Courtney: Biden needs to be FDR, not Clinton or Obama

Now that Joe Biden has assumed office, it’s all back to normal, right? Wrong.

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Zach Courtney

I begrudgingly voted for Joe Biden in the general election. Like many Biden voters, though, it wasn’t so much a pro-Biden vote as it was an anti-Trump vote. I was — am — worried about Trump’s divisive and destructive rhetoric. The insurrection at the Capitol that he incited (at least according to me, every House Democrat, and 10 House Republicans) proves my point.

For many, the bar for President Biden is low. On the floor low. After all, he won’t be sending mean Tweets, making fun of people with disabilities, downplaying a pandemic or lying about the existence of widespread voter fraud, right?

If my first column does anything, I hope it cautions people against this “vote blue no matter who” line of thinking. Donald Trump and his divisiveness was far more so a symptom of our nation’s underlying problems than he was the problem itself. We still have massive wealth inequality, more than anytime since the Great Depression. Pre-pandemic, we still had 34 million Americans (including 10.5 million children) living in poverty. We still have nearly 30 million Americans without health insurance.

These are problems that didn’t vanish when Trump left office, and they won’t go away if Biden continues his moderate, “diet-Republican,” stance to fix these issues. In the richest country in the world, poverty is a policy choice.

But poverty and wealth inequality didn’t begin with Trump. In fact, two former Democratic presidents that are, for some reason, beloved — Bill Clinton and Barack Obama — saw wealth inequality grow during their presidencies as well.

I see Biden’s presidency going one of two ways: It could be Clinton 3.0, or it could be FDR 2.0. His first 100 days are crucial in determining the future of our nation.

If Clinton 3.0 is anything like Bill Clinton or Barack Obama’s neoliberal, moderate presidencies, it would lead to a continued destruction of the middle class and losing the Senate and/or House in the midterm, followed by a historically bad Republican (George W. Bush/Donald Trump) being elected in four or eight years.

If FDR 2.0 is anything like the original FDR, it would lead to the flourishing of the average worker and the middle class, and lead to Democrats holding onto the White House for the next two decades. FDR 2.0, from my perspective, would mean expanding workers’ rights, raising the minimum wage, passing a massive infrastructure bill, and creating a substantial new social program, i.e. Medicare For All.

Remember, in the 1930s, Social Security was controversial. Now, it would be political suicide for a politician to push against Social Security. Medicare For All would be in the same position.

Of voters, 69% support Medicare For All, while 67% of Americans support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

The determining factor will be what Biden does and doesn’t deliver to the working class, especially in his first 100 days. If Biden and the Democrats want to be popular, do popular things! (Revolutionary statement, I know.) It’s currently day eight, and Biden has done little other than reverse Trump-era executive orders and be a genuinely nice person, though not to belittle either of these. If it hasn’t been made clear yet, I’m not optimistic he’ll deliver to the working class, either.

My point is this: Democrats sold the majority of Americans on voting for Biden, because it would save us from Trump. House Democrats (with 10 Republicans) impeached Trump, with a Senate trial pending. Even an unlikely conviction in the Senate only saves us from Trump himself. Trumpism is far from over, especially if the Democrats take a Clinton 3.0 approach in the first 100 days.

If Democrats are as worried about Trumpism as they claimed to be leading up to the Democratic primary and general election, take a look back at history. The best way to avoid Trump and Trumpism is to be a bold, worker-friendly president like FDR, not a moderate, politics-as-usual president, like Clinton or Obama.

President Biden has an opportunity in his first 100 days to cement himself as an FDR-esque president. Think big. His $1.9 trillion stimulus proposal with $1,400 checks, $400 per week increase in unemployment insurance benefits, money for vaccine distribution and more should not be taken lightly. It is a great first step, but it’s far from enough.

So, with Biden assuming office less than 10 days ago, the nation is at a crossroads. Will we return to an FDR-esque era where the middle class thrives? Or, will it be politics as usual, where the middle class continues to disappear, leaving a 2024 GOP candidate as bad as Trump bound for the White House?

Ask me in 100 days — I should have a better idea.