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Robert Reich: Biden’s First 100 Days And GOP’s First 100 Days Without Trump – OpEd

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By almost any measure, Joe Biden’s first 100 days have been hugely successful. Getting millions of Americans inoculated against COVID-19 and beginning to revive the economy are central to that success.

Two thirds of Americans support Biden’s $1.9 stimulus plan, already enacted. His infrastructure and family plans, which he outlined last Wednesday night at a joint session of Congress, also have broad backing. The $6 trillion price tag for all this would make it the largest expansion of the federal government since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. But for most Americans, it doesn’t feel radical.

Rather than bet it all on a single large-scale program such as universal healthcare – which Clinton’s failed to accomplish and which Obama turned into a target of Republican fearmongering – Biden has picked an array of popular initiatives, such as pre-school, public community c0llege, paid family and medical leave, home care, and infrastructure repairs, which are harder to vilify.

Economists talk about pent-up demand for private consumer goods, caused by the pandemic. Biden is responding to a pent-up demand for public goods. The demand has been there for years but the pandemic has starkly revealed it. Compared to workers in other developed nations, Americans enjoy few social benefits and safety nets. Biden is saying, in effect, it’s time we caught up.

Besides, it’s hard for Republicans to paint Biden as a radical. He doesn’t feel scary. He’s old, grandfatherly. He speaks haltingly. He’s humble. When he talks about the needs of average working people, it’s clear he knows them.

Biden has also been helped by the contrast to his immediate predecessor – the most divisive and authoritarian personality to occupy the Oval Office in modern memory. Had Biden been elected directly after Obama, regardless of the pandemic and economic crisis, it’s unlikely he and his ambitious plans would seem so benign.

In his address to a joint session of Congress Wednesday night, Biden credited others for the achievements of his first hundred days. They had been accomplished “because of you,” he said, even giving a nod to Republicans. His predecessor was incapable of crediting anyone else for anything.

Meanwhile, the Republican party, still captive to its Trumpian base, has no message or policies to counter Biden’s proposals. Trump left it with little more than a list of baseless grievances irrelevant to the practical needs of most Americans – that Trump would have been reelected but for fraudulent votes and a “deep state” conspiracy, that Democrats are “socialists” and that the “left” is intent on taking away American freedoms.

Biden has a razor-thin majority in Congress and must keep every Democratic senator in line if he’s to get his plans enacted. But the vacuum on the right has allowed him to dominate the public conversation about his initiatives, which makes passage more likely.  

Trump is aiding Biden in other ways. Trump’s yawning budget deficits help normalize Biden’s. When Trump sent $1,200 stimulus checks to most Americans last year regardless of whether they had a job, he cleared the way for Biden to deliver generous jobless benefits.

Trump’s giant $1.9 trillion tax cut for big corporations and the wealthy, none of which “trickled down,” make Biden’s proposals to increase taxes on corporations and the wealthy to pay for infrastructure and education seem even more reasonable.

Trump’s fierce economic nationalism has made Biden’s “buy American” initiative appear innocent by comparison. Trump’s angry populism has allowed Biden to criticize Wall Street and support unions without causing a ripple.

At the same time, Trumpian lawmakers’ refusal to concede the election and their efforts to suppress votes has alienated much of corporate America, pushing executives toward Biden by default.

Even on the fraught issue of race, the contrast with Trump has strengthened Biden’s hand. Most Americans were so repulsed by Trump’s overt racism and his overtures to white supremacists, especially after the police murder of George Floyd, that Biden’s initiatives to end police brutality and “root out systemic racism,” as he said on Wednesday night, seem appropriate correctives.  

The first 100 days of the Biden presidency were also the first 100 days of America without Trump, and the two cannot be separated.

With any luck, Biden’s plans might be the antidote to Trumpism – creating enough decent-paying working class jobs, along with benefits such as childcare and free community college, as to forestall some of the right-wing dyspepsia that Trump whipped into a fury.

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Robert Reich

Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, and writes at robertreich.substack.com. Reich served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fifteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "The Common Good," which is available in bookstores now. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.

One thought on “Robert Reich: Biden’s First 100 Days And GOP’s First 100 Days Without Trump – OpEd

  • May 4, 2021 at 3:15 pm
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    The loss of good paying US factory jobs through globalization was the result of two primary factors — the Democrat and Republican establishments. What else could possibly explain the victory of Donald Trump over the GOP establishment and then the Clintons in 2016? In consequence, the transformation of the Republican Party — from essentially suburban and libertarian, to white working class — has become a huge challenge for the elite circles of both US political parties. Clinton, like Bush before and Bush (the son) after, not only decimated the labor movement, but crippled working class income for forty years. The very thought of Mrs. Clinton, as US President, was an anathema to working class voters from the de-industrialized region of the Midwest. So much so, that even many primary supporters of left-wing candidate Bernie Sanders abandoned Clinton in the general election to vote for Trump and his “America First” agenda. In fact, Trump was a replay of the policy proposals and campaign of Ross Perot — an independent candidate who received millions of votes in the 1992 election running against de-industrialization. This on-going appeal to nationalism and a deep working class angst, in opposition to globalization, is now much stronger in the Republican Party than the woke cultural elitism (and massive federal spending outlays) of the Democrats. In fact, a mere one hundred days into the Biden presidency the very unwieldy and most unusual Democrat Party constituency appears to be failing. Biden won the 2020 election by appearing as a moderate for the suburbanites, but a woke liberal when espousing issues of race for people of color. Both these stances appealed to the corporate middle class (suburbia) and Black voters alike. But that’s not how the Biden administration has ruled over the course of the last one hundred days. Biden has swung dramatically to the cultural and political left. In the process, he has already begun to alienate the suburban element of his electoral constituency. Massive federal programs breed inflation when mixed with a hegemonic military budget. And the suburbs can smell inflation in the Biden budget. And along with inflation, there is also the risk of higher taxes to pay for the expansion of government. And the US middle class can smell taxes a mile away. A political dystopian choice between higher taxes or massive federal debt is NOT an enviable position to be in. The question then becomes: Is Biden a true moderate and unifier, or a tool of a left-wing elite? That is; an elite which wants to re-envision US capitalism through a vast increase in both US industrial policy and massive outlays of federal largess associated with European-style social democracy. In other words, Biden faces a Catch-22 of his own making. But what about the good paying factory jobs lost to China and other low wage regions. When (if ever) will they come back? Biden’s high corporate tax proposals mean that US businesses and jobs will continue to flock overseas. This reality will not be received well in the suburbs or among the working class as a whole. And what about illegal immigration? Under Biden, cheap labor has once again begun to flood across the border? Trump had a field day with this issue, and now in a hundred short days, it’s once again high on the Republican Party agenda. Remember: The Democrats lost Hispanic votes in the last election over this very issue. Biden and a successful first one hundred days in office? Hardly!

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