Stephen Hunter

Sleepy Joe Biden May Be America’s Quiet Revolutionary

(Cabinet of President Joe Biden, April 2021; Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz; public domain)

One hundred days into the Biden administration and we’ve seen ambitious policy walk hand-in-hand with real-world cynicism. But is he closer to FDR or Napoleon?

 

Once a man is president he becomes known by the title. Barack Obama became  “President Obama”—rarely “Barack.” Donald Trump ceased being “The Donald” and was kowtowed to as “President Trump”—albeit, a minority one. Still, it’s a measure of respect for the office.

However, only occasionally is Joe Biden referred to as “President Biden.” The press and public continue calling him by his full name; not “Biden” nor “Mr. President” nor “Joe,” but “Joe Biden.” Or, as it now falls trippingly from the common tongue, a hipster sounding, “J’Biden.”

Well, Joe Biden has now been with us for that mythical 100 days, hence it’s now fair game to ask: How’s he doing? The idea of the 100-day marker/report card supposedly comes, like good cheese and bad TV, from the French. One hundred days was the length of time between Napoleon’s return from Elba and his exile, to his defeat at Waterloo.

Here in the United States, it was started as a presidential benchmark in the early 1930s when the first 100 days of FDR’s presidency was such a tornado of governmental activity. After the stunned, stunted, and bewildered non-reaction of the Hoover administration to the onslaught of the Great Depression, Roosevelt was viewed with gasps of relief and admiration.

So, the question is: Is Joe Biden a Napoleon, or is he an FDR? Is he headed towards the brick wall of a Waterloo, or is he ushering in the glory years of a new New Deal? Like FDR, Joe Biden rode into town in the midst of crises. In place of dust bowls, migrating Okies, and Wall Streeters hurling themselves from high windows, he had stuffed ICUs, overflowing morgues, and legions of lonesome, depressed hand-washing mask wearers barricaded in their homes and apartments. Oh yes, on top of that he also had an economy circling the toilet bowl. And, very much like FDR, he responded with a quick, decisive, and huge Federal response in the form of a $1.9 trillion COVID Relief Bill.

 

Not only had Joe Biden been handed a hot mess from the previous administration, he was denied even the small helping hand of a normal transition period; his administration conceived, designed, and put into practice the largest government assistance program since 1965, and all from a blind, standing start.

 

Not only had Joe Biden been handed a hot mess from the previous administration, he was denied even the small helping hand of a normal transition period; his administration conceived, designed, and put into practice the largest government assistance program since 1965, and all from a blind, standing start. Joe, take a bow.

However, arguing for the Waterloo side of the ledger, are Joe Biden’s further big ideas—massive infrastructure packages, climate change investments, public health care expansions, racial and economic justice legislation, et al.—all heading for the cliff of an evenly divided and sour Congress, a Judicial branch heavily tilted towards the extreme Right, and a pandemic that could roar back at any time due to its out of control status in OPOTW (Other Parts Of The World—hello, Brazil and India)? Plus, there’s the likelihood of a lethal variant coming soon to a theatre near you.

All this and also that, politically, Joe Biden faces a solid, engaged, and immutable minority that seems as fixated on his illegitimacy as it is on uprooting child trafficking lizard people. “Lunacy” is a hard opponent.

For Joe Biden, at minimum, the effort’s been there. Governing—as opposed to cynical, low-cal posturing—has returned to the White House. But step back a few paces, widen the lens, and at the macro-level look at what the first 100 days of Joe Biden has really been all about. Think on it, every president—four Republican and two Democrat—since 1980 has assumed the Reagan mantra: Government is the problem, not the solution. That’s forty years of smaller and smaller government: low taxes on the wealthy and corporate class; supply-side economic thinking; a large, expensive, and muscular military being the sole communal luxury.

Now, put a fifty-year vet of Washington, D.C., into the big chair, one who has spent his entire life in government, and what do you get? The first president in two generations is an anti-Reagan; one who believes in the efficacy and the power of a functioning Federal government; a belief in what collective power can do to improve the lives of all. Joe Biden may look and sound like someone’s gushy, nutty grandpa—but, in fact, he’s kind of a revolutionary.

Whether he ultimately succeeds or succumbs … well, strap in, stay tuned. For as Mae West would have it, “It’s bound to be a bumpy ride.”

 

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