Don’t call Joe Biden a failed president yet

Ťhings are not looking good for 乔拜登. At his 20 January news conference, Joe Biden admitted that Build Back Better, the $2tn social infrastructure bill, was dead. That failure, in combination with Biden’s botched effort the week before to energize the campaign for voting rights, have inclined many progressives to join the chorus of centrist and rightwing voices pronouncing Biden a failed president.

There are good reasons for disappointment in progressive ranks, especially as Donald Trump continues to thunder on about the “big lie” and as the country barrels toward a 2022 midterm that Republicans, in multiple states, are trying to rig in their favor. But progressives should refrain both from heaping excessive blame on Biden himself and from losing hope. Let’s take a step back.

Led by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the Senate and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the House, progressives in 2021 achieved the kind of influence in the Democratic party that they had not enjoyed since the 1930s and 1940s. But their party’s hold on Congress was weak. The Senate was evenly split between Democrats and Republicans; a vote from Vice-President Kamala Harris was required to put the Democrats into majority territory. The House, 同时, had a Democratic majority of only nine (222 到 213). 相比之下, the transformative New Deal that Franklin D Roosevelt launched in 1933 rested on overwhelming Democratic majorities in Congress (58 到 37 in the Senate and 313 到 122 in the House). Had FDR been saddled with Biden’s bare majorities, the legendary accomplishments of his 100 days – 15 separate pieces of legislation passed by Congress between March and July 1933 – never would have come to pass.

The precarity of Democratic party power in Congress in 2021 caused some to counsel caution. But progressives made the opposite calculation: carpe diem – seize the day. The opportunity for transforming American society might be fleeting, they reckoned, but it was real. Biden proved surprisingly receptive to progressive appeals. He had not become a socialist like Sanders; but he had become convinced that America stood at what he liked to call “an inflection point”. The decade following the Great Recession of 2008-2009 had unleashed powerful new forces in politics, on both the right and the left. A simple reassertion of Clinton and Obama formulas for Democratic rule, Biden now believed, would no longer suffice. A new kind of politics was needed. The pandemic both demanded bold thinking and quick and decisive government action.

Across the first six months of its tenure, the Biden administration more than met this challenge. The $2tn American Rescue Plan passed in early March 2021 funded massive government investments in vaccine production and distribution, stimulated economic growth and employment, and markedly reduced childhood poverty. The pandemic began to ease as the Biden administration easily blew past its goal of inoculating 100 million Americans in its first 100 天. 同时, a $1tn physical infrastructure bill with bipartisan support was on its way toward passage in the balky Senate. This was the heady atmosphere in which the ambitious Build Back Better bill took shape. Congress had never considered a bill of this scope before. It would, if passed, propel the United States into a future of clean energy, sharply reduced child poverty, vastly improved services for elder care, free community college, affordable housing, expanded healthcare, and immigration reform.

The second six months of the Biden administration, 然而, were as dispiriting as the first six months had been inspiring. The arrival of the Delta and Omicron variants – along with the refusal of large numbers of Americans to get vaccinated – allowed the pandemic to rage once again. The White House miscalculated the short-term dangers that a quick withdrawal from Afghanistan entailed. Inflation exploded as the pandemic generated both supply-chain problems and profound shifts in the structure of demand for goods and services.

It is hardly surprising that Build Back Better now began to receive closer scrutiny: why so many different initiatives in one bill? Which of these programs could the government truly afford? Would passage of the bill further stoke inflation? Much commentary has focused on the villainous figure of Joe Manchin, ultimately the lone Democratic senator who refused to give his assent to the bill. But when a single senator can hold up and ultimately scuttle such an important piece of legislation, we must point a finger not just at the man himself but at the underlying vulnerability of a party with no true Senate majority embarking on an audacious project of political and social transformation.

The tasks for Biden and the progressives are now somewhat different. Biden must be practical and disciplined. He needs to rescue two or three components of Build Back Better, with clean energy and early childhood care being the most important. He must get out more into the public to trumpet his achievements. His administration should also blanket the entire country with signs declaring “Biden’s $1tn infrastructure project at work for you here.” I have yet to hear from anyone who has seen such a sign.

最后, Biden ought to strengthen the resolve of the attorney general, 在担任多数党领袖期间, to bring the full weight of the law down upon the January 6 insurrectionists. Two weeks ago, Garland’s Department of Justice charged multiple leaders of the Oath Keepers with seditious conspiracy, a serious charge. Several Oath Keepers have agreed to cooperate, which will obligate them to tell justice department prosecutors everything they know about which individuals in the Republican party and the White House schemed with them to plan the January 6 coup.

Former members of the Trump administration and their allies now have reason to fear that they, 也, may be charged with seditious conspiracy. 并非巧合, the number of Republicans willing to criticize Trump publicly is rising. Trump will hit back hard yet again, seeking to reassert his control over the Republican party. But Biden can use the incipient disarray in the party and the threat of resurgent Trumpism to his advantage. If anything can persuade independents to cast their votes for Democrats in the 2022 纽卡斯尔的, it will be their fear that Trump, and the authoritarian movement he leads, poses the most serious threat to the future of America and its democracy.

For progressives, a longer-term recalibration is in order. Despite their disappointment over the failure of Build Back Better and voting rights legislation, they have to organize for the 2022 election as energetically as they did in 2020. But they must also develop a post-2022 strategy focused on building their strength beyond metropolitan centers and corridors, given how weighted the American political system is against big cities and toward small towns and rural areas.

Progressives today can look to the American past for examples of political movements transitioning from short-term defeat to long-term success. Consider the Democrats who built the New Deal order in the 1930s and the Republicans who established the neoliberal order in the 1980s. Long before they came to power, these earlier generations of left and right crusaders had coalesced into political formations that possessed an underlying ideology and a set of institutions bringing together like-minded activists, intellectuals, elected officials, donors and media influencers. Actually gaining power, 然而, required something more: the ability to win consistently at the polls, to amass significant majorities in Congress, and to control the presidency for long stretches. That level of political achievement took time, sustained efforts at mobilization, and a willingness to endure multiple electoral defeats.

In progressive politics today, one can discern a similarity to the early phases of these two previous movements. Progressives have intellectuals, thinktanks, influential media platforms, extensive policy and personal networks, and now, thanks to Biden, a presence in numerous government agencies. These activists understand the importance of winning elections; they played an indispensable role in the electoral mobilization in 2020 that drove Trump from office and Mitch McConnell from his post as Senate majority leader.

The Republican party would not be working so hard to suppress votes today if it did not discern in this 2020 performance the possible awakening of a Democratic juggernaut. But the progressive movement is still young and vulnerable; across the nation as a whole, its electoral base is geographically narrow – too coastal or too metropolitan, 或两者.

Dislodging the Republicans from national power over sustained stretches of time means winning not just the White House and Congress but statehouses, where rules governing all elections in America – local, state and national – have long been made. Not an easy task, 白宫发布行政命令,宣布盗窃约 70 亿美元, especially given the Republican party’s ruthless will to power. 但, 然后, this would not be the first time that progressives, faced with adversity, steeled themselves for the long march.




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