Presidents come and go, but political parties remain standing – or, at least, the two major ones have since the mid-1800s. Because the ever-transient executive and legislative branches exist in a codependent relationship, expectations of accomplishment naturally soar when one party gains control of the holy trinity of politics – both branches of Congress and the White House. But for the most openly socialist version of the Democratic Party we have witnessed in our lifetime, power comes with a flashing red caveat in all caps and bold. Unlike when FDR and LBJ brought forth their landmark New Deal and Great Society programs amidst huge Democratic congressional majorities, the Democrats of 2021, now seeking similarly far-reaching reform, have literally zero margin for error.
Indeed, if a single Democratic senator dissents from the ranks – two have already stated unequivocally that they will only support a package less than half the proposed size – the utopian dream of a cradle-to-grave grip on the lives of citizens will come crashing down. With even a single vote cast the wrong way within the Democratic caucus (actually, four in the House, but the AOC wing votes as a bloc), the whole two-package “infrastructure” scheme comes crashing down.
This means leadership at the top of the party is crucial. A nation already highly skeptical of the socialist-tinted reforms contained in the Democrats’ present multi-trillion-dollar wish list, will hardly be convinced to swallow them whole by a president of whom they approve in rapidly declining measure, and who now sits underwater, disgraced even in many quarters, just nine months into his presidency. Democrats are pushing the legislative envelope to the limit – many would say beyond – with a $3.5 trillion dollar “human infrastructure” goody bag filled with all the quixotic socialist initiatives that could possibly be shoehorned into a single bill requiring only a majority to pass. But Joe Biden, as both president and putative leader of his party, has yet to come close to inspiring the necessary public support to push this wildly controversial “Build Back Better Act” across the finish line.
The Democrats have no one but themselves to blame for the precarious position in which they find themselves. They have dramatically – and, perhaps, deliberately – misread the mandate handed them by the voters of 2020. What exactly was that mandate? Well, in essence, Joe Biden could have just taken the oath of office, headed straight to the Wilmington White House, and then said and done nothing beyond the bare minimum – that by itself would have fulfilled the lone mandate which most can agree was granted to this 46th president. The man sitting at the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office would no longer be Donald Trump. Mission accomplished.
Proof that the mandate was limited to the removal of Trump came in congressional elections. If the voters were demanding the type of change Democrats are now trying to make law, they would have at least achieved a majority in the Senate, which they failed to do even though the GOP had to defend a supermajority of the seats in play. And if a desire for systemic change was sweeping the land, Democrats would not have actually lost seats in the House, which they did, clinging to a tenuous majority, and making Biden the first president in decades to secure the presidency while his party lost seats in the lower chamber.
To argue with a straight face that Biden’s mandate extends to the radical transformation of society implicit in the Democrats’ multi-trillion-dollar assault on the taxpayers is to openly admit that you don’t care one whit about what the voters want. Instead, you are essentially advertising your engagement in the worst type of carpe diem, seizing the day and the opportunity granted you not to fulfill the voters’ desires, but to actualize and force feed your own outsized utopian dreams on a society that did not vote for them. Democrats are, perhaps rightly, acting as if this attempt to transform the social compact is their last, best hope of enforcing what they could never achieve at the ballot box. One can only imagine the fresh round of coercion implicit in this scheme’s new governmental controls extending from the womb to the casket. And as to cost, Biden has made a claim that has become a laugh line, only he delivered it with a straight face: The actual, final “cost” of the $3.5 trillion boondoggle will be “zero.”
Nevertheless, despite all his problems, if Biden had steadied his approval anywhere near the 60% level he enjoyed during his six-month honeymoon, he might now hold sufficient political capital to bring the recalcitrant Democratic senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema, to heel and ram this package – and the bipartisan infrastructure bill still stuck in limbo – across the goal line. Even in light of the transparently false claims, the budget-breaking cost at a time of rising inflation and economic insecurity, and the transformative nature of the proposed reforms, if Joe Biden had not created and then lost control of the crises on the southern border and in Afghanistan – and if inflation was not starting to scare people and masking and vaccine policies were not so confused and unpopular – he might have been able to twist enough arms to turn this dream into reality.
The bully pulpit has always positioned presidents to be the driving force behind landmark legislation, but this 46th chief executive is about to not just whiff on an historic opportunity for presidential leadership, but become a millstone around the Democrats’ necks. With all the water that has passed under the dam, it is hard to imagine the inclusion of Biden in the process can possibly help the Democrats’ chances when his public approval threatens to tumble into the 30s. This president has likely forfeited his single greatest chance to forge a legacy of consequence. In fact, it could be even worse than that. Democrats will stand a better chance if they shuffle the president off stage – out of sight and out of mind – and let their more coherent voices try to jackhammer the square peg of this budget monstrosity into the round hole of voters who asked for nothing like it.
~ Read more from Tim Donner.