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Thursday, January 27, 2022

Biden is within reach of historic greatness—a prospect barely even imaginable 100 days ago

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Perhaps one of the under-appreciated parts of Biden’s success so far is the fact that he has enthusiastically united Democrats behind his cause. Almost across the board, the president has exceeded the expectations of those on the left, while executing a pragmatic agenda equally celebrated by moderates and centrists. Perhaps it’s simply a matter of meeting the needs of this historic moment—as with the vaccine rollout. But for those of us on the left, Biden has miraculously proven what we have been screaming about for years—progressive policy is popular policy, even in red swaths of the country. That is borne out by the overwhelming popularity of the Biden’s rescue plan, along with the enthusiastic response to his American Jobs and American Families plans.

This has progressive organizers in small towns and rural regions just as excited as those in urban areas of the country. Matt Hildreth, executive director of RuralOrganizing.org, hailed Biden’s first 100 days as a potential game changer for rural communities, not to mention national politics.

“President Biden is championing critical federal programs specifically designed for the types of communities that Democrats have struggled to connect with over the last few decades,” Hildreth said in a statement. “If Congressional Democrats are successful in the passage of the American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan—and capitalize on the vital investments from the American Rescue plan, they could shift the political fault lines in America for decades to come.”

The truth is, Americans appear to have spent the last decade craving a federal government that more aggressively met its needs, and the pandemic only supercharged that desire. After Republicans spent four decades starving the citizenry of any federal help until the nation’s wealthiest 1% continually made more bank than nearly everyone else combined, people seem to be looking for government intervention that not only fuels economic growth but also resets the playing field for a more equitable participation in the nation’s many good fortunes.

Even more miraculously, that type of monumental systemic change—big structural change, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren says—is within reach. The direct payments, enhanced unemployment benefits, and tax credits for low- to middle-income earners included in the American Rescue Plan were a start—they gave people a lifeline and some hope and that’s worth a hell of a lot in times of crisis. But the increased financial help, job creation and education access included in the jobs and families plans, funded by tax raises on the rich and corporate-y, is the stuff of presidential legacy. It would truly begin to give struggling Americans a real shot at a better life, while fortifying the middle class that built this nation into the envy of the world in the 20th century.

In short, Joe Biden is on the cusp of turning back decades of damage Ronald Reagan and small-government, so-called fiscal conservatives visited upon this country. It is not hyperbole to compare what’s possible in this moment to the revolutionary nature of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidency, as historian Doris Kearns Goodwin did in a recent NPR interview.

In fact, Kearns Goodwin compared the strategic progression of Biden’s initiatives to FDR’s. Roosevelt, she said, “moved systemically from the banking crisis to jobs and then regulation of the stock market.” Now Biden is making a similar turn, she said, from the pandemic to his jobs plan and the systemic reforms he’s folding into his proposals.

The other tantalizing idea Kearns Goodwin suggested is the fact that any president who masters a crisis that his predecessor failed to handle is usually on the path to being judged very favorably by history, while the former guy is crushed for all time.

“Think about President Hoover,” she said, “unable to handle the crisis of the Depression—considered one of the worst presidents. FDR, able to do it, one of the best. Buchanan, unable to handle the growing secession of the states and the growing divisions between the North and the South—considered one of the worst of American presidents. Abraham Lincoln coming in and becoming one of the best.”

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out where Trump ends up in that formulation.

While none of this is inevitable—things could easily still veer off track—the mere possibility of transformational change was pretty unimaginable just a few months ago, when the dark cloud of Trump and all the horribleness he embodies was still raining misery down on the country. But yes, this is where we are 100 days into Joe Biden’s presidency, and it feels pretty damn sweet.


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