Has Biden's FDR Dream Hit the Rocks?Breaking News
tags: New Deal, Joe Biden, Franklin Roosevelt
Early in the spring of 2020, Joe Biden started talking about how much transformational systemic change he could make once he united progressives, moderates, and even a few Republicans in a righteous post-Trump reckoning. Even then, the outlook appeared difficult, maybe forbiddingly so, but certainly plausible enough to inspire hope that something genuinely big and different was coming — an FDR-size presidency, if you took him at his word.
Not quite a year and a half later, reality has intervened. Biden’s once-buoyant approval ratings slipped, then plummeted, just as his administration-defining agenda items — historically massive infrastructure and social spending proposals — have become mired in wrangling within his own party on Capitol Hill. The convergence has landed him in a state of suspended political animation that he is powerless to escape on his own.
Facing a fully polarized Congress and country, Biden may be unable to significantly shift his own image until the bills pass, while he is simultaneously unable to influence the bills’ passage without fixing his image (and perhaps not even then).
This fall has felt a long way from FDR so far, no matter how you slice it.
What makes Biden’s state of affairs all the more uncomfortable is that he knew a version of this was coming — just not this soon, or with these stakes.
When Biden started invoking Roosevelt — at first to describe the scale of challenges he would face as president and then his ambitions — he was speaking to the moment: Polling showed Biden comfortably in the presidential lead, much more so than Hillary Clinton had been four years earlier. And Democrats in several swing states seemed poised to help the party retake the Senate and ensure unified control of Washington. But in places like Maine, North Carolina, and Iowa, those polling leads proved illusory on Election Day, and in the end Democrats needed two miraculous wins in Georgia to narrowly claim their prize.
Yet when Biden assumed the job, he still held out hope that he could turn the page on the Trump years, maybe even the chapter on the post–Ronald Reagan era, and that he could use his mandate — which, sure, was slimmer than expected — to usher in a calmer, healthier, more equal age. He started that way, too — even as new waves of COVID-19 began crashing into American life. He passed and signed $2 trillion worth of pandemic relief two months into his presidency, previewed an end to America’s “forever war” in Afghanistan, and introduced historically massive plans to fund a badly needed renovation of not just the country’s physical infrastructure but its social and educational programs.
Sure, his popularity would wane eventually. No one who lived through Barack Obama’s first term could have actually thought his unusually high approval ratings were going to last, or that the GOP would flail forever in its quest to find an effective anti-Biden message. He suspected, too, that most Republicans would in due course solidify in opposition to his plans. As 2010’s catastrophic Democratic midterm wipeout made clear, modern presidencies don’t include anything more than a circumscribed moment of opportunity to pass some legislative priorities before political reality — or at least baseline partisan tribalism — comes crashing down.
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