Biden Assessed

If you look at how the Republicans are responding, the Biden presidency has been a major success. If you look at its prospects for passing more expansive legislation, you find little hope. All our broken mechanisms of government are responsible for that.

Joe Biden, the liberal standard bearer, could end up like Don Quixote or Walter Mitty, a failed visionary. We hope that doesn’t happen because the stakes are way too high.

How has Mr. Folksy become our Last Best Hope? Even as he confronts an impossible political situation, Joe Biden’s mastery of politics so far has been decisive. A big test came in his meeting with Vladimir Putin last week. As Susan B. Glasser wrote, “The triumph of Geneva is that it was not Helsinki.” Biden carried it off, mostly with aplomb.

The contradictions in how Republicans viewed this event are telling. They called it “appeasement” and worse. Which, after Trump’s blatant gaslighting at Helsinki, is just laughable. They call Biden “a dangerous radical” while most Americans consider him a moderate and an establishment figure.

Biden’s moderate image will give him the space to advocate more liberal ideas and still prevail, while Republicans struggle to convince voters that his proposals are extreme and dangerous. As one Republican lawmaker conceded, “it’s hard to hit someone who reminds you of your grandpa.”

But they keep trying by advocating harsh voting restrictions and gerrymandering, which Biden has few tools to deal with. He has been dealt a razor-thin majority in both houses and must work with deadheads like Joe Manchin. He has not pushed hard enough on climate change and taxing the wealthy, issues on which he has public backing.

For example: the administration has proposed a significant clean electricity standard, which is key to countering climate change. But getting that through Congress will be a major hurdle, “a moon shot kind of thing.” One advisor said that “Biden’s team will fall short of their goals unless they can put a policy in place that gives renewable energy the advantage over natural gas, which, because of fracking, is likely to be abundant and cheap for the foreseeable future.”

Issues like this will require a major effort by the administration to make its case in strong but uncomplicated ways to the public. So far it hasn’t done this. The impacts of climate change are still an abstraction for most people; they acknowledge its importance but not its urgency. Biden would rather address something like Juneteenth (thoughtfully appraised here) by making it a federal holiday. That has immediate payoff.

The prospect of getting major legislation passed depends on Biden’s willingness to play political hardball, something that has become more obvious with each passing day. He seems temperamentally disposed not to play that kind of game. But he surely knows that the game can’t be won any other way.

Winning it will require all of Biden’s considerable skill as a politician, plus continued Republican stumbles, plus a lot of public pressure. If you think it’s just politics as usual, I urge you to read this analysis: “Are Democrats Sleepwalking toward Democratic Collapse?”

As Mort Sahl once said, “The future lies ahead.”

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