Echoing FDR, President Biden makes the case to go big
In his 1996 State of the Union Address, President Bill Clinton declared that “the era of big government is over.” At the time, Americans had begun to seriously question the role of government in their lives, having been subjected to countless attacks on the efficacy and size of government by Clinton’s two GOP predecessors. Sitting in the chamber at the time was the senior senator from Delaware and the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Joe Biden.
Twenty-five years later, that former Delaware senator, now the 46th President of the United States, delivered a strong case for government leadership and intervention in a clear rebuke of Clinton’s proclamation a generation ago. Recalling the shared endeavors and sacrifices of earlier administrations, Biden sounded more like a different Democratic President — Franklin Roosevelt — when outlining his proposals to lift more Americans out of poverty, increase employment and secure shared social safety net programs.
At this 100-day mark, Biden is riding a wave of strong majority support among his fellow Americans, with 57 percent of voters approving of his job thus far, according to recent polling from Morning Consult. A larger majority, 64 percent, of adults approve of the new president’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll released over the weekend. With those two numbers in mind, the president spent the first part of his speech touting many of the important accomplishments already spearheaded by his new administration, including 220 million vaccines in American arms and the passage of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.
Biden will need these early successes to continue to not only build political capital behind his new proposals, but also to rally Americans behind his vision of a more capable and engaged federal government. Both his $2.25 trillion American Jobs Plan, which invests in our crumbling infrastructure, ports, rail, energy grids and schools, and the $1.8 trillion American Families Plan, which expands access to affordable childcare, universal Pre-K and paid family leave, are hugely ambitious proposals that face uphill challenges in a closely divided House and Senate.
The president is betting that framing these two key pieces of legislation — as well as action on immigration and climate change — as proposals that will ultimately lead to significant job growth could be a winning argument to build support. As the political reporting team at Vox notes, “Biden made the case for massive federal investment into America’s middle and working classes. He repeated the word ‘jobs’ over 40 times throughout his speech, promising high-paying and unionized work in a new, clean energy economy.”
In addition to framing these proposals through a jobs lens, the president also highlighted the need for these kinds of large investments in the context of international competition. In a partial departure from his prepared remarks, the president spoke specifically of China, “In my discussion with President Xi, I told him that we welcome the competition — and that we are not looking for conflict. But I made absolutely clear that I will defend American interests across the board.” Biden continued, “I’ve told every world leader I’ve ever met with over the years, ‘It’s never, ever been a good bet to bet against America.’ And it still isn’t.”
As the president concluded his remarks last night, he quoted FDR, “In another era when our democracy was tested, Franklin Roosevelt reminded us — in America: we do our part. That’s all I’m asking. That we all do our part. And if we do, then we will meet the central challenge of the age by proving that democracy is durable and strong. The autocrats will not win the future. America will. The future will belong to America.”
By framing these policy proposals using some of the same sweeping language employed by Roosevelt as he pushed for the New Deal, Biden is declaring that the “era of big government” is far from over.
Kevin Walling (@kevinpwalling) is a Democratic strategist, Vice President at HGCreative, co-founder of Celtic Strategies, and a regular guest on Fox News, Fox Business and Bloomberg TV and Radio.