These were two very different speeches on Wednesday night, but both were effective and each will have an afterlife.
President Biden’s address, with its detachment, the masks and the half-empty audience, did not at first appear to be the convening of a large nation’s congress. It felt insignificant and goofy, like they were playing the Pandemic Theater.
Mr. Biden turned this strangeness into a virtue. His speech was chatty, unhurried, not like someone talking to a large room and waiting for applause, but more intimate. His self-portrayal was that of a well-meaning and peaceful man with a heart for the poor and a natural identification with working men and women. In mostly simple terms, he painted historically high spending and taxes as a simple and legitimate attempt, within the confines of American political tradition, to increase the nation’s happiness quotient. “Nobody should have to choose between a job and a paycheck, or take care of themselves and a loved one, parent, spouse or child.” We have to help each other, isn’t that common sense? There were populist notes.
It helps Mr. Biden that nobody hates him. George W. Bush and Barack Obama were hated;
was passionately hated; Bill Clinton, or at least “the Clintons”, ended up being hated. It’s early morning, but Mr. Biden is an exception to the latest rule. Not being hated is a power now.
His program has so often been characterized by left and right as a comprehensive progressive agenda that we hereby give it this title. The SPA offers expanded childcare and health care grants, preschool for all children, more family and sick leave, free community college, high infrastructure spending, and programs to combat climate change. Nobody seems to know what the numbers are. Is it $ 4 trillion in new spending or $ 6 trillion? Four trillion new taxes?
The president again said he was keen to negotiate with Republicans. There isn’t much evidence of this, but here are the reasons why he should treat them with respect and as equals. It would be good for the country if the Senate actually worked – negotiating, doing business, representing constituencies. It would be good for the Democrats to show that they are not just playing the steamroller and crushing the Republicans; They argue because they are reasonable. Plus, they need Republicans to get legislative results together because whatever they are, they’re going to be very liberal. Negotiations and compromises would suggest that the increasingly powerful but relatively unpopular progressive left is not driving everything. After all, it would help get the support of moderate Democrats. It’s not just Republican voters that the president has tried to convince over the heads of Republican senators. It was moderate Democrats over the head of Bernie Sanders.
It is not good for the administration that it is increasingly seen as being in the pockets of the progressive left. In a virtual town hall, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was very enthusiastic last week. The White House in Biden “exceeded the expectations of the progressives,” she said. “I think a lot of us expected much more conservative administration.” The White House’s willingness to work closely with progressives has been “very impressive”. “There was a lot of openness, willingness and flexibility to take many of our goals, requirements, requirements, etc. into account.”
That was the quiet part, loud.
On the other hand, the president doesn’t look or pretend to have been dragged to the left. He seems to be enjoying not having to be temperate with the Delaware of the 1980s and 1990s any longer. The pandemic was severe. He lets out his inner fighting Bob LaFollette and enjoys being popular with people at the party who never liked him. He reportedly bragged about cable anchors this week that no one thought he could unite his party, but he did.
The SPA was called a game of chance, and of course it is. Will a majority of Americans end up supporting it, will it cause inflation or other harmful effects? The Republicans understandably and rightly warn of high spending and high taxes, and expect a major backlash from the electorate. It’s always been like this: Mr. Clinton raises taxes in 1993 and gets a brutal halftime in 1994; Mr Obama invented ObamaCare in 2009 and will be raided in ’10. Amy Walter of Cook Political Report says watch the suburbs: Liesl Hickey, a GOP strategist, has been involved in qualitative research on suburban voters in battlefield states, and college-educated men and women are “cautiously optimistic” about the future as the country corrects and returns to normal. But “higher taxes and spending” are big concerns.
That all sounds right and yet. I’m not sure if things are as predictable as they have been in the past. The chess pieces move all over the board. My eyes and ears tell me that over the past year America began a thorough review of how it lives and how it has always been. The process of major rethinking will become clearer over the next few years, but I sense that the boys, between the ages of 20 and 30 and maybe older, are questioning that oldest American tradition: ambition. Hunger to improve your own circumstances. You are wondering what “better” means, how it is defined, and what price you are willing to pay to go up. I think I feel a hunger for something new, less driven, more communal. If I am right, some of the hunger will have an impact in the political arena. But something happened during the pandemic. We’ll find out what happens in the next ten years.
Republicans shouldn’t assume that what was true for the past 40 years will be true now. I see more support for government spending in general and some not fully articulated feelings about the tax aspect. Nobody loves the megarich. If Mr Biden’s tax hikes weren’t too overwhelming for the middle and upper classes, I wouldn’t expect all the old backlash.
Perhaps the SPA is not just a game of chance, but also a mystery.
Senator Tim Scott’s response has been on the rise in the party for some time and his speech was strong because it offered a perfect balance between realism and belief in public policy. Regarding the race: “I experienced the pain of discrimination. I know what it feels like to be run over for no reason and followed while shopping in a store. “I’m called Uncle Tom and the N-word by progressives and liberals.” “Our healing is not over yet.” He has drafted police reform bills that have been blocked by the Democrats because they wanted the problem to be actively, not resolved. He threw down a glove: “Hear me clearly: America is not a racist country.” The left exploded on social media insulting him just as he said it was. This gentle man never tries to own the libraries, but he owns them as soon as he walks into the room.
He ended with words that many quiet Americans would hear and deeply appreciate: “Original sin is never the end of history. Not in our souls and not for the nation. The real story is always salvation. “The broadcasters missed the meaning and thought it was just a sweet Christian conversation. No, it was about the heart of human drama, the heart of this nation’s drama. It was about the reason to keep trying. Republicans will remember that speech.
Wunderland: Negotiations with the opposition, the left concluded, only hinder the achievement of their political goals. Images: AP / Bloomberg News / Getty Images Composite: Mark Kelly
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