President Biden is beginning his presidency as if he learned no lessons from Bill Clinton or Barack Obama.
Like presidents Clinton and Obama before him, Biden’s substantive actions already are pushing well leftward politically, rather than seeking centrist common ground. Both Clinton and Obama were punished for their early focus on decidedly liberal initiatives by seeing their parties suffer immense losses in their first subsequent mid-term elections. Biden risks the same.
Among Clinton’s big, early-administration, liberal sins were enactment of a tax hike and his decision to push his wife’s hideously complicated health-care monstrosity (rather than, for instance, focus on welfare reform). For Obama, again it was health care, enacted by improper legislative jujitsu, along with a host of leftist administrative actions including refusal to enforce civil rights laws against violent black perpetrators. Both men’s leftward lurches catalyzed energetic, grassroots-conservative backlashes that hobbled Democrats in Congress for the remainder of their presidencies.
Now it’s Biden’s turn. He could be uniting nationalists and environmentalists by making a big deal of pressuring China to reduce its carbon emissions. He could convene Republicans, Democrats, and constitutional scholars to reform the judicial selection process to become less of a blood sport, and (for real wonks) to examine ways to reform but not eliminate the filibuster. The key to both would be to stress bipartisan buy-in.
He could appoint a commission to help reform the bureaucratic state in ways that make it more navigable by ordinary citizens, perhaps along the lines suggested by Philip K. Howard in The Death of Common Sense. He could announce an initiative expressly to make the IRS less of a nightmare for taxpayers seeking relief or even just explanations. He could offer challenge grants to states that prove success in improving their substance-abuse-rehabilitation and mental-health-treatment programs – not measured by size of government or spending, but by real-world results. Or he could build on policies that brought even socialist Bernie Sanders together with conservatives, by expanding the ability of veterans to be reimbursed for private care closer to their homes.
Biden barely won the presidency, and his party tied in the Senate and barely held on to its House majority while losing ground in state legislatures. He thus serves an evenly divided nation. Of course, he has liberal policy preferences of his own; but he should first rebuild trust and common ground, in recognition of the need for civil renewal in this divided land, before attempting the more controversial of his liberal desires.
Instead, Biden began by issuing executive orders — rule by fiat rather than by due legislative process — to push hard-left policies on multiple fronts. The worst is his radical, hugely divisive executive order that will have the effect of forcing girls’ athletics to accommodate biological male athletes. Even liberal, lesbian leaders such as all-time tennis great Martina Navratilova have warned about the horrid effects this could have for girls who want a chance to excel, earn scholarships, and be seen as winners.
Killing the Keystone Pipeline project will cost well over 1,000 jobs, result in higher energy prices, and drive a wedge between the U.S. and its friendly neighbor Canada. But Biden did that already, too, even though the environmental advantages of killing it are highly dubious.
Additionally, killing the 1776 Project reinforces the wrongheaded, morally offensive notion that this nation was founded not on high ideals but in racism and other noxious motives.
Biden’s words are often reassuring, but his actions are that of a liberal-culture-war crusader. As such, he is misleading the country and harming the commonweal – and harming his own political fortunes.