Saturday, May 1, 2021

Musings on President Biden's Vision of American Democracy at its Inflection Point

     By Rudy Barnes, Jr.

On April 28 President Biden shared his vision of American democracy at its inflection point with Congress, proposing that it go big and go fast with an array of social programs that would transform America from a libertarian to a socialist democracy.  The question is whether most Americans will support Biden’s proposal for such a political revolution in Congress.

The price tag of $6 trillion on top of America’s already massive national debt should be a major constraint for Biden’s proposals; but Republicans lost their credibility to complain about increasing the national debt during the Trump regime.  Polarized partisan politics and a paper-thin Democratic majority in Congress make it conceivable that Democrats can prevail.

The 2022 elections will likely end a Democratic majority in both houses of Congress, but not polarized partisan politics.  Biden’s strategy for his radical policy changes requires action before 2022 and depends on polarized partisan politics for his slim majority.  It would only take the defection of a few House Democrats and one Democratic Senator to prevent their passage.

Changes in American politics have traditionally been evolutionary and incremental in nature rather than revolutionary, with concern for the cost of social programs that increase the national debt.  Biden’s proposals fly in the face of those political traditions, and there seems no moderate middle ground between right wing Republicans and leftist Democrats.

Both parties claim to seek compromise with the other, but their talk is cheap.  Both parties rely on partisan power for policy changes and resist a politics of reconciliation.  While Biden has indicated an openness to changes in his proposals, he has made it clear that he is going to move fast to pass his proposals and will push hard against any opposition to them.

Biden and his Democratic Party acknowledge that their proposals represent dramatic change.  While they clearly deserve more time for consideration and public debate, that’s not likely in a polarized Congress that has few if any moderates willing to cross the partisan aisle.  It reminds us that partisan polarization prevents the healthy debate so essential in a democracy.

A politics of reconciliation is needed to provide political moderation in Congress.  Many voted for Biden thinking he would bring moderation back to American politics, and they must be disappointed.  But the prospect of mid-term elections in 2022 may motivate some in Congress to reconsider their blind partisan loyalty before they vote on Biden’s proposals.

America is and will remain a democracy whether or not the BIden proposals pass.  After all, Americans are the masters of their political destiny and are accountable for the actions of their President and Congress.  But Americans love their benefits, and if and when they allow their individual benefits to undermine the economic future of their nation, their democracy is doomed.             


Dan Balz described President Biden’s speech to Congress as seeking to leverage narrow majorities to reverse the Reagan era.  “Biden said that to win the competition for the future, ‘the nation needs “a once-in-generation investment in our families and our children.’   Given the Democrats’ narrow majorities in Congress and a nation still sharply divided over the president’s performance, Biden’s agenda represents a policy and political gamble of enormous proportions, one that will be adjudicated in both the 2022 midterms and the 2024 presidential election. The politics of redistribution, which are at the heart of what Biden is proposing, could test decades of assumptions that Democrats should be afraid of being tagged as the party of big government.  

...Together, the already approved coronavirus relief plan, the infrastructure proposal that was unveiled a few weeks ago and the newly proposed plan to invest in social welfare programs would total roughly $6 trillion, much of it aimed at middle- and working-class families. Biden would pay for much of the infrastructure and family spending with increased taxes on corporations and on the wealthiest Americans.”

Balz cited William Galstonj of the Brookings Institution: “The Biden administration is making an enormous wager on a certain vision of the future. If they turn out to be right, it will not only be transformational but celebrated in history as such. It will have leveraged the thinnest possible political majority into very large accomplishments. But simply to state that thesis is to illustrate just how remarkable it would be if this line of policy and if this political strategy prevails.” See

Kevin Liptak of CNN has provided takeaways from President Biden’s first address to Congress.  “A long wait is ended, and Biden wants to move fast. ‘America is moving – moving forward. And we can’t stop now,” Biden said. “We’re in a great inflection point in history. We have to do more than just build back. We have to build back better. But the rest of the world isn’t waiting for us. I just want to be clear: from my perspective doing nothing is not an option.’   ...Biden argued that big government is better governmentIf there was one argument animating Biden’s speech – and his entire presidency to date – is that more government, when working right, can improve Americans’ lives. It’s a simple proposition that bucks a decades-long trend in both parties toward a smaller, less interventionist Washington. ...It’s a distant cry from President Bill Clinton’s declaration in his 1996 State of the Union that “the era of big government is over.” Speaking from the same podium 25 years later, Biden seemed to argue the exact opposite: that now is the time for big government to return – and with it the chance to prove that it’s still working.

Polls, including a CNN survey conducted by SSRS, show a majority of Americans approve of Biden’s job performance at this stage in his presidency and also show some appetite for Biden’s expansive view of government. An NBC News poll found 55% of Americans said government “should do more to solve problems” compared to 41% who said it’s doing too much.”  See

On earlier commentary that anticipated President Biden’s proposals to Congress, see

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