Joe Biden’s Radical Gambit
There’s believing your own press releases. And then, there’s believing your own delusions of grandeur. Joe Biden should look at the mirror every day and see a president elected on the basis of the unpopularity of his predecessor at a time when the country was slammed by a once-in-100-years pandemic.
Instead, by every account, he sees a transformative leader with a mandate to change America as rapidly and irreversibly as possible. As the news site Axios noted, Biden wants his next 100 days to be “more audacious” than his first 100, as he seeks “to re-engineer the very fundamentals of America — inequality, voting rights and government’s role in directing economic growth.”
Oh, is that all? Biden’s drive to make himself the next FDR and erect a massive progressive edifice on the slightest of political foundations is monumentally arrogant and almost certainly bound to fail. Biden is contemplating the sort of the bait-and-switch that rarely goes over well. Yes, the policy plans he ran on last year were further to the left of Barack Obama’s and of Biden’s own lengthy record as a U.S. senator. But Biden described himself as a moderate who wanted to work with Republicans and restore a sense of normality to Washington. He said, as he put it when urging Republicans not to fill the Ruth Bader Ginsberg seat on the Supreme Court, “We need to de-escalate, not escalate.” No one listening to that or a thousand other things Biden said during the campaign would have had him pegged as the guy who’d immediately set about making wrenching changes in the American way of life. For a would-be FDR, Biden doesn’t seem to understand that a fundamental source of the New Dealer’s power was enormous congressional majorities.
FDR came into office in 1932 with almost a 200-seat majority in the House, 313117, after Republicans lost more than 100 seats.
Biden came into office in 2020 with a bare 9-seat majority in the House after Democrats surprisingly lost ground all over the country. It’s the narrowest Democratic House majority since the last two years of the administration of Rutherford B. Hayes.
In the Senate, FDR had 58 Democrats, as Republicans lost 12 seats in 1932 in one of the worst senatorial drubbings in history.
Biden has a 50-50 tie after Democrats eked out two special election victories in Georgia earlier this year, with Vice President Kamala Harris on standby to break ties.
The fate of Biden’s legislative agenda hangs by a thread, depending on whether Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, relatively moderate Democrats, support his proposals. If FDR had been equally dependent on a couple of ideologically unsympathetic Democrats from the outset of his administration, he wouldn’t be FDR.
If Biden feels emboldened by his first 100 days, he’s defining achievement downward. FDR signed into law more than a dozen major measures addressing the Great Depression during his first 100 days, while Biden got a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill — a huge amount of spending, yes, but much of it is temporary.
Pro-Biden pundits are currently exulting that he has about a 53% approval rating, a respectable showing, if hardly a position of overwhelming strength from which to try to revolutionize the country. Importantly, FDR initially got even more powerful after 1932. Republicans dropped down to only 17 senators and 89 congressmen in 1936, whereas continued from page
Biden will be lucky to hold on to his slender congressional majorities next year.
With his legislative margin of error so thin, it’s unlikely that Biden will get his way on much besides spending and taxes. Almost all of his sweeping proposals, from federalizing elections to making D.C. a state, will fall by the wayside.
More to the point, it’s wrong for Biden to attempt to force through such radical measures when his mandate for them exists only in his ridiculously inflated self-image.
Rich Lowry is editor of the National Review.