Terry H. Schwadron
April 27, 2021
Within his first 100 days, Joe Biden has persuaded both Right and Left that he is out to change America in some fundamental ways — while obviously drawing criticism from both sides. There is hope, but we’re lacking fixes.
From the assessments of Congress members, party loyalists of different stripe and the voluminous media assessments of the very arbitrary mark of three months in office, Biden is confident and running what had over the last years seemed un-runnable government, maintaining positive public reviews, and using his narrow advantage in Congress to seem, at least, as if he can get Big Things Done.
The hard political truth falls somewhat short of those observations, of course, but there does appear to be grounds for re-thinking taxes on the wealthy and corporations, on government help for our neediest and middle classes, a fresh, if familiar, turn towards engagement with allies on security and climate issues, and, mostly, that we can pull past coronavirus in the United States, however clumsily.
At the same time, Biden’s pitch to what he sees as a common sense, values and data-laden agenda, has annoyed the most vocal on both sides of the aisle: The entrenched Right sees Biden as epitomizing destruction of tax cuts, gun and religious freedoms, and personal liberty at the cost of public health, while the progressive Left see Biden dragging his heels about expanding government-paid health, wider immigration and asylum regulations, federal changes to local policing, among others.
What Biden has mostly preached is decency in office, personal, governmental, policy decency that has put in in the rather unexpected place of acting much more forcefully towards a range of domestic social spending and expanded view of government’s role.
The Decency Platform
The Atlantic noted “a portrait of an improbable coming-together of people and forces: a moderate president, with an ascendant progressive movement at his back and at his throat, facing a once-in-a-generation window of opportunity. It’s still early. It remains to be seen if this momentum will continue, if the infrastructure plan musters the votes, if the ungainly (Bernie) Sanders-to-(Joe) Manchin coalition holds.”
For the moment, the relative return of competence to office and an expansive vision differs from what we may have expected from his relatively moderate guy.
Several things here feel true. From a Republican perspective, the smallest Biden move is to be met with overstated horror, from Cabinet picks that included a more diverse set of faces than any before to understandable problems at the border. From a Democratic perspective, Biden is using the thinnest of legislative margins to claim wide bipartisan support for some pretty big ideas about moving away from fossil fuel within 10 years, to redistributing corporate profits into programs like free pre-kindergarten education, child-care supports, and job training.
The soft underbelly for Biden and all presidents is not even the ideas, it is the logistics and execution. Without doubt, Biden turned the ruin of coronavirus vaccine distribution around and has largely started to get us out from under — though he, and we, still faces a now-politicized anti-vax movement of wide proportion. By contrast, announcing that America would keep minors who cross the border while maintaining the general bar on immigration has sparked a fire of perception that won’t quit, and the administrations equivocations over asylum policies have only confused everyone but his Republican opponents, who have been ready to jump on an election campaign issue since November.
Whatever positives have been recorded since Jan. 20, they have not been enough to stop mass shootings, policing issues, worries about nuclear weapons development, overcrowding of children at the border or unanimity on mask-wearing.
A Buoyant Tone
What does strike me about these 100 days is the buoyancy of the Biden administration. He has hired good, well-intentioned people, ready to hit Go on several buttons simultaneously, but they defer to Biden. He has managed to turn discussions about infrastructure, of all things, into a debate about basic American values and fairness, about jobs rather than bridges, and about future rather than past.
Perhaps that hopeful tone is as much to credit for his early success as giving out $1,400 checks and extending unemployment benefits. Whatever else you want to say about the flip from Donald Trump to Joe Biden, we suddenly are exuding a basic belief that there will be a better tomorrow rather than a constant downward drag for most while an economic elite makes yet more money.
Of course, the next months will be yet more difficult both politically and in execution as we test whether the administration can do and actually does what it promises in infrastructure, job creation, social services, taxes. Trying to do what Biden wants to deliver is difficult even if you have the votes, trying to do so with a split Senate obviously is much harder. For myself, I’d like to see as much execution — and reporting — on announced plans on race and voting rights, policing, housing, education, international fronts and climate — as we do for coronavirus, where we seem to get daily news about every jab.
As Biden approaches his State of the Union-like address this week, he has billed his economic relief package, his jobs and infrastructure programs, his climate-as-jobs ideas to rebut 20 years of degraded success for the middle classes. As a single speech, it probably will take on overhyped importance for laying out a path that is very different from that of Trump and the Republicans who would be Trump in the next election cycles.
For me, there is a lot more to evaluating these 100 days than politics. It feels more like a request for us as a jury to look at who’s knees are keeping lots of us from being able to breathe properly.