I’ve been saying for some time that I believe history will be kinder to our maligned President than the voters seem to be. While Biden’s poll numbers are rising, they’re nowhere near where they should be based on his accomplishments to date. And those accomplishments are just a down payment on the more equitable, firmly democratic, healthier country he envisions.
It is deeply regrettable that the worldwide inflation and looming recession—due largely to the pandemic and Putin’s war—enable the trickle-down Republicans to attack Biden on the economy, while too many voters don’t realize that the economy always does better under Democratic administrations.
And yet, in contrast to the indifference or public criticism that Biden’s been receiving, I’ve noticed some recent essays/articles pointing out how well he’s doing.
Note the titles of the pieces I quote from below.
A big part of the upheaval in our country is traceable to an economy that has become increasingly skewed toward the rich for decades. Biden’s plans are designed to reverse that trend.
Ending Child Poverty
I have written previously about the Child Tax Credit, which temporarily lifted a substantial number of children out of poverty. Temporarily, because it was not continued. But with a Democratic House and two more family-friendly Democratic Senators, it can be reinstated—bringing us into alignment with many other countries at last.
In a very upbeat article in The New York Times, Farhad Manjoo described how “Biden Has Helped the Quiet Revolution of Giving People Money.” He’s talking about the Child Tax Credit, pointing out that it’s not a new idea—originally created in 1997, when Clinton was President and the Congress was Republican—but Biden increased it, expanded eligibility, and made it “fully refundable,” meaning that even people who didn’t pay any income tax got the total amount.
The idea has been to revise what has been thought of as “welfare” by removing complicated requirements and the stigma attached. Recipients make their own decisions about how to spend the money they receive.
Assumptions that these recipients would spend the money on drugs or alcohol have simply not been borne out. These programs really work, lifting children out of poverty, motivating low-income workers to advance. And that’s not only ethically good; it also helps us all.
“…giving people a little bit of money removed ‘material barriers’ to finding full-time work—for instance, rather than spend their time in dead-end gig work, people could complete course, internships or training programs that allowed them to land higher-paying jobs.”
That’s why 133 economists recently wrote a letter to Congress informing them that the Child Tax Credit should be reinstated because “it would help families hit by inflation, not exacerbate inflation.”
Strengthening Unions Within a Capitalist Economy
Biden at times reminds people that he is a capitalist (in contrast to the socialist or Marxist/communist labels some try to pin on him). He also stresses that he hopes to be “the most pro-union President ever.”
In fact, his policies reflect both sides of him. They are consistent and promising over the long haul.
The President frequently says that “unions built the middle class, and the middle class built America.”
These words underscore his approach to what appears to have been the successful settling of the national railroad workers strike.
Heather Cox Richardson, a historian who has repeatedly shown how much she values Biden’s work, wrote a good description of the background and complexities that led the workers to strike.
If a national rail strike had occurred, it would have had mammoth impact on our lives and economy, affecting “everything from drinking water—the chlorine to purify urban systems is shipped by train—to consumer goods, costing up to $2 billion a day and likely sparking job losses and contributing to the inflation that has only recently begun to ease.”
Knowing how high the stakes were, Biden had formed a Presidential Emergency Board (PEB) in July, calling on not only the Secretary of Labor, but also the Secretaries of Transportation and Agriculture, and the Director of the National Economic Council.
And the President was very much involved: he “worked the phones and got mad that management would not loosen scheduling.”
On September 16, the unions and railroad officials accepted most of the recommendations of the PEB. The union members haven’t yet signed off, and reactions seem to have been mixed, but the agreement was an amazing accomplishment.
This governmental action was not what the Republicans, the US Chamber of Commerce, or business organizations wanted. They would have preferred that the government force the workers to accept the PEB’s original recommendations.
As Richardson writes:
“The deal does, though, highlight that Biden is using the power of the presidency to protect the American people while trying to be fair to labor and management, a system pioneered by Republican president Theodore Roosevelt and adopted afterward by Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Republican Dwight Eisenhower, among others. It’s a very different principle than the idea that workers should accept whatever conditions management imposes on them.”
Rebuilding the Economy “From the Middle Out”
A Politico interview with author and commentator Michael Tomasky about his new book, “The Middle Out,” bore the title: “The Unexpected Ways Joe Biden Is Ushering In a New Economic Paradigm.”
Writer Ian Ward discussed what Biden has meant, since the beginning of his campaign, when he says: “I want to change the paradigm; we start to reward work, not just wealth.”
“At its most basic, this new paradigm reflects a theory about how economies grow: not from the top down, as Ronald Reagan’s supply-side economics suggested, but from the middle out, through investments in the middle class and the institutions that support it, such as strong unions, good public schools, affordable child- and health care and a robust social safety net.
“But beyond a set of policy prescriptions, this paradigm also entails an updated — if not entirely new — way of thinking about fundamental economic questions: What motivates economic agents? What is the proper relationship between economic growth and economic inequality? How does economic policy relate to foundational American ideals like democracy and freedom?”
It seems that Biden brought a bunch of economists who support this paradigm with him into the White House. And through first the American Rescue Plan Act, then the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and most recently the Inflation Reduction Act, Biden and his team have truly made strides toward reversing the income inequality of the past forty years and forging a more equitable economy.
(Those strides will grow longer if a post-election Democratic majority passes the components of Build Back Better that were knocked out: among them universal pre-K; child care assistance; eldercare support; and free community college.)
“They’re getting there,” Tomasky told the interviewer, “but I think they need to connect these economic ideas to democracy and freedom and to the big ideals that all Americans are taught to cherish.”
Tomasky echoes Biden’s fervor for strengthening the middle class as key to strengthening democracy, an idea he underscores is not radical but mainstream, stressed by Jefferson and Madison.
He thinks the Democrats have to redefine freedom so that people understand the connection.
“More public investment will give them more choices and will give them more freedom to help them fulfill their potential. That’s freedom. Nobody’s against freedom.”
In a New York Times review of Tomasky’s book, the writer says that the vision of America in which “the nation is best served when prosperity is widely shared” is a difficult message because of inflation and lingering supply chain issues.
However, it is “an argument that has worked selectively in the past. On balance, history appears to be on Tomasky’s side.”
And that’s Joe Biden’s new paradigm.
Reenvisioning Healthcare Through Technology
“We need better technologies to enable a better politics. But we need better politics to create better technologies. Maybe, just maybe, we’re on the verge of getting both.”
That’s the opening of an essay by Ezra Klein in The New York Times that bears the title “What Joe Biden Knows That No One Expected Him To.”
In the opening, Klein is referring to ARPA-H. The Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health is modeled after the federal government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, known as DARPA. DARPA is widely regarded as a shining government success story, having birthed the Internet (sorry, Al Gore), GPS navigation, mRNA vaccines, and lots of other Big Ideas.
As Klein explains, its successes are the result of “the agency’s ability to do something unusual in Washington: Make big, risky bets.” That’s why Biden felt an equivalent approach was necessary for medical technology. While it is housed at the National Institutes of Health, ARPA-H would break through the bureaucratic morass in a way that NIH could not.
In the beginning of his presidency, Biden secured government funding for this effort from Congress. On September 12, he announced the new head of ARPA-H: Dr. Renee Wegrzyn, a biotech executive who worked at DARPA (see her impressive experience).
Biden said in announcing her appointment that Wegrzyn is “going to bring the legendary Darpa attitude and culture and boldness and risk-taking to fill a critical need.”
Klein notes that Biden doesn’t get enough credit for focusing on tech advances. “Every big bill Biden has passed has carried a theory of how better policy could lead to better technologies that could lead to a better world.”
“Let’s start with Biden’s ambition. Four major bills have passed during his presidency: The American Rescue Plan, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill, the CHIPS and Science Act and the Inflation Reduction Act. Every one of them, at a core level, is about creating or deploying new technologies to solve ongoing problems.
“The American Rescue Plan deployed vaccines and widespread testing and genomic surveillance to stifle the pandemic; the infrastructure bill is thick with ideas to make broadband access universal and develop next-generation energy and transportation technologies; CHIPS is an effort to break our reliance on Taiwanese and South Korean semiconductor manufacturing and keep ahead of China in fields of the future like artificial intelligence and quantum computing; and the Inflation Reduction Act uses tax breaks and loan guarantees to supercharge the wind and solar industries, build up advanced battery manufacturing, develop cost-effective carbon capture systems, and give the auto and home-heating industries reasons to go entirely electric.”
Klein isn’t giving unqualified praise. He faults the Biden administration for sometimes being too conservative in its approaches and follow-through. And he raises concerns about the way the federal government, broadly, has been functioning for years.
But here’s his conclusion:
“Last week, I wrote about how much of Biden’s agenda relied on building, and what it would take to make that much building possible, at the speed it needs to happen. But Biden’s agenda is just as reliant on inventing — and just as much needs to be done to make the government a dearer friend to invention.
“Still, this is an unexpectedly thrilling side of Biden’s presidency. A liberalism that is as ambitious about solving problems through invention as it is through redistribution would be powerful indeed.”
Fighting for Democracy—Worldwide
I can’t imagine what it’s like for Biden to try to persuade leaders of other nations to follow us when they know the Big Lie is regrettably still rampant in the US. But they certainly have embraced his leadership. I’ll turn to Heather Cox Richardson again for these observations:
“Yesterday, ABC News senior national correspondent Terry Moran pointed out that Biden and his team have ‘masterfully’ handled ‘the greatest international security crisis since 9/11,’ Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. They united NATO against Moscow and held the alliance together, wrecked the Russian economy, helped Europeans find energy from new sources, kept the U.S. and NATO out of the war, helped Ukraine with intelligence and weapons, all despite those at home working against him.
“Long term, this will advance U.S. interests not only by strengthening alliances, but also by demonstrating that America can be a force for good and by showing Putin’s brand of authoritarianism ‘as a con, a cheap costume donned by the thieves and gangsters in the Kremlin.’”
I also can’t imagine how difficult it was for Biden, an institutionalist whose friendships with former fellow Senators have been tattered, to condemn the “MAGA Republicans” as “semi-fascists.”
But he’s finally acknowledged that the motivating forces behind his decision to run in 2020—the Charlottesville neo-Nazi’s march and Trump’s declaring “there are very fine people on both sides”—have essentially engulfed the opposing party.
Yet he continues to try to restore amity and unity to our riven nation.
“Today, the White House held a bipartisan summit against ‘hate-fueled violence in our country,’ promising ‘that when Americans stand united to renew civic bonds and heal divides, we can help prevent acts of hate and violence.’
“At the ‘United We Stand’ summit, Biden offered a ‘whole-of-society response to prevent, respond to, and recover from hate-fueled violence, and to foster national unity.’ Attending the summit were survivors of gun violence, religious leaders, community organizers, law enforcement officers, philanthropists, journalists, and local politicians. Susan Bro, whose daughter Heather Heyer was killed by a white supremacist at the August 2017 ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, introduced the president.
“'[T]here are core values that should bring us together as Americans,’ Biden said, ‘And one of them is standing together against hate, racism, bigotry, and violence that have long haunted and plagued our nation.’ ‘In the last few years, it’s been given much too much oxygen in our politics, in our media, and on the Internet; too much hate—all for power and profit.’”
It’s Up To Us…
Though Biden isn’t on the November 8 ballot, there are close elections in which it might help if voters had a better idea—replacing the false, even conspiracy-driven ideas that abound—of how much he has already accomplished and the humane, forward-looking agenda he’s formulated for the years ahead.
If enough of us vote for Democrats to provide him with even slightly larger majorities in the House and Senate, the next two years can set America on a much stronger path. If more people begin to prosper, the extremists may well find less fertile ground for their dangerous nonsense.
But if the Republicans gain control of the House of Representatives, they have promised their base that they will impeach President Biden—and others. They won’t succeed, but they’ll wreak havoc on our government’s ability to function, while accomplishing nothing but chaos. MAGA Republicans in the House and Senate plan to use the debt ceiling–and a never-before potential of government default–to force Biden and the Democrats to rescind all his policies.
Please vote early, check to ensure your vote has been counted (see vote.org), and help secure our democracy and the President’s ability to do his best for us all.