Saturday, April 10, 2021

Musings on a New Enlightenment and the Reinvention of American Democracy

    By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

President Biden is leading the efforts of Democrats to go big and reinvent democracy with a paper-thin majority in Congress.  The Biden Bill would add $Trillions to a massive national debt for infrastructure projects and the expansion of social programs; but after Trump neutered the Republican Party, there’s no constructive partisan opposition in Congress.

The Biden Bill would transform American political culture from its emphasis on individual rights to the more socialist norms of European democracy.  If there is no national consensus for the Biden bill and Congress fails to provide the tax revenues needed to pay for its political largesse, it would increase an already massive national debt and undermine America's stability.

America’s deteriorating roads, bridges, rail system and utilities need repair; but before expanding social programs on the heels of extensive pandemic relief, Biden should consider regulating and taxing the super-rich on Wall Street who control America’s means of production and have created disparities of wealth that have depleted the American middle class.

Providing needed infrastructure repairs and adequate regulation of mega-corporations should have a national consensus and bipartisan support.  But a polarized Congress and expiring caps on government spending could allow Democrats to reshape American democracy in the image of their partisan priorities overnight.  That would be a mistake.

The radical components and massive cost of the Biden Bill are akin to a reinvention of American democracy based on the leftist political values of a new Enlightenment.  It deserves a national debate and bipartisan consideration before it’s enacted, and that should come after the 2022 elections when hopefully some partisan balance will be restored in Congress.

The 18th century Enlightenment shaped American democracy with libertarian ideals based on advances in knowledge and reason.  After almost 3 centuries of America’s great experiment with democracy it’s time for a 21st century Enlightenment to reset America’s standards of political legitimacy based on advances in knowledge, reason, and wisdom.

Knowledge, reason and wisdom have been nullified in America’s polarized partisan politics.  Even common sense has been lost in the vast chasm between right-wing Republicans who want to preserve the past against any progressive change and left-wing Democrats who want to eliminate past traditions with their radical progressive ideals.  

America needs to balance its obsession with individual rights with providing for the common good; but that doesn’t require mortgaging its future to pay for the socialist excesses of the Biden Bill.  Before America reinvents its democracy with the Biden bill, a new Enlightenment is needed to affirm America’s new political priorities; and that requires a national consensus based on public debate and bipartisan consideration.


Tony Romm has opined that Biden’s bill reflects Democrats’ bigger role for government.  “The proposed Biden bill reflects a broad political shift underway in Washington, where Democratic leaders have sought to capitalize on their 2020 election victories to advance once dormant policy priorities and unwind years of budget cuts under administrations past. The forthcoming infrastructure and budget proposals showcase Democrats’ broader desire to rethink the role of the federal government over the course of his presidency. Biden linked his philosophy to the massive anti-poverty campaign waged by President Lyndon B. Johnson about six decades ago.  ‘It’s critical to demonstrate that government can function and deliver prosperity, security and opportunity for the people in this country,’ Biden said. But his ambitions largely rest in the hands of Congress, where Democrats maintain only a faint, sometimes politically fractious majority — and Republicans have sounded early notes of opposition to his approach. ‘I’m very disappointed with what I’m reading,’ Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), the top Republican on the chamber’s Environment and Public Works Committee, told reporters last week. ‘I think we need to talk to the American people and say, ‘Is this what you envision with infrastructure? Are these job creators? Are we re-engineering our own social fabric here with a 50-vote majority? The Biden bill is likely to face a resurgence in criticism about the perils of excessive spending — and the long-term consequences of an unmanaged federal debt.  Democratic lawmakers say they anticipate the first Biden budget is expected to include new increases in domestic spending, as Democrats seek to rejuvenate federal agencies that have lost employees and capacity while tackling new challenges,  including the coronavirus pandemic and climate change. For the first time in a decade, though, Congress and the White House are not constrained by across-the-board spending caps, which lawmakers imposed starting in 2011 in an attempt to reduce the deficit.” See

Ishaaan Tharoor has related Biden’s bill to the waning of the neoliberal era.   For much of his political career, President Biden was a custodian of the “neoliberal” order. He was a fixture in a Washington establishment that promoted years of economic globalization and, like political elites in many other countries, embraced the apparent virtues of free trade and fiscal responsibility. Though he often invoked his blue-collar American roots, Biden was a standard-bearer for a brand of “third way” centrist politics that scoffed at class wars and allied itself to Wall Street. As vice president, he stood behind a post-financial crisis recovery that critics argue was inadequate and boosted wealthy and corporate interests over those of the majority of Americans. But in the first few months of his presidency, Biden is cutting a dramatically different figure. After Congress passed his administration’s mammoth $1.9 trillion pandemic stimulus, Biden introduced an even more ambitious legislative plan to overhaul the nation’s infrastructure, create million of new jobs and better align the economy to reckon with the imperatives of climate change — all to the tune of perhaps $4 trillion in spending over the next decade. ‘It’s not a plan that tinkers around the edges,” Biden said of his proposed legislation on Wednesday. ‘It’s a once-in-a-generation investment in America unlike anything we’ve seen or done since we built the interstate highway system.’” See

Dominico Montanaro of NPR sees Biden with his Legacy in mind seeking a U.S. transformation. “While Biden says he hopes to negotiate with Republicans in good faith, he’s not waiting around.  ‘We will not be open to doing nothing,’ the president said. ‘Inaction, simply, is not an option.’  Translation: Get on board or step aside. This Biden technique is one former Gov. Howard Dean, D-Vt., recently described to Politico as ‘smiling as he steamrolls.’ 

Republicans don't see Biden as willing to come around to their positions and say he is instead paying lip service to bipartisanship with the intention of forcing through partisan legislation. 

Biden has said, "We're at an inflection point in American democracy.  This is a moment where we prove whether or not democracy can deliver."  Montaro added, “And whether or not he can, too.”  See

George Scialabba has considered the mediocrity produced by democracy in the context of a new Enlightenment.  He begins with Nietzsche’s parable of the last man: “Alas, the time of the most despicable man is coming. ...Behold, I show you the last man.  “What is love? What is creation? What is longing? What is a star?” the last man asks, and he blinks.... “We have invented happiness,” say the last men, and they blink.” Scialabba uses  ‘democracy’ to mean the whole Enlightenment program: not just political equality but also feminism, pacifism, human rights, and the welfare state, along with a chastened belief in, and modest hopes for, moral and material progress.  Scialabba cites De Tocqueville, John Stuart Mill, Richard Rorty, William James, D.H. Lawrence, Christopher Lasch and Steve Fraser on the nature of democracy; and Scialabba agrees with Rorty’s “admirably forthright solution to the supposed dilemma of democratic mediocrity,  ‘even if the typical character types of liberal democracies are bland, calculating, petty, and unheroic, the prevalence of such people may be a reasonable price to pay for political freedom.’” See


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