During the 2020 campaign, Republicans said that despite Joe Biden’s reputation as a moderate, in fact his presidency would be ideologically radical, turning the federal government into an engine of socialist transformation.

In its particulars, their argument was ludicrously disingenuous (“He wants to make us into Venezuela!”). But what if they were half right? What if Biden’s presidency turns out to be far more liberal than anyone thought it would be?

We won’t know for some time; he’s only been in office for a week. But Biden’s early moves on both policy and personnel should give liberal Democrats, many of whom were deeply skeptical of him, reason to hope that he could be one of the most liberal presidents of modern times.

Let’s consider a sampling of early steps:

  • On Wednesday, he announced the most sweeping effort to address climate change ever undertaken, with plans to restrict new fossil fuel drilling, purchase a clean auto fleet for the federal government and invest in green infrastructure. Every part of government will be involved in the effort, which also prioritizes environmental justice. And as Politico notes, “Biden has already stocked his administration with a flock of committed climate hawks” who will push these policies forward.
  • In a round of executive orders, he extended moratoriums on evictions and student loan payments, revoked the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, rejoined the World Health Organization and the Paris climate agreement, and expanded food assistance.
  • He proposed a massive overhaul of immigration laws, including a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
  • His team has aggressively moved to fill federal vacancies and push out remaining Trump appointees, staffing 1,000 positions, around a quarter of all those a president is able to appoint. “If there has been a single defining feature of the first week of the Biden administration,” the New York Times reported, “it has been the blistering pace at which the new president has put his mark on what President Donald J. Trump dismissed as the hostile ‘Deep State’ and tried so hard to dismantle.”
  • Once confirmed, Biden’s Cabinet will be the most racially and ethnically diverse in history.

To be clear, it isn’t that Biden has just turned everything over to Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Although some of their allies have been appointed to key positions, other appointments have disappointed some on the left.

Still, as a whole the left’s response seems to be cautious optimism.

“Overall I feel like the process is heartening,” Jeff Hauser of the Revolving Door Project told me. “Biden’s team is open to updating their priors on how the party has changed, with some helpful assistance from a pretty broad coalition of progressive-aligned organizations and activists.”

But Hauser pointed to the Justice Department and attorney general nominee Merrick Garland as an area where things could be better: “From contemplating lackluster at best revolving door lawyers for the Antitrust Division to moving at a glacial pace to dislodge the U.S. Attorneys who survived Trump’s purges, Garland is acting like it is 1995.”

Nevertheless, Biden arrived in office with a clearer, and in most ways a more ambitious, agenda than President Barack Obama did. Combine it with an intimate knowledge of the whole government and how its different parts interact — which Biden has from decades in the Senate and eight years as vice president — and in the end, it could produce tremendous movement in a progressive direction.

That’s a key part of this picture: not just that Biden has formulated a progressive agenda, but that he and the people he has brought with him — a combination of his own longtime aides, Obama administration veterans and liberal policy wonks — have the knowledge and experience to move quickly to implement it.

Consider the contrast with the previous president.

Donald Trump’s corruption and inattention combined to produce the most conservative government in memory; since many competent and experienced Republicans wanted nothing to do with him, he staffed his administration with grifters and extremists, who could then run rampant because he didn’t much care what they were doing.

But there was one benefit to that state of affairs: On the whole, Trump’s appointments were pretty bad at their jobs. The White House was characterized by unceasing bumbling, from new policies announced without informing relevant agencies, to small things such as press releases riddled with typos. In four years, he had four chiefs of staff and six communications directors.

Sometimes their incompetence exacerbated their malevolence, but often it mitigated it; they would have done far more damage if they weren’t so inept. That will not be an issue with the Biden administration.

One might ask whether Biden underwent some kind of personal transformation from a moderate to a liberal. But that’s not really what happened. As he always has, he moved as the center of his party moved, embracing policies such as rejecting private prisons or a $15-an-hour minimum wage as they became consensus within the party.

But he has shown a surprising aggressiveness in office. Climate change, for instance, might not have been a lifelong passion for him, but now that he has made the commitment, he is following through — and doing it in a way that reflects his understanding of what such a task requires.

We’re just in the opening days of this presidency, so there’s no way to know what its ideological profile and achievements will look like four years from now. But so far, those who worried — or hoped — that Biden would be a milquetoast chair-warmer seem to have underestimated him.

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