Joe Biden Wants To Be Your FDR, So, You Know, We'd Take That
With the daily increases in coronavirus deaths and Donald Trump's escalating meltdowns, it's easy to forget there's also a presidential election going on, or would be, if things were normal, which just reminds you again how non-normal all this is. But while Trump continues lying about the fantastic job he's doing, Joe Biden is busily doing what presidential candidates are supposed to do: getting ready for the fall, and, he hopes, getting read to president come next January.
And as the dual health and economic crisis has played out, it's starting to look like Joe Biden, Mr. Moderate, is thinking about all the things that will need fixing if he defeats Trump (provided Trump doesn't launch the entire US nuclear arsenal at coastal US cities), and is inclined to do some serious Franklin D. Roosevelt, New Deal-style responses to get America back in shape. As reporter Gabriel Debenedetti puts it, Biden's original centrist pitch, a promise of a return to the pre-Trump norm, seems "almost moot" now.
And so suddenly Joe Biden is talking about far bigger plans than his "first day" goals of rejoining the Paris climate agreement, issuing executive orders to put ethics back in government, and pushing for the Equality Act to protect LGBTQ rights. Now he's talking about big government spending on green energy and infrastructure, payments to families, student loan forgiveness, and the like. He's consulting regularly with Elizabeth Warren and Jay Inslee, and talking about creating "a 100,000-plus worker Public Health Jobs Corps and the doubling of the number of OSHA investigators to protect employees amid the pandemic." And isn't that some neat stuff!
Honestly, after four years of Donald Trump just making shit up as he goes along, usually with the main goal of getting the Deplorables excited and keeping rich donors happy, it's a huge relief to know that Joe Biden gets two daily briefings via video chat, on the pandemic and the economy, and then spends much of the rest of the day on the phone:
He rings both Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to hear their updates on recovery legislation and to gently share his priorities when he finds it appropriate. He calls Democratic leaders in some of the hardest-hit spots, checking in with governors, including New York's Andrew Cuomo, California's Gavin Newsom, Michigan's Gretchen Whitmer, and Washington's Inslee, and mayors like Los Angeles's Eric Garcetti. At times he talks policy with Warren.
And after a year of uncomfortable distance, Biden has been phoning Obama for guidance — on unifying Democrats, on choosing a running mate, and on campaigning and communicating amid the pandemic. The pair now speaks with such frequency that some people close to the former president are starting to get amused.
And he's thinking big about what's needed, comparing the recovery from the pandemic to a wartime effort, and in wartime, you don't worry about deficits. I love this anecdote:
Recently, on a private call with Colorado-based donors, a disenchanted Republican told Jill Biden, Joe's wife and a prominent campaign presence, that he trusted her husband but feared he'd tacked too far left and wasn't sufficiently concerned about "the pain" of the national deficit and debt. Jill, an English professor, replied, "I agree, there's going to be so much pain that Joe has to address — it's going to be the physical pain, the emotional pain, the social pain, the economic pain that this country is going to go through." She ignored the part about the deficit.
And if Joe Biden still positions himself as a centrist, that's with a recognition that the center of Democratic politics has shifted, says Debenedetti, noting that even in the primary, many parts of Biden's platform were to the left of where he and Obama were in 2008. And in this crisis, says policy director Stef Feldman, Biden is seeing opportunities for government to make a big difference for the better:
What I've heard the vice-president say over and over again is this crisis is shining a bright, bright light on so many systemic problems in our country, and so many inequities. It is exacerbating and shining a light on environmental-justice issues, racial inequalities, so many other problems.
It's also reassuring to read that Biden consults regularly with former FDA commissioner David Kessler, and that he gets science, even though he doesn't even have an uncle at MIT. Kessler says, "He wants me to engage in the scientific details because it helps him — he can take what we're saying, and it helps him formulate a policy." And all without ever watching Fox News! And for all of Biden's love of bipartisanship, says his friend Sen. Chris Coons (D-Delaware), Biden is also very mindful of just how unhelpful Republicans in Congress were when it came to the 2009 stimulus bill, which Biden was in charge of managing. And if Democrats can manage to take the Senate this fall, so much the better.
Recently, friends have noticed that Biden is talking less about this and more about policies that Mitch McConnell's Senate GOP would be unlikely to go for no matter what — like new environmental investments and oversight. The crisis, Biden believes, has expanded "the state of what is possible, now that the American people have seen both the role of government and the role of frontline workers," said [former national-security adviser Jake] Sullivan. "He believes he has a more compelling case to make that this is the agenda that needs to get passed."
As for a possible cabinet, Biden is focused on winning the election first, but he has some people in mind. God help us, he does read Tom Friedman, so he's aware of that dumb Friedman fantasy about a cabinet full of Friedman's favorite Davos speakers. But it appears the only concrete suggestion from the column Biden is considering is the possibility of naming a few potential cabinet members during the campaign. So no, probably no Mitt Romney for secretary of State.
But he does have at least a mental short list, it seems:
"If the Lord Almighty said, 'Joe, I tell you what: You have to decide in three hours what your Cabinet is or you're going to be bounced out of the race,' I could write down who could be in the Cabinet. There are at least two or three people qualified for every one of those positions," he confided to donors on a mid-April Zoom call.
There's a lot more in the piece, which is probably worth burning one of your free monthly New York articles to read; if you were worried that Joe Biden was going to insist on a muddy moderate path, this piece may reassure you. I'm happy to see him talking about the power of government to make American life fairer, and of the need to respond to a huge crisis like the pandemic with proportionately serious government action.
Now if we could get him to commit to more of those cool old WPA murals.
Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.