The president pushed aside repeated media chiding that he was not being bipartisan enough. In fact, as he observed in a victory lap speech on Saturday, “without the overwhelming bipartisan support of the American people, this would not have happened.” He continued, “Overwhelming public support — every public opinion poll shows overwhelming support for this plan. And for the last weeks, it’s shown that. Every public opinion poll shows the people want this, they believe it’s needed, and they believe it’s urgent.” Bipartisanship, the administration maintained, was not found in capitulating to Republicans whose paltry $650 billion plan failed to grasp the magnitude of the dual economic and health threats. Bipartisanship was achieved in meeting the needs of Americans who are eager for active government.
The Post’s report underscores the shift in the Overton Window: “The disparity between the reception to President Barack Obama’s 2009 stimulus plan and President Biden’s is the result of several seismic shifts in American politics — the most dramatic of which may be the apparent impact of the pandemic on attitudes about the role of government in helping the economy.”
Several points deserve emphasis.
First, Biden has been consistently underestimated by the chattering class. He was boring, a weak debater, too old, not progressive enough, they said during the campaign. Biden and his team had the confidence and experience to ignore the trite, conventional and wrongheaded “take” that Democrats were looking for a fire-breathing socialist in 2020. They knew to ignore Twitter, ignore the complaints about an “ambitious” vice president and ignore sneering about his campaign from the basement. What pundits would like to chalk up to luck was in fact a savvy, disciplined campaign.
Second, the laser-like focus that served him well in the election also helped him secure the biggest progressive victory in history. As many center-left Democrats argued during the campaign, the way to win the biggest gains for progressives is to elect someone from the center of the party. (Hearing the enthusiastic praise for Biden’s achievements from Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, his former primary competitors, proves the point.)
Biden might have been the only candidate who could have won in 2020, and the only one who could have delivered a huge win less than 50 days into his term. (“Biden is in some ways the ideal messenger for their spending blitz,” The Post reports. “A septuagenarian who spent four decades in Congress, the president is hard to portray as a socialist or radical leftist — even as he advances some ambitious expansions of government spending, including a major new child tax benefit.”) Just as he did in the campaign, he rejected media entreaties to respond to the latest outburst from the disgraced and now former president or from his hysterical enablers obsessed with irrelevant cultural memes. He would not be knocked off message.
The Biden team’s focus allowed them to woo back into line moderate Democrats such as Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), who might irrationally deny a qualified woman of color a Cabinet spot or seek the limelight in holding up the deal to lower the unemployment subsidy from $400 to $300. Frustration is kept behind closed doors; the eyes of Biden’s colleagues are invariably on making the most important deal when the chips are down.
Third, success builds on success. As Biden turns to items such as infrastructure, Republicans may feel more pressure to end their reflexive obstruction. One wonders if having bet against an overwhelmingly popular rescue plan, swing-district and swing-state Republicans want to keep turning up their noses at the very economic populism they insist they support. In the 1930s, disaster struck and metastasized on the Republicans’ watch; now, similarly, the GOP may find out that opposition to vigorous governmental action is a political loser that may keep them out of power until memories of their gross mismanagement fade.
Biden will have huge challenges ahead. He will run into opposition on his green energy plans. Republicans will seek to filibuster voting reforms intended to thwart their Jim Crow legislative onslaught in dozens of states. But now that Biden has one major victory under his belt and the prospect of covid-19 and economic recovery ahead, the media might want to stop underestimating him. He and his team seem to know what they are doing.