Biden longs for a historic presidency
On March 2, Joe Biden invited a group of historians to the White House. He spoke for two hours with the company of specialists in the history of American presidents. They sat at a long table in the East Room, and Biden took notes in a black notebook. Michael Beschloss was there, writer among others Presidential Courage, subtitle: “Courageous Leaders and How They Changed America.” Doris Kearns Goodwin was there, that Team of Rivals wrote about Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet, and more recently Leadership in Turbulent Times. Biden said to her, “I’m not a FDR, but …”
US media out in recent weeks glued the pieces of the puzzle of that meeting together, had little trouble finishing the sentence: Biden does want to be a Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the president who first dragged the United States out of the crisis years with a New Deal and then sent his soldiers into World War II with the same energy and fearlessness and so on. Nazi Germany. Joe Biden, who longs for a historic presidency.
Biden has decided not to let his election promises of national unity and cooperation with the Republican Party hold him back. “I was chosen to solve problems,” Biden said in his first press conference as president last week. “My Republican colleagues have to decide for themselves whether they will cooperate or whether they will persist in their trench tactics.”
And he is in a hurry. Roosevelt was in the White House for twelve years. If things go against the grain, Biden only has a year and a half. The next elections will be held in November 2022, with seats allocated to the entire House of Representatives and a third of the Senate. The question is whether the Democrats will succeed in defending their small majority in the House and the wafer-thin majority in the Senate.
This uncertainty explains the rapid pace at which the 78-year-old president presents bills. Biden has learned hard lessons in his eight years as Barack Obama’s vice president. His confidence shrank under the ironclad opposition from the Republican Party. The results were corresponding. Eight years of Obama, in addition to a steady economic recovery after the crisis of 2007 and 2008, only resulted in the new Obamacare healthcare system.
In recent months, Biden has already presented the Americans with two ambitious and costly plans. First there was the $ 1,900 billion package of aid to combat the effects of the corona crisis. Zero Republicans voted for that bill. “And it was passed anyway,” said Biden triumphantly at his press conference.
Republican politicians are permanently outraged that Biden is not spending more energy seeking their assent to grand plans. But the president seems to have concluded that his political opponents – a vast majority of whom remained firmly behind Donald Trump after storming the Capitol to undo Biden’s election victory – have turned categorical reluctance into their strategy. He now reaches over their heads to the Republican voters and says that the majority support his policy.
That is a bit more nuanced than Biden claims. Pew Research, for example, conducted research in March into the support for Biden’s corona legislation. It found a vast majority of the US population (70 percent) to support Biden. Among Republican voters, a large minority (40 percent) was positive about the entire support package. Within that, an interesting difference can be seen between the Republicans with a high and those with a low income. Only 25 percent of the ‘rich’ are positive. Of the ‘poor’ – and to a large extent, those were the voters first lured by Trump to the Republican Party – no less than 63 percent were positive about Biden’s aid law.
In the early months of his tenure, Biden has built up quite a bit of credit with his corona policy. The pace of vaccinations, started slow under its predecessor, is quickly stepped up. For example, Biden has benefited twice from the epidemic. In the election, Trump was weighed in by the Americans and found wanting as a crisis manager. Now Biden can point to a historically high economic recovery: 6 percent growth according to some economists. Has everything to do with the deep abyss into which the lockdown had plunged the US economy last year. Biden claims success as boldly as his predecessor used to do.
Ten thousand bridges
Last Wednesday, Biden outlined his plans for the large-scale renovation of the poor American infrastructure. In a factory hall in the state of Pennsylvania, he said that about 35,000 kilometers of roads need to be improved, that 10,000 bridges need to be repaired. That there will be better train connections, better airports, that all lead water pipes have to be removed from the houses, that fast internet will be available everywhere.
But the law also includes expenditure on items that show that Biden uses a very broad definition of infrastructure, one that will free up billions for research & development, one that will stimulate electric cars, social housing, childcare, elderly care. Since Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) declared that government was not the solution, but the problem, no US president has dared to let the White House be so, say, economically and socially activist leading. “If we do this now, people will look back in 50 years and say, that was when the US conquered the future,” Biden said in Pennsylvania on Wednesday.
Less than two and a half months, Biden has been president when he has already come up with plans worth 3,900 billion dollars (more than 3,300 billion euros) – more than 14 percent of the gross domestic product. “Yes, it is great. Yes, it is daring. And we get it done, ”said Biden. Most daringly, the infrastructure plan should all be paid for with a corporate tax increase.
Politico recently concluded that the progressive Senator Elizabeth Warren, who was a year ago a presidential candidate herself, had a has an above-average influence on policy. The Democratic Congressmen who will be on the seesaw in 2022 are holding their hearts. Tax increases in election time are often electoral suicide.
For now, Biden rules with an imperturbability that delights his supporters and makes his opponents desperate. “Successful presidents were successful because of their timing,” Biden said at his press conference, again referring to historical examples. “First, I address the two crises we face: Covid and economics. Then I tackle the other issues one by one. ”
From the right-wing press comes a steady hail of accusations that will not stick to Biden, such as that he is actually demented and that his wife is his nurse. Still rumbles in the distance an issue that can test Bidens imperturbability. Since the beginning of this year, migrants have been arriving at the southern border at a faster rate than many years before. The question is whether they all moved to the US because they hope that Biden’s admission policy is more lenient than Trump’s – as Fox News and the Republican Party claim.
For the time being, the majority of them are banned or sent back at the border with an appeal to public health. But the pressure on the shelters is great and Biden’s laconic attitude (“this happens every year around this time”) is implausible as he does not want journalists to look into the reception centers for migrant children until his officials have sorted them out. Photos released by representatives of the people did show a crisis-like situation.
Imperturbability is good as long as results are achieved. As long as vaccination coverage increases, as long as the economy picks up, as long as laws are passed. But when things falter, Biden also becomes vulnerable to that other lesson in history, from British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan who described what politicians must fear most. “Incidents, my dear boy, incidents.”
Correction (April 1, 2021): An earlier version of this article stated that Reagan’s reign ran from 1980 to 1988. That must be from 1981 to 1989. This has been adjusted above.