The passage of the administration’s huge Covid rescue package is a very big deal, not only because it aggressively addresses the current public health and economic crisis but also because of the political markers it lays down. It marks a repudiation of the long reign of the anti-government ethos promoted for decades by Republicans and meekly accepted by too many Democrats. It will serve to demonstrate to millions of Americans that, contra Ronald Reagan, government is not the problem, but is essential to the solution of our problems. As one progressive pundit put it, Bill Clinton’s infamous “the era of big government is over” is over. Active government is indispensable to the pursuit of not even a great society, but a half decent society. Joe Biden evidently understands that, and is not ashamed to say so.
The next big step in the dismantling of the Reaganite legacy will be a massive infrastructure program, one that attacks the dismal state of so many of our public facilities while tackling climate change and ultimately generating millions of new jobs. I’m quite confident that Biden and the Democrats will succeed in getting major infrastructure legislation passed, with or without Republican votes in the Senate: there is no problem fitting infrastructure into the reconciliation process that was necessary for COVID relief. Even if the Biden administration can boast of no other major legislative accomplishments in its first two years (which is quite possible, given the obstacle posed by the Senate filibuster) the tangible, demonstrable benefits generated by COVID relief and infrastructure renewal together should put the Dems in a good position to neutralize the dirty tricks (gerrymandering, restrictions on voting) that the Republicans will employ for the 2022 elections. Democrats can even aim to increase their Senate majority, with Wisconsin’s right-wing nut-case Ron Johnson a major target, along with the seats of retiring Republican senators from Pennsylvania and Ohio. The North Carolina Senate seat could also be within reach.
I’m also encouraged by indications that Biden, unlike any of the last three Democratic presidents, understands the critical role of organized labor in combatting economic inequality, and is acting accordingly. The Biden administration is also re-thinking its Democratic predecessors’ dogmatic attachment to “free trade,” which contributed to the rusting of America’s industrial heartland and helped pave the way for Donald Trump.
I didn’t support Biden for the presidential nomination last year. I regarded him (rightly, I still think) as a thoroughly conventional, uninspiring centrist politician, who also ran a lousy primary campaign. Now, it looks like he could turn out to be our most progressive president since Lyndon Johnson. Go figure.