Can The Biden Presidency Be Saved?

By Andrew Sullivan, Weekly Dish

If he can sustain the deal-making, why not?

(Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Now we’re talking.

The entire promise and rationale of a Biden presidency was not, I hate to break it to my lefty friends, a total transformation of the country in favor of green energy and “social justice.” It was a return to constitutional normalcy, and the kind of legislative deal-making that offers gradual progress on the biggest challenges of the day.

We wanted a better rollout of vaccines, competent economic management of the bust-and-boom cycle of the pandemic, progress on the urgent question of climate change, and responsibility again on the world stage. Biden gets a B on the first, a C- on the second, a B+ on climate, and a solid B in foreign policy.

That B+ on the climate depends of course on whether the Schumer-Manchin deal struck this week can get to the president’s desk. It looks like it can, if Senator Sinema doesn’t blow it up, and some geezers can recover from Covid quickly enough. And it represents what a Biden presidency promised to a center-right voter like me.

It’s an old-fashioned political deal between two Senators, with Biden on the sidelines. Manchin gets some goodies for the carbon industries in exchange for the biggest federal investment in clean energy ever. There’s a tax on the super-rich. There’s even some incentives for keeping nuclear plants alive. There’s a popular move to reduce Medicare drug prices; and more secure access to healthcare for the less privileged.

And this popularist package is branded as an inflation reduction measure! That’s a bit of a stretch, of course, but it may have a mild deflationary effect in a couple of years. The widely detested Larry Summers — see the Dishcast below — reassured Manchin on the inflationary impact this past week, and, as Chait details today, Summers has credibility on the issue after his sane and prescient warnings about inflation a year and a half ago. It comes after a bipartisan computer chips bill to better compete with China.

It’s not a New Green Deal; and it’s not socialized medicine. It’s what we used to call pragmatic progress. It reminds me of the infrastructure bill, before its bipartisan political success was instantly torpedoed by the left’s insistence on a politically impossible and super-inflationary BBB juggernaut. Imagine if Biden had not been sidetracked, if the consistent theme of his term had been hammering out legislative compromises, if he had just ignored the woke machine in his party rather than completely surrendering to it. He’d be in much better shape today.

And this surely is the way forward for Biden. As he faces the prospect of a Republican House for the second half of his term, he should attempt to make more unsatisfying but sensible deals, like the gun-control measure. The goal is to show that government can still work, that it can attempt to solve emerging problems, and that compromise is a virtue, not a vice. In other times, this may seem dull. In our polarized hellscape, it’s revolutionary.

I still can’t see Biden running again at his age — but I do think a solid, one-term, pragmatic record could give his successor a platform to build on, and reveal the relative extremism now percolating on the right. There are worse legacies to leave behind. And none that better reflects the political temper and record of the Senator from Delaware.


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