The unexpected triumph of Joe Biden

Fourteen years ago, I told a well-informed friend that Barack Obama was considering choosing Joe Biden as his running mate in the 2008 election. “You’ve got to be kidding me,” was the response. “Biden has had a great time.”

Similar obituaries were written just two weeks ago, as Biden’s poll numbers dipped even below Donald Trump’s nadir. Yet here we are. America’s longest-serving president can now boast a stronger legislative record in less than two years than Obama or Bill Clinton accomplished in eight. It turns out that low expectations are Biden’s secret weapon.

None of this means Biden will be elected to a second term. But it’s worth noting what he’s done in less than half of one. In the coming days, Biden will sign America’s first serious attempt to tackle global warming. His predecessors tried and failed. Clinton didn’t come close to convincing the Senate to ratify the Kyoto Climate Change Treaty in 1999. Obama’s 2009 cap-and-trade bill also failed. Trump, of course, ruled out the executive actions Obama resorted to after failing on Capitol Hill. Trump also pulled the US out of the Paris agreement on climate change.

Not only has Biden reversed Trump’s actions, but he is the first president to signal that the United States wants to negotiate on global warming. In contrast to Obama and Clinton, both of whom had large majorities in the Senate, Biden has done so with a 50:50 Senate. Perhaps the lack of this cushion is good for party discipline.

This week he will also sign the “Chips plus” act, which is America’s first stab at industrial policy since Ronald Reagan’s response to Japan’s rise in the 1980s. The bill allocates tens of billions of dollars to public scientific research, the kind of money that in the 1950s eventually resulted in the Internet. Biden’s climate and tax bill also gives the federal government the power to negotiate lower drug prices for the first time. Again, Democrats have been losing to the pharmaceutical lobby for decades. Biden has broken that dam without much fanfare. Attention has been captured by the bill’s clean energy bonanza.

Any of these policy developments should be big news in their own right. Together, they represent a quiet reboot of America’s political capacity. This sea change is likely to be overlooked for three reasons. The first is that almost everyone, especially Washington’s aging political caste, is deeply attuned to gridlock. It takes a while to digest the scale of what has happened over the past two weeks.

The second is that this flurry of legislation could be Biden’s last real bite at the apple. If, as polls predict, Democrats lose control of Congress in November, Republican leaders will make sure nothing else is enacted for the rest of Biden’s term. Third, the US is in the midst of a deepening constitutional crisis. It is hard to recognize that a system is working when at the same time it is so easy to imagine its collapse.

All of this means that Biden’s place in history is not assured. It’s still possible – some would say likely – that Biden loses in 2024, or that he doesn’t run and the Democratic candidate to replace him loses. This would not be a typical US transfer of power. Whether the winning Republican was Trump or a Trump figure such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis or former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, his platform would include a repudiation of Biden’s 2020 victory.

They would also pledge to reverse Biden’s climate and tax bill. In other words, Biden’s recent legislative victories might seem like a flash in the pan before the next avalanche. American democracy remains viable, but it is by no means secure.

Does Biden, who turns 80 in November, have the ability to disprove these bleak expectations? The answer ultimately depends on what the American people think. A striking feature of Biden’s string of legislative victories is that they are all long plays. None will have a big impact on how well voters will feel in the coming months. Inflation will continue to be a disaster. Increased crime is likely to be a concern. The cost of financing Ukraine’s fight against Russia will continue to rise without much political upside for Biden.

Unlike Obama and Clinton, Biden lacks the poetry to weave a narrative for the American people. But maybe poetry is overrated. As Biden searches for the right words, events write their own narrative. The FBI just raided Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence. His prosecution for sedition or misdemeanors cannot be ruled out. “Sleepy Joe” Biden may be almost over. But he has a knack for surviving his enemies.


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About the Author: Chaz Cutler

My name is Chasity. I love to follow the stock market and financial news!