Friday Talking Points -- Biden Goes Big

[ Posted Friday, April 30th, 2021 – 17:44 UTC ]

President Joe Biden is either a radical, far-left socialist who hates many things about America and lied to everyone in his campaign about "unity" (because deep down he really just wants to divide us to foster his own political ambitions)... or he is not. If he isn't, then he just might be a moderate Democratic centrist who has been thrust into three simultaneous crises and who has reacted by abandoning his former timidity and instead decided that the time is now to prove to the American public that the federal government can indeed be a force for good in their lives, in the biggest way possible. Joe is going big, even though his natural instinct would be to sit down with Republicans and hash out a compromise that fell far short of what the Democratic side of the aisle thought was necessary.

That is the state of our political divide. Either you believe the first sentence in that former paragraph, or you believe the rest of it. The problem for the Republican Party is that a majority of the American people believe (to some degree or another) the more-reasonable interpretation of Joe Biden. This is why his job approval poll numbers are still higher than Donald Trump ever managed even once. Joe Biden looks and sounds like a moderate. But he seems determined to rise to the occasion, and he has shown a surprising amount of steeliness (and impatience) when confronted by GOP stalling tactics. This is likely due to the lesson he learned full well while serving as Barack Obama's vice president, when Obama was stymied multiple times by GOP bait-and-switch tactics. Obama, most notably on Obamacare, gave in on all sorts of issues in the hopes of forming a compromise plan that Republicans would vote for. This effort took up an enormous amount of time, and in the end, the Republicans refused to vote for it anyway. Biden learned the lesson: "put them on a timetable, and if they can't deliver enough GOP votes to matter in the Senate when that time is up, then feel free to ignore them and use budget reconciliation rules to get it done -- because all people will remember later is whether you got it done or not, and not how you got it done." That's an excellent lesson to have learned, when dealing with today's Republican Party, which is even worse than they were back in the Tea Party era under Obama.

The political week in Washington centered around President Biden's first address to a joint session of Congress. Biden spoke in front of a much-reduced crowd (due to COVID restrictions) in classic Biden fashion. Ted Cruz, who was caught on camera snoozing during the speech, later called this style: "boring, but radical." That's a pretty good description, actually. Biden delivered his speech with his usual folksy charm, getting emotional where appropriate and at other times almost whispering. And it was fairly boring to watch -- at least, compared to the clown show of watching Donald Trump attempt to read off a TelePrompTer. But then again, boring is what the American people wanted and voted for, so it's not like that's a bad thing. Biden is comfortably boring, to put it another way. But his plans are pretty radical, at least to a Republican like Cruz. Biden, in fact, is acting bolder than any Democratic president since Lyndon Baines Johnson, in terms of proposing what the federal government should do for its citizens. Biden even directly declared Reaganism dead in his speech: "My fellow Americans, trickle-down economics has never worked." No wonder Republicans like Cruz are scared.

Senator Tim Scott, who gave the GOP response to Biden's speech, darkly warned of what the Democrats wanted to accomplish, versus how Republicans thought things should be: "Our best future won't come from Washington schemes or socialist dreams. It will come from you -- the American people." The GOP's problem, however, is that virtually every single item in Biden's impressive agenda is actually wildly popular with the public -- most of them poll northwards of 60 percent. To put this another way: the voters aren't as scared any more when Republicans try to use demonizing words, because they can immediately see how what Democrats are proposing would actually help them and their families. They balance the idea of two years of free pre-school for their children and, later, two years of free community college against "it will come from you -- the American people," which, translated, means what it has always meant coming from Republicans: "no government money for you, we're giving it all to your boss and your company's owners instead -- you are on your own, pal." Calling something "socialism" just doesn't pack the rhetorical punch it used to, in other words. Not when Joe Biden is proposing such sweeping beneficial changes to average families.

The Republican Party cupboard is bare, when it comes to both ideas and counterattacks on Biden. This is becoming more and more evident every week, when the right-wing media echo chamber has so few things to successfully demonize that it just starts making stuff up to scare their viewers ("Joe Biden is going to limit you to only eating one hamburger per month! Ahhh! Everybody run!!!"). Their latest grasping attempt to take Biden down a peg is worthy of a Pennsylvania pretzel-maker -- Biden promised "unity," but now that he's president he is incapable of unifying Congress (because Republicans are never going to agree to anything he proposes, ever). This is somehow supposed to be Biden's fault? The Republican Party is saying, in essence: "We won't work with you on anything, and it's your fault for dividing the country so much!" It's just laughable.

Here's a good take on it all, from a Washington Post speech review:

Maybe "unity" doesn't mean that Republicans and Democratic politicians agree on everything.

Or that a handful of Republican lawmakers get veto power over any policy.

Or that no one ever faces a tax increase.

Maybe it just means: Treat your fellow Americans with dignity, even when you disagree. At least, that was the subtext of President Biden's speech to Congress on Wednesday -- and a theme of his presidency so far.

Biden has proved a challenging adversary for Republicans to vilify. He's a generally congenial and empathetic politician, who has a compelling personal story rife with loss. He has working-class bona fides and has resisted conscription into Republican-framed culture wars. Republicans have tried caricaturing him as old and ineffectual -- yet also somehow unusually effective at transforming the country into a socialist hellscape. (GOP strategists appear aware that these critiques are somewhat at odds.)

So, Republicans keep returning to a Swift-boat-like attack: Strike at his strength -- his compelling message of "unifying" the country -- and portray it as a devious ploy to divide Americans instead.

Republicans argue that Biden offered a bait-and-switch, that he ran on healing our divisions but now plans to... pass a bunch of social programs benefiting the poor and middle class. If you're wondering how that latter agenda supposedly contradicts the former, you're not alone. The connective tissue, according to Republican officials, is that programs redistributing money to help the poor and middle class are somehow inherently divisive (class warfare!), regardless of the polls suggesting their popularity; or, in the GOP telling, only the programs Republican lawmakers vote for should count as unifying.

In other words, Republicans have decided that the test of Biden's desire to unify the country is whether Republicans themselves defect from the project -- and they have made clear their decision to always do so. As Republicans learned during the Obama years, the easiest way to ensure a president fails at achieving promised cooperation is to refuse to cooperate.

Biden, meanwhile, has taken the rhetorical battle to another level. He reminded Republicans that America does not live in a vacuum, and countries like China were out there competing with us. The absolute gridlock in Washington is hurting our country in this worldwide competition, which is why he is so determined to prove democracy can still work. Which he is planning on doing with or without Republican politicians:

"We have to prove democracy still works," Biden said during his speech. "That our government still works -- and can deliver for the people."

It all feels so reasonable. Why shouldn't Americans get to have democracy and get to have a functioning government, especially since we pay for it? Why shouldn't we want, as Biden said, "the wealthiest one percent of Americans to pay their fair share"? Why shouldn't we try to eliminate child poverty, an idea that made Republicans in the chamber so salty they refused to clap for it? Why shouldn't the wealthiest country in the world be able to provide its citizens with the same standard of living so many other less wealthy countries do with ease?

The thing is, these are the same exact arguments that progressives have been making for decades, and yet Republicans -- aided by a loud right-wing media, the racism of the majority of white voters, and a mainstream media addicted to false equivalencies -- were successful at demonizing such reasonable points as basically communism. Why then does it seem like Republicans suddenly can't land a glove on Biden?

Part of the credit should go to Biden himself, who is rising above what doubters like myself thought of him. He was able, as John Harwood of CNN said, to speak "in plain, non-political, non-ideological language invoking the people he wants to help."

By doing so, this article notes, he is directly attempting to poach all the blue-class voters that not only voted for Trump but have voted for Republicans going all the way back to Ronald Reagan (the original "Reagan Democrats"). Joe Biden was in the Senate before Reagan ever became president, so he remembers a time when things were different.

His strategy is pretty simple to understand: give people what they want. Help them. Make their lives better. Then, come election-time, remind them which party did this for them and which party fought it. That is real populism, not just the snake-oil version Trump touted. And it can work.

This week, Biden proposed the third in his trio of legislative proposals to (as he puts it) "build back better." The first, the American Rescue Plan, passed Congress without any Republican support. The second two are his American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan he unveiled for his big speech. They would spend an additional $4 trillion on all sorts of things that would make life better for tens of millions of Americans. Biden would raise this money by raising taxes on corporations and people making more than $400,000 per year. Not a lot of blue-collar workers make that kind of money, to state the obvious (the only "regular guy" job we can even think of which would qualify would be: "football coach at a famous college," although we admit that there may be other esoteric examples).

Biden is offering things like home healthcare being covered by the government. Free pre-school and free community college tuition. Child tax credit extensions, to keep those $300 checks arriving in parents' mailboxes until 2025. Rural broadband. Guaranteed paid family leave for all workers. Funding child care. Increased subsidies to purchase Obamacare policies. Building wind turbines here instead of in China. How much of that really sounds all that bad to the public, even when Republicans scream "Socialism!" until they're blue in the face?

Even Fox News host Chris Wallace admitted as much, immediately after the speech:

"You know, I think this is going to be a popular speech with the American people," the veteran newsman declared. "He offered a lot of stuff. Four trillion dollars will buy a lot of stuff, from millions of jobs to child-care to community health centers, all kinds of stuff, community colleges."

[Chris] Wallace also suggested Biden's promise that middle-class Americans will not see their taxes increased to pay for these plans would be "pretty popular."

"Big corporations are going to pay for it," Wallace noted. "People making more than $400,000 are going to pay for it but the vast majority of people watching tonight aren't."

The Fox News Sunday anchor went on to say that the administration has made a "calculation" that after the coronavirus pandemic "people come to have a different feeling about government" and that "they now feel more trusting and more in need of government."

That is functionally admitting that what is "radical" to Ted Cruz actually sounds pretty reasonable to most American families -- even those that normally vote Republican. And this is Biden's ace in the hole, because he has insisted on redefining "bipartisan" to mean "across-the-aisle support from voters," instead of Washington politicians.

So far, it seems to be working. Biden's poll numbers are healthy (a lot healthier than Trump's were, by roughly 10 points, at this time in his tenure). The poll numbers for his ideas area even healthier. Biden can continue making the claim that his agenda is bipartisan because it has bipartisan support from the American people, and eventually the mainstream media is going to be forced to admit that he's right.

We are in for a gigantic battle over what the scope of the federal government should be. Biden is saying it should do far more for working-class families. Coincidentally, this is a similar argument to the one Donald Trump used to use. Helping the "forgotten" workers out there. Making people's lives easier with tangible help. Progressives have been arguing this for years, and they've finally got a rather unlikely champion in Joe Biden. He's not going to get everything done at once -- already several cherished items (such as lowering the eligibility age for Medicare) got left on the cutting room floor. Biden promises he will return to these things later, but the reality is that he probably won't get the chance. The two big proposals he has made will be the main subject of debate in Washington all summer long. But for once, it's going to be a straight-up "big government versus small government" battle, and for once the public seems to be a lot more open to letting the federal government do a lot more for them personally. So although it's going to be very tough, it looks like the chances for success are higher than they've been since L.B.J.'s time in office. And that's a pretty good way to wrap up Biden's first 100 days in office, really.


Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week

This one's pretty obvious this week. President Joe Biden is the clear winner of the Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week for both his speech to Congress and for his new American Families Plan. Biden had a great week all around, specifically timed to his 100th day in office. [For more details, see the entire rest of this article.]

[Congratulate President Joe Biden on his White House contact page, to let him know you appreciate his efforts.]


Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week

This one was also (sadly) pretty obvious. Senator Joe Manchin is going to rack up a record number of Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week awards, at least for the foreseeable future.

This week, Manchin essentially killed any hope of making Washington D.C. the 51st state any time soon:

Sen. Joe Manchin III told reporters in his home state of West Virginia on Friday morning that he does not support the bill to make D.C. the nation's 51st state, according to audio provided by the Democrat's office and a report from WVNews.

Manchin, a key swing vote in the closely divided Senate, said he believed a constitutional amendment, rather than legislation, would be required to admit D.C. as a state. His stance deals a major blow to statehood advocates who were hoping for his support after the bill passed the House last week.

Manchin cited findings from the Justice Department under Presidents Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter and comments from then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy in reaching his decision.

It should be noted that it is even less likely that statehood for D.C. would ever happen, if a constitutional amendment were indeed necessary -- a fact Manchin is well aware of. However, no amendment really would be necessary for Congress to at least make the attempt (the Supreme Court may ultimately decide the question, but that certainly doesn't preclude Democrats from trying).

Which is why Manchin gets yet another MDDOTW, to add to his growing collection. Thanks for nothing, Joe.

[Contact Senator Joe Manchin on his Senate contact page, to let him know what you think of his actions.]


Friday Talking Points

Volume 616 (4/30/21)

Before we get started, we have to share a political quote that just didn't fit anywhere else today. We also apologize for largely ignoring the rest of the political week -- a week in which Rudy Giuliani's house got raided by the feds!) -- but Biden's speech so dominated the political discourse that we had to devote almost all of today's column to it.

But we have to at least mention the news that California is going to hold its second-ever recall election in a few months. Now, barring any unforeseen scandals appearing between now and then, Gavin Newsom will be just fine. He's got an approval rating in the high 50s, and that will likely go up even further when the entire state (and all the schools) fully reopen once again.

But just because Newsom is all but certain to beat the recall, that doesn't mean we're not going to have a three-ring circus before it does. The last time this happened -- which resulted in the election of Arnold Schwarzenegger -- there were a whopping 135 candidates on the ballot (including people such as Larry Flynt, Gary Coleman, and Arianna Huffington). This time around, there may be even more. Caitlyn Jenner has already thrown her hat in the ring, and so has one person who ran back then as well: porn star Mary Carey. And her campaign kickoff statement is worth quoting, just for a laugh: "Last time I ran I was young, dumb and full of fun. This time I have more experience and will not be taking this position laying down. I am ready to be on top!" In other words, let the circus begin! Bring in the clown car! Step right up, folks!

Amusements aside, here are our suggestions to combat the clownish complaints coming from Republicans over Joe Biden's sweeping agenda. This really is like shooting fish in a barrel, since they really have yet to latch on to any one (possibly imaginary) aspect of the plan to hammer him with (see: Obamacare, "death panels"). For now, though, the Republican arguments are pretty easy to counter.



Biden made this one pathetically easy to defend.

"Republicans are going to lie to you -- they are going to tell you that Democrats are going to raise your taxes. For everyone except the absolutely wealthiest, this is false. How do I know it's false? How can I prove that to you? Well, let's see... are you a giant corporation? No? Then your taxes won't go up. Under the tax laws Republicans passed -- the last giant giveaway to corporate America -- we now have the largest corporations in the country paying zero taxes. And Republicans think that is just fine -- they don't want to change it a bit. Or how about... do you make over four hundred thousand dollars a year? No? Then don't worry -- your income taxes won't go up. Joe Biden has sworn he will not raise taxes on anyone making less than that per year, and no matter how many times Republicans lie about it, it still will be true. So don't worry -- your taxes won't be going up, period."


   Partisan? Who cares?

The big GOP complaint is that Biden is passing things on a purely partisan basis. Fortunately, there's a very easy answer to this.

"Republican politicians in Washington love to complain that Joe Biden isn't being bipartisan. But you know what? People do not care who voted for a bill and who didn't, when they see the results. They just don't. Don't believe me? Well then, here's an easy way to prove it: how many people who got their $1,400 checks in the mail ripped them up in protest because no Republican voted for it in Congress? I'm pretty sure the answer to that one is 'zero.' People just do not care what happens in Washington, instead they just want to see things get done."


   Socialist? Who cares?

Another big complaint is also just as easy to shoot down.

"Republican Senator Tim Scott, in response to President Joe Biden's speech this week, denounced the Biden agenda as, quote, Washington schemes and socialist dreams, period. Seriously? I mean, nice little rhyme and all, but seriously? Republicans have now taken to calling anything that taxes pay for 'socialist,' because they know the word used to scare the voters. But you know what? By their definition, we'd have no cops, no firefighters, no public schools, no public libraries -- because all of it would somehow be evil socialism. Biden is just proposing extending the list of what the government does a bit, so that it includes things that help average families out. They can call it whatever they want, but there is wide public support for these new programs, because voters are tired of seeing everything the government does only help out Wall Street and the ultra-wealthy. So, no, it's not 'class warfare' or 'socialism' to say that we as a nation should spend money on a few other priorities -- ones a lot closer to average Americans' kitchen table."


   Infrastructure or not? Who cares?

This one is the silliest of the bunch, really.

"Republicans are saying we should all reject major portions of the American Jobs Act because they complain there are projects which are not technically 'infrastructure' -- as if that were some kind of big deal to the voters. You know what? It isn't. People just do not care whether Republicans split these hairs one way or the other. Who in their right mind is going to complain: 'My aging mother now gets her home healthcare covered by Medicare... but I personally cannot define this help as 'infrastructure,' therefore it is a bad thing and I am going to inform her to reject it completely and continue paying out of her own pocket'? Nobody! Nobody cares whether Mitch McConnell thinks it qualifies as infrastructure or not -- they just care whether it makes their lives easier or not. That's it, period."


   Reject the scare words

Just push right on by all the bluster, and talk specifics instead.

"OK, let's start with this -- I do not care what you call these programs. You can call them anything under the sun, I'm not going to argue with any of it. Whatever lights your candle, OK? But after you get done, can you answer specifically which of these programs you support and which you don't? Take any part of Biden's American Jobs Plan or his American Families Plan and let me know whether it is a good idea politically or not. Because that is what people really want to hear -- a debate on the policies themselves, not whatever scare word you come up with to demonize them. If you're going to attempt such demonization, let's at least do it on the merits, OK?"


   Throw it right back at them, with details

Force the conversation from the generic to the specific.

"Socialism? What, am I supposed to roll up into a ball of fear when you say that? Really? As you can see, I am not -- instead I'd like to ask you, specifically: is providing two free years of pre-school socialism and therefore evil? How many voters think like that? Is providing two free years of community college some sort of Washington scheme to remove all freedom from your life and therefore evil? Or would it actually help out tens of millions of people in your home state? If these two programs are evil socialism, then why should America provide free public school from kindergarten through twelfth grade? Isn't that equally as socialistic and therefore evil? It is absolutely impossible to square those two stances, in other words -- if K-12 public education is a worthwhile thing for the government to provide, then why not expand it two years in either direction? I mean, you can argue it'd cost too much or whatever else, but you cannot say that public education of a 5-year old is ideologically allowable when public education of a 4-year old is some socialist plot to takeover America. That just makes no sense whatsoever."


   Far left? Don't make me laugh

And finally, we saved our favorite one for last.

"Republicans are falling all over themselves to fling the term 'far left' at Joe Biden and his agenda. They use this term, along with the words 'extremist' or 'extreme,' to try to paint Biden as some sort of wide-eyed radical looking to tear the system down. In the first place, they're not having much luck with this effort because I mean... well, just look at Joe Biden! Does he seem like a radical to you? Yeah, me either. Second, characterizing his agenda as 'far left' has worked pretty well to hoodwink the mainstream media into using the same language, but it's just not true. Take any one of Biden's proposals - free college, broadband expansion, whatever. Pick one at random. Then go ahead and check the actual poll numbers. These policies are supported by a huge majority of the public -- 60 percent, 65 percent, sometimes even higher. By definition that is not 'far' anything! That is instead mainstream. If you classify these ideas as 'far-left' then you also have to admit that America is now a 'far-left' country -- you can't have it both ways. It's all the other positions that are not mainstream, in fact. Biden's proposals are the mainstream, the Republican position has moved to the far right, and I'm betting that this time around the media won't get bamboozled into not noticing this rather glaring fact."

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant

Cross-posted at: Democratic Underground