard hats; it includes working mothers, home health aides who care for the nation’s elderly, and workers of color across the nation. Women and people of color were crucial to Biden’s presidential win, and they are also crucial elements in his jobs plan...

To EJ Dionne at the Washington Post (watch out for paywall) Biden is harking back to the Democratic glory days of FDR and LBJ:

President Biden on Wednesday night went big, populist, folksy, hopeful, urgent — and bipartisan and partisan at the same time.

Addressing a pandemic-reduced gathering of lawmakers at the Capitol, Biden proposed a sweeping program of change that would create four more years of free schooling, expand child care and family leave, and attempt to beat back climate change through large infrastructure investments...

Biden welcomed the help of Republicans again and again, but he took clear aim at their favored economic doctrines. “My fellow Americans, trickle-down economics has never worked,” he declared. “It’s time to grow the economy from the bottom up and middle-out.”

And he took a victory lap on progress against covid-19, proclaiming that widespread vaccinations were offering “a dose of hope.”

This address wasn’t exactly the New Deal or the Great Society, but it was equally ambitious. Biden, reassuringly unradical with his plain, avuncular demeanor, is bidding to create a new common sense rooted in political lessons that Democrats have learned the hard way...

Going big - pushing for ambitious national programs on scale the United States hasn't seen since the 1960s - is more than just pushing back against the economic malaise we find ourselves in thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic: This is basically pushback against the last 40 years of the Far Right's "glorious" Pax Reaganica, where Big Government was "evil", deficits from massive tax cuts starved our public sector into a broken mess, and the rich got richer while the rest of us suffered.

This is Biden playing not only to the national audience - offering them a way out of low wages and little hope - but playing to a liberal and Progressive base eager to change the direction of the nation away from massive inequality the Far Right has been creating.  

The good news for Biden and the Democrats is how well the public is responding to these proposals. Back to Nilsen at Vox:

A range of polling shows that Biden’s expansive view of what counts as infrastructure has fairly broad support among the American public.

A recent NBC News poll found that 59 percent of respondents supported Biden’s American Jobs Plan. A recent Vox and Data for Progress poll found that 68 percent of likely voters support the plan. And a Monmouth University poll released Monday found 68 percent of respondents supported Biden’s infrastructure bill, with another 64 percent supportive of the ideas in Biden’s American Families Plan, which aims to make child care, higher education, and health care more affordable.

As Republicans and Democrats argue over the semantics of what constitutes “infrastructure,” Monmouth polling director Patrick Murray told Vox that Biden’s broad brush does not appear to be turning off voters so far.

For instance, Vox and Data for Progress polling found that a majority of likely voters of all parties supported Biden’s proposal of putting $400 billion into bringing down the costs of long-term care: 88 percent of Democrats, 72 percent of independents, and 55 percent of Republicans support the idea. And recent polling from Politico and Morning Consult shows that a large majority of Black voters support Biden’s pledge to increase housing options for low-income Americans; 80 percent of Black voters support that measure, and 58 percent “strongly” support it.

In other words, voters seem to care more about things that directly impact their lives than they do about whether these things meet a strict definition of “infrastructure...”

In short: People are back into believing that government can be a positive force in their lives, generating better jobs and better wages and better lives. The "Government is the Problem" meme is dying off, much to the horror of the Far Right clinging to the strands of political power.

But why exactly is this happening?

Isn't Biden supposed to be a Centrist, a post-LBJ pro-business Democrat who wasn't so great on issues of race and women's rights or on liberal issues in general, who tacked to the middle in order to push bipartisan deals through a Congress that is no longer the bipartisan haven he knew?

Well, kind of. This is all due to Biden's Presidential Character of being a Congenial Passive-Positive at the head of a Big Tent political party.

This isn't from my 2019 review of Biden's Character - where I worried Biden's easy-going nature made him vulnerable to Republican treachery - but from my 2020 followup that found Biden was doing a good job of building "the Big Tent" coalition of Democratic Moderates and Progressives. In fact, let's go to the direct quote from Aubrey Immelman about Biden's skills in forging that Big Tent:

Leaders with Biden’s personality profile are likely to exhibit an interpersonal leadership style, characterized by flexibility, compromise, and an emphasis on teamwork. The general tenor of a Biden presidency likely will be conciliatory, which could render a prospective President Biden vulnerable to manipulation by pressure groups and handicap him in negotiations or conflicts with foreign adversaries...

In short: Biden is someone willing to dance with those that brung him (got this from Molly Ivins). But where Immelman - and myself - might view that openness as a vulnerability to manipulation, there IS another way to view it as Biden building his teamwork between the various factions of his own party. To make that Big Tent work and push a broad, Big-Fucking-Deal agenda in a successful fashion.

Biden is pushing a big Progressive/Liberal agenda in the mold of FDR's New Deal because it's what his own Democratic ranks want. He will be more congenial and flexible with them, even as he tries to reach out to obstructionist Republicans, because he is a Democrat and they are Democrats and this is their Big Tent and that's how he'll roll, son. As long as Republicans refuse to barter or deal with Biden in any sane fashion, Biden's agenda won't reflect their interests, doubling down on their obstruction but also their obsolescence as Biden happily bulldozes forward.

Edit: I just found this article on MSNBC by Medhi Hasan and need to include it here as emphasis:

This was definitely how Biden behaved, at times, during the Democratic primaries. He never pretended to be at the head of a transformational movement, a la his former boss, Barack Obama. He didn’t enter office backed by a loyal cult, as his predecessor, Donald Trump, did.

Yet he and his administration have spent these first 100 days embracing the progressive wing of his party, along with labor unions, youth groups, climate campaigners and sundry activists. “Progressives say they’re being included, heard and respected by the Biden White House,” Politico reported in February.

Compare and contrast this outreach with the Obama era, in which White House press secretary Robert Gibbs dismissed people on the “professional left” who “ought to be drug-tested,” and White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel denounced liberal activists as "f---ing retarded.”

Biden, on the other hand, proudly invoked Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ support for the American Rescue Plan in the immediate aftermath of its passage through the Senate. His chief of staff, Ronald Klain, has been dubbed the “left whisperer,” having become “a point of rapid response for many on the left who are angling to get within earshot of the president,” The Daily Beast wrote.

Real access has been matched by real impact. Does anyone really believe the Biden who launched his presidential campaign in 2019 looking for a “middle ground” on climate issues would have committed to cutting U.S. carbon emissions in half by 2030 without pressure from groups like the Sunrise Movement...?

Here's the thing: Biden is listening. It's what Congenial characters do. And it's how he builds his world around him.

This IS what I wrote before about Biden: He's the Democratic Party answer to Ronald Reagan. Not Reagan the hard-core Conservative, but Reagan the Uniter, Reagan the Big Tent builder. Reagan was able to pull together divided Republican factions into a cohesive whole, dominating the electoral cycle of the 1980s in a way that only a Passive-Positive Congenial figure could. For all the damage Reagan did as President to the liberal foundations of 20th Century America, you have to admit his administration oversaw a massive, active period of policy changes and formation you wouldn't expect from a "passive" leader.

Biden can be the same way as President overseeing a massive wave of policy changes, only in favor of that liberal foundation that can be re-forged for the 21st Century America.

All Biden has to do is break loose the remaining obstructionist logjams - sadly enough, from Democratic Senator Centrists unwilling to see this moment in history for what it can be - and get his American Families Plan working.

This can be a big moment. Biden knows it. He knows it'll be good for his Democrats and it'll be good for his fellow Americans.

Any day now. All he has to do is get a few more Democrats to join this Big Tent moment and let it roll forth.

1 comment:

dinthebeast said...

He has to figure out how to kill the filibuster. Maybe he can bargain for a single Republican vote, though I think probably not, but the upcoming fight over the debt ceiling could be used to pressure Manchin and Sinema into getting with the program.
We should be as ruthless about stomping the Republicans into the dirt with the debt ceiling fight as they are for picking it in the first place.
They got away with that shit once, we need to make sure they don't do it again, and I'm not sure, but isn't budget sequestration still a thing? We may have to kill the filibuster to get rid of the damage they did last time before we can even pass what Biden has proposed without triggering across-the-board budget cuts equal to the amount the debt ceiling gets raised.

-Doug in Sugar Pine