Biden Is Going Big, and Americans Are With Him
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For years, well-credentialed thinkers have been telling us to expect a Democratic majority, built on the rise of young, minority and urban voters. Demography was destiny, and the future was blue.
Texas was the Moby Dick in this telling, the great whale that finally would be landed by the Dems some fine Election Day. And yet here we are — more than a quarter-century and counting since a Democrat last won statewide office in Texas.
But now Democrats have a real shot at a durable majority, defying even the gerrymandering and small-state inequities built into the system. And not only because of Stacey Abrams’s winning strategy in Georgia. It’s no more complicated than this: The current Democratic agenda is hugely popular, crossing racial and regional lines. If you do things that help people’s lives, and do them well, the public will stay with you.
Joe Biden has been president for only a month. But if his $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan and the jobs, infrastructure and climate initiatives to follow work out as well as they are now polling, his party could govern for many years to come.
Biden is listening to whispers from the grave of Franklin Roosevelt — laying out a society-changing plan of action at a low ebb in the nation’s history. Facing the largest social and economic crisis since the Great Depression, Biden’s hoping to significantly reduce child poverty, expand health care and fortify working-class families.
“We’re in a position to think big and move big,” said Biden this month. He was talking about Covid-19 relief specifically, but it’s important that he maintain that mantra and not let his master plan get nibbled to death.
Some 40 years after Ronald Reagan convinced Americans that government was the problem, Biden could successfully spin the counterargument by wielding something simple, but entirely missing while Donald Trump was in charge: competence.
Biden set a low goal of 100 million Covid vaccine shots in his first 100 days; his administration is delivering at a pace that would far exceed that. If most Americans are inoculated by August, he’ll be boosted by majority approval.
One stumbling block is opening the schools, an issue Republicans see as their best chance to trip up their new Democratic leader's early momentum. Another threat comes from right-wing media’s talent for making odious mountains out of Democratic molehills — or outright making things up. Case in point: the fictional death panels that were used to erode support for Obamacare, in which government bureaucrats were rumored to choose one life or treatment over another.
But make no mistake: The public is with Biden now. The Covid-19 relief package — with its direct payments to families and aid for businesses, the unemployed and local governments — is backed by nearly 70 percent of Americans, according to a recent Quinnipiac poll. In a nation that can’t agree on a simple set of facts, this is staggering.
Two-thirds of Americans supported raising the federal minimum wage before the pandemic, By August, that figure had risen to 72 percent. That level of support has only gone up since Covid set in, as people realize that many of their beloved essential workers have been living on poverty-level wages.
In Florida, a state run by Republicans, the $15 minimum hourly wage won more than 60 percent of the vote last November. Let Republicans in Congress continue to defend a federal wage floor of $7.25. They can’t. Nor can they go after the popular central elements of the American Rescue Plan.
Biden’s plan to provide tax credits in the form of payments of up to $300 per month to poor families could lift 10 million children above or closer to the poverty line. People who have long argued that the best way to help the poor is simply to give them money are going to have their moment.
Big majorities also support rejoining the Paris climate agreement, offering a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and expanding Obamacare with a public option. One month in, Biden’s presidency gets the approval of well over 50 percent of Americans, something Trump never had in the aggregate of polls in his four years.
What could doom Democrats is fellow Democrats. Seattle was a laudable pioneer in raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour. But now its City Council is never far from a bad idea. A recent proposal would make it the first city in the nation to appear to incentivize misdemeanor crime. Assaults, trespass, stalking — all could be excused if their offense is linked to poverty or a behavioral health disorder.
And then there’s the San Francisco school board, which can’t find a way to put children back at their desks but plans to wipe out a third of the city’s school names, including one named for Abraham Lincoln, because of character flaws of the honorees.
In the great scheme of things, these kinds of distractions are just that. They sound like parodies of liberals gone mad. But with that kind of material, Fox News and friends are expert at making people believe the lefty fringe is the main Democratic agenda.
So while Biden explicitly said he would not seek to defund the police, Republican demagogy on the issue was effective enough that the slogan was wielded against other Democrats down the ticket.
For the moment, Biden has kept his troops united and disciplined. Tepid incremental steps are out. So long as it remains carpe diem time at the White House, the president is poised to make a lasting blue mark.
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Timothy Egan (@nytegan) is a contributing opinion writer who covers the environment, the American West and politics. He is a winner of the National Book Award and the author, most recently, of “A Pilgrimage to Eternity.”