Thursday, September 23

Has Biden changed? He tells us himself | Opinion


MARTIN ELFMAN

What happened to Joe Biden? Many people believed that the president of the United States was a moderate incrementalist, but now he is promoting huge legislative packages that make many people on the progressive left very happy.

When I spoke to him on the phone last week, I asked him. It seems that the answer is that… it is complicated.

Over the decades, the values ​​that drive him have been totally constant and the policies he is proposing now are similar to those he has advocated for decades.

What is extremely different is the scale. It is as if a company that manufactured recreational boats started to make transatlantic ships. And that happens because Biden believes that in a post-Trump world we are not only fighting to save the middle class, but to survive as the leading nation on the planet.

“We’re in a kind of place where the rest of the world is starting to look back at China,” Biden said. “The most devastating comment anyone made after I was elected – and not so much about me – was the taoiseach [primer ministro] Irishman, who said, ‘Well, America can’t be the leader. He is not even able to understand covid ”.

I asked him how he had formed his opinion about the participation that the government should have in our lives and he began to talk about his father. During World War II, his father managed the branch of a company that retrofitted merchant ships. After the war, when he opened a wholesale business, his partner squandered all his money on gambling.

“At the end of the war he was doing quite well and that’s when he lost everything,” Biden recalls. From then on, Biden’s father struggled and accepted almost any job he was given. “I saw how the blows were making my father have to swallow his pride.”

This may seem like an unusual way to answer a question about government involvement, but that’s typical of Biden. Some people form their vision of the world from ideological constructs or philosophical movements such as “conservatism” or “progressivism.” Biden’s world outlook grew out of his experiences, especially his youth and the way his parents taught him to see the world. That is the origin of the moral foundations behind the great legislative packages that you are proposing. The story about his father includes the essential elements of Biden’s world view.

First of all, a social location. What matters is not just how someone views a situation, but where they view it from. Biden views most situations from the perspective of the people who used to be called “common men,” since he grew up surrounded by them, the middle-class and lower-middle-class Democrats of the Truman period.

Second, a deep awareness of the vicissitudes of life. Biden recounted that his father once showed him an image of how Olaf, the Viking, the character in a comic strip, was abused by life and shouted: “Why me?”, And God answered him: “Why not?”. Biden still has that comic strip. “That was my father,” he added.

Third, an absolute focus on human dignity. “It seems to me that the Irish use the word ‘dignity’ more often than any other group of people,” Biden noted. “I think it’s because you give it a lot of importance when they have taken it away from you.” In America’s midcentury white ethnic hierarchies, “to be Irish was to be a second-class citizen,” recalls Biden. “The English were the masters of the town.”

Based on these three elements, a philosophy of government emerges —and later a series of policies— that works hard to support people in the midst of life’s stumbling blocks, that offers them good jobs so that they can live with dignity and that combat the arrogance of wealth.

Another element of his basic conception of the world comes from the Catholic social teaching of the 20th century. He mentioned that his father admired the French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain, and later in the conversation he commented that he too took him as a reference.

Like most of the leading figures in Catholic social teaching, Maritain placed great emphasis on social solidarity, the organic interdependence of people and communities. If you immerse yourself in the teachings of Maritain, you convince yourself that we have an important mutual responsibility.

From these basic values ​​a practical legislative agenda emerges. The White House gave me a long list of various Biden initiatives, illustrating how long he has been championing many of the ideas that are in his current big packages.

According to the White House document, in 2003 Biden jointly proposed a bill to expand refundable tax credits for dependents. In 1993, it introduced the Law for the Development of Infrastructure and Employment. In 1974, he voted to increase the minimum wage, which he has done several times since then. In 2003, he voted to create a tax credit for caregivers. In 1983, he voted to add $ 1.5 billion to education funding.

When we look at the laws that he has promoted or supported for decades, we notice that they typically involved millions or a few billion dollars. Now, Biden’s plans call for trillions of dollars. So what has changed since January 2017, when he and Barack Obama left office?

“I think the circumstances have changed radically. We are at a true turning point in history, ”said Biden. He mentions that we are experiencing a “fourth Industrial Revolution”, which includes events ranging from the advent of information technology to changes in the global competitive context, through the rise of the Chinese superstate.

For much of his Senate career, Biden has worked on foreign policy issues, occasionally speaking about domestic politics through an international or high-strategy lens.

“We have reached a point where I believe that our economic competition has a gigantic impact on our influence and capacity internationally,” he said.

He grew up at a time when the United States was the undisputed world leader, and now he sees that quickly getting out of hand due to underinvestment in research and development.

“We are eating our seedlings,” he continued, quoting the words of some company directors who told him that the private sector was not planning long-term.

In this context, for Biden the greatest risks lie in incrementalism.

“The danger is not trying to grow,” Biden said. “If we don’t grow, I don’t know how we will change our position internationally and our competitive capacity.”

The Biden administration has also distanced itself in other aspects from the predominant ideology of the Clinton and Obama administrations, although it is not known how much of this is driven by Biden himself and how much the team around him. What he pointed Ronald Brownstein en The Atlantic, For years the prevailing idea of ​​Democrats was that wages would go up if people received more education and training. The prevailing ideology in the Biden era is that workers must also be given more collective bargaining power to balance corporate power. For years, Democrats believed primarily that black Americans could be helped by designing “color blind” policies for the working class. Now, Biden officials are more likely to believe that policies need to be created that take into account race and directly benefit black people.

So now Biden has become a pure progressive? Ultimately, Biden doesn’t believe it. “The progressives do not like me because I am not going to undertake what both they and I consider to be a socialist program.” Biden thinks that people who take great risks to build wealth should reap great rewards.

He doesn’t believe in the lavish college debt forgiveness schemes that have been devised on the left. “I don’t agree with the idea that you go to the University of Pennsylvania at a total cost of $ 70,000 a year and the people have to pay it.”

There is also a difference between the way Biden and the left evaluate big business. Some people on the left make exhaustive criticisms of capitalism, while Biden wants capitalism to stay within the limits of elemental integrity. It alleges that companies used to take responsibility for their communities, but now only focus on creating shareholder value. “Until the late 1970s, CEOs of companies earned 35 to 40 times more than the average employee. Now they earn 320 times more. What are they promoting? What are they doing? As my mother used to say: ‘Since when have you been the boss here?’

I asked him where is the limit of what the government should do and what not. He told me that workers must “earn what they earn. But you have to give them a chance. I think that what made us first with respect to the rest of the world at the end of the 20th century was the notion that we had universal education ”. Then he added: “If today we were to think about what public education consists of in the 21st century, do you think anyone would say that 12 years is enough? I do not”.

Biden has written that his grandfather and uncles Finnegan were Truman Democrats and distrusted Adlai Stevenson because they believed he was too soft. Tensions have long existed between the union wing of the Democratic Party and the wing of university professionals.

Over the past decades, Stevenson’s heirs – graduates of the Rhodes Scholarship Program and the Ivy League – outnumbered the Truman heirs, and the party has tended to view the world from the vantage point of college students.

However, Biden belongs to the other side of the party.

“He was most comfortable meeting with unionists,” an economic adviser who worked with Biden for more than a decade told me. It is highly significant that, in his speech to Congress last month, he presumed that “almost 90% of infrastructure jobs created under the American Employment Plan do not require a college degree; 75% do not require an undergraduate degree ”.

Biden is not progressive in the current sense. He’s the kind of liberal who was born out of World War II: confident of America’s greatness, confident in the state, with little interest in the culture wars that erupted in the 1960s, passionate about civil rights, deeply rooted in the middle and working classes.

Actually, Biden hasn’t changed; he’s just doing everything big.

David Brooks has been a columnist for The New York Times since 2003. He is the author of The Road to Character and, more recently, of The Second Mountain. @nytdavidbrooks

© 2021 The New York Times




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