Biden should spend less time with historians and more with moderates
A liberal president enters the White House in a time of national crisis. He campaigned as a moderate but soon reveals his intent to govern from the left of the center-left. His bold agenda has plenty of fans among journalists and academics who celebrate the expansion of the welfare state. They write stories and deliver soundbites likening the new chief executive to FDR. The end of Reaganism, they say, is at hand.
I’m referring, of course, to President Barack Obama. Shortly after his election in 2008, Time magazine portrayed him as Dr. New Deal, complete with fedora and cigarette holder. “It would seem that Obama has been studying the 1932 Great Depression campaign of Franklin D. Roosevelt,” wrote E.J. Dionne in his syndicated column. “Conservatism is Dead,” announced the New Republic. “It has been that kind of presidency,” gushed Jon Meacham in 2009. “Barack Obama, moving as he wishes to move, and the world bending itself to him.”
Take a moment to recover from that last bit of purple prose. Then recall that two years after Obama’s victory, Republicans won the House. In 2014, Republicans kept the House and won the Senate. And two years after that, Republicans won complete control of the federal government. Conservatism didn’t die—the New Republic did. (It’s been reborn as a monthly.)
Now the same wonks and historians who compared Obama to the architect of managerial liberalism downplay his tenure in office as overly cautious, modest, and risk-averse. They’ve settled on a new, new FDR: Joe Biden. And Biden is ready to play the part. Even if it means risking Democratic control of Congress.
Biden met recently at the White House with a group of historians who, according to Axios, share his view that “It is time to go even bigger and faster than anyone expected. If that means chucking the filibuster and bipartisanship, so be it.” Biden’s “closest analogues,” Michael Beschloss told the news outlet, are FDR and LBJ. E.J. Dionne says Biden represents “a new disposition through which pragmatic forms of government activism add up to a quiet political revolution.” And Biden “loves the growing narrative that he’s bolder and bigger-thinking than President Obama,” writes Mike Allen. No doubt he does.
You would think that, in the midst of all the pandering and praise, the scholars who talked to Biden might have provided him some actual historical perspective. Every president Biden is said to recall, including Reagan, had to endure numerous setbacks, crises, unforced errors, and unanticipated consequences of their own policies. By 1938, the New Deal was exhausted, the economy hadn’t recovered from the Depression, and FDR won his final two terms largely on the basis of his international stature. LBJ’s landslide in 1964 was followed by a shellacking in 1966 and the collapse of the Democratic coalition in 1968. The GOP lost 26 seats in the House in 1982, forfeited control of the Senate in 1986, and when he left office Reagan handed his vice president a giant deficit, the Savings and Loan debacle, and a zealous special prosecutor.
The historians urging Biden to go big on policy aren’t analysts. They are partisan cheerleaders. If they stepped back, they would see that Biden is weaker than the presidents he admires and that vulnerable Democrats are warning the majority against overreach.
The Biden team gave Axios four reasons the president is ready to ditch the filibuster and push through a $3 trillion infrastructure and green energy bill, changes to election law in the “For the People Act,” and possibly an immigration amnesty. Biden has (1) “full party control of Congress, and a short window to go big,” (2) “party activists” are “egging him on,” (3) “he has strong gathering economic winds at his back,” and (4) “he’s popular in polls.”
But the same evidence could also be read as an argument for caution and restraint. Biden has less support in Congress than any of the presidents he emulates. (Reagan never controlled the House, but often had a majority of conservative Democrats plus Republicans.) At the moment, Biden’s party has 219 seats in the House and 50 in the Senate—meaning he can lose just two votes in the lower chamber and none in the upper one. It’s one thing to enact significant legislation on a partisan majority. It’s something else to enact such legislation on a partisan majority of one during a time when a positive COVID test upsets the whip count.
Nor is following “party activists” a certain route to political success. Economic winds change direction. And while Biden is popular, his disapproval rating in the January Gallup poll was second only to Donald Trump’s. Negative partisanship drives Biden to steamroll the Republicans. It also exposes him to political rebuke.
Some Democrats are beginning to express qualms with various aspects of Biden’s approach. Maine Democrat Jared Golden was the only member of his party to vote against Biden’s American Rescue Plan. Henry Cuellar of Texas was among the first congressmen to draw attention to the crisis on the southern border. Filemon Vela, also of Texas, announced his retirement the other day, a few months after his vote share dropped to 55 percent from 60 percent in 2018. Several House Democrats have said they disagree with Nancy Pelosi’s outrageous plot to expel Iowa Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks and replace her with Rita Hart, who lost by six votes last year. And West Virginia senator Joe Manchin has yet to cosponsor the election bill at the center of the Democrats’ campaign to end the filibuster.
In these early days, Biden’s presidency has been less a transformation than a continuation of the partisan stalemate that has existed since the end of the Cold War. Parties win elections, misread electoral victories as ideological endorsements, overreach, and pay for it at the polls. The Democrats for whom the bill will come due first are well aware of this dynamic. They may not be as good on television as Jon Meacham or Michael Beschloss, but they have plenty of insight into the aspirations and concerns of swing voters. Biden may want to have them over to the East Room. Before they are out of work.
Biden courts disaster with retreads, culture warriors, and scandal
This is not a third Obama term.
—Joe Biden, November 24, 2020
He has a funny way of showing it. Biden’s recent moves provide little comfort for Americans looking for a way out of the polarization, acrimony, catastrophism, and hysteria that have characterized politics lo these many years.
Not only is Biden filling his administration with the same people who made such a hash of things from 2009 to 2017. He has also selected, for some of the most important offices, progressive ideologues who believe it is the bureaucracy’s job to pick new fights in the culture war. And he’s doing it all while his family and his party face new questions about their entanglement with the People’s Republic of China.
You are right to feel anxious.
Obama’s appointees were known for their elitism, imperiousness, and cocksure expertise. What does Biden do? He brings them back. John Kerry becomes a special envoy for climate—though if you assume he will restrict himself to that portfolio, there’s a bridge in Brooklyn you might like to buy. Janet Yellen gets Treasury—and a sure-to-be awkward relationship with her replacement as head of the Federal Reserve. Alejandro Mayorkas was deputy secretary of Homeland Security when he became ensnared in a visa scandal. Biden wants to promote him.
Jeffrey Zients salvaged Healthcare.gov from its catastrophic launch. He’ll be coronavirus czar. Having lied about both Benghazi and Bowe Bergdahl while coordinating national security, Susan Rice will apply her mendacious talents to domestic policy. Denis McDonough was Obama’s chief of staff during the Syrian “red line” debacle. He’ll be secretary for Veterans’ Affairs. A few officials—Vivek Murthy, Tom Vilsack—will be nominated for exactly the same jobs they held during the Obama years.
The cases where Biden has struck his own path are either strange or disturbing. Biden chose retired general Lloyd Austin, the former CENTCOM commander, for secretary of defense because “he played a crucial role in bringing 150,000 American troops home from the theater of war” and because he had a good relationship with Beau Biden. The selection, which requires a congressional waiver, not only raises the fraught subject of civil-military relations. It also guarantees a replay of the debate over America’s 2011 withdrawal from Iraq and the subsequent growth of the Islamic State. And it’s already created friction between Biden and members of his own party, as well as between Biden and members of the bipartisan foreign-policy elite who backed his candidacy.ADVERTISING
Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services was notorious for rules, such as the 2012 contraceptives mandate, that restricted religious freedom in ways calculated to benefit the Democratic Party. Our second Catholic president might try to reduce tensions between traditional believers and Washington, D.C., by appointing a nonpolitical HHS secretary with a directive to cope with the pandemic above all else. Instead, Biden picked Xavier Becerra, the far-left attorney general of California, who when not filing lawsuits against President Trump has targeted religious and pro-life organizations. The Becerra nomination is a rebuke to social conservatives. It puts the lie to Biden’s call for unity. Obama must love it.
What Obama can’t be happy about is Hunter Biden’s admission that the U.S. attorney for Delaware is looking into his taxes. The reality of Hunter Biden’s shady overseas business dealings, despite media and tech-sector attempts to suppress the information in the days before the election, can be avoided no longer. And Hunter’s revelation came during the week that Axios released a blockbuster report on Chinese infiltration into West Coast political circles, and disclosed that one Chinese spy became so close to Democratic congressman Eric Swalwell that the FBI gave him a defensive briefing about her in 2015. Swalwell will remain on the House Intelligence Committee. “When that was made known to the members of Congress, it was over,” said Nancy Pelosi.
Well, then. That settles it.
In truth, Biden’s denial that he would be the caretaker of Obama’s third administration was exaggerated. He made it in an interview with Lester Holt of NBC. His reasoning deserves a second look. “We face a totally different world than we faced in the Obama-Biden administration,” he said. “President Trump has changed the landscape.”
What will make his presidency novel, Biden revealed, is neither personnel nor approach. It’s circumstances. The world is “totally different.” Trump transformed politics, economics, diplomacy. Hence a Biden term will be unlike Obama’s simply because it’s four years later.
This is begging the question. Of course the world is different. It always is. But similar objects can inhabit varying landscapes. What matters is whether Biden will diverge from Obama in people, policy, and style. Not because he holds any animus toward the forty-fourth president. Because the success of his own presidency depends on it.
Biden may not think so. He shares Obama’s goals. He’d like to enjoy Obama’s popularity. He forgets that Obama’s good marks were personal. They never translated to the Democratic Party. As Obama pressed ahead with his agenda despite public ambivalence and hostility, his party lost one chamber of Congress, one governor’s mansion, one state legislature after another.
Deprived of allies in Congress, Obama relied on judicial and bureaucratic means to achieve his ends. But this approach enraged the Republican base while creating the widespread sense that the electorate no longer controlled its government. The result was Trump. Who promptly unwound Obama’s executive orders.
Biden seems eager to reboot this sordid drama. But he’s playing a weaker hand than Obama enjoyed at the outset. When the next Congress convenes in January, Democrats will have their smallest House majority since 1893. The best case scenario for Democrats is a 50-50 Senate. In 2009, Obama had a huge majority in the House and a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate. He still couldn’t get everything he wanted.
Unusual staffing decisions, needless fights, the specter of corruption, the promise of gridlock—and inauguration is still over a month away. Biden gives us the same team and plans as his former boss, but with more awkward presentation and additional scandal. The third Obama term is on track to be as disappointing as the first two.
In the first two months of the new fiscal year, tax revenues are up. But so is the deficit. Why? Because spending continues to outpace revenues. So why do tax cuts keep getting blamed?
The latest monthly budget report from the Congressional Budget Office shows the deficit jumping $102 billion in just the first two months of the new fiscal year.
That sure looks like the deficit is “soaring,” as one news outlet claimed. But as the CBO makes clear, almost all that deficit increase was the result of quirks of the calendar. Depending on where weekends fall, significant sums of spending can get shifted into different months.
A true apples-to-apples comparison, the CBO says, shows that the deficit climbed by just $13 billion. Continue reading
Health Reform: Since 2014, Democrats have greeted double-digit hikes in ObamaCare premiums with a yawn. Now it’s a crisis that must be fixed immediately. What’s changed?
Huge increases in ObamaCare premiums are the norm. In its first year, ObamaCare forced costs in the individual insurance market up by double digits. Subsequent eye-popping jumps followed. The average premium climbed about 7% in 2015, 11% in 2016, 22% in 2017, and by more than 30% in 2018.
The Health and Human Services Department calculated that, overall, premiums more than doubled between 2013 — the year before ObamaCare went into effect — and 2017. Continue reading
By Joy Pullmann • The Federalist
In 2015, President Obama told America he only learned that his secretary of state Hillary Clinton was illegally using a private email server to conduct public business after The New York Times published a story saying so. Today’s release of a Department of Justice inspector general report shows that was a lie.
“FBI analysts and Prosecutor 2 told us that former President Barack Obama was one of the 13 individuals with whom Clinton had direct contact using her clintonemail.com account,” the report says in a footnote on page 89. “Obama, like other high level government officials, used a pseudonym for his username on his official government email account.”
The report also says Obama Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey knew that Obama had lied. It was in 2015 that Obama had disclaimed knowledge that Clinton used a private, rather than government, email address. In 2016 Continue reading
“URGENT,” read the popular meme on social media on Monday, “If you’re not freaking out about Net Neutrality right now, you’re not paying attention.”
Well, we have some good news. If you can read this editorial, it means you’ve survived the first 24 hours without the regulations that the Obama-era Federal Communications Commission decided were necessary to preserve net neutrality. Your Internet provider has not yet gotten around to censoring the Internet.
CNN, absurdly reported “the end of the Internet as we know it” in a news piece after the FCC voted in December to repeal the Obama-era regulation. That headline was later changed, perhaps because someone figured out that the Internet was only going back to the way it had been pretty much right up until June 12, 2015.
By Sally C. Pipes • Investor’s Business Daily
ObamaCare enrollees should brace themselves for another year of double-digit premium hikes.
Average premiums for plans sold through the state and federal insurance exchanges will jump as much as 32% next year, according to a recent report from actuarial firm Milliman. Consumers in some markets could face 80% rate hikes, according to a separate analysis from Blue Cross Blue Shield.
Democrats have pounced on these projections to blame the GOP for “marketplace sabotage.” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., remarked that “Republicans and the Trump administration own any and all increases in health care premiums for American consumers.”
Sorry Chuck, but GOP malfeasance isn’t the problem. ObamaCare’s burdensome Continue reading
By Willis L. Krumholz • The Federalist
The intelligence bureaucracies spied on the Donald Trump campaign: Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrants were granted because of a Hillary Clinton-funded and unverified document, national-security letters were issued to allow warrantless spying, and the unprecedented but not-illegal-per-se unmasking of Trump officials’ conversations with non-U.S. persons was shockingly routine.
Yet the news of a CIA-connected human source operating as far back as April or May of 2016 is about more than just spying. It is the latest example in what now looks to be a long line of attempted setups by the Clinton team, many times aided and abetted by our intelligence bureaucracies.
These events should anger any red blooded American who believes in representative democracy and the importance of the rule of law. Let’s review eight examples. Continue reading
While the Beltway media slept, the Obama administration made hay. From off-mic whispers to Russian leaders, to pursuit and harassment of journalists and political adversaries, to the obfuscation and cover-up of an attack on an American embassy, the “Hope and Change” gang operated without fear or limits.
Both Attorneys General Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch acted as a firewall for Barack Obama’s executive branch and almost nothing permeated the walls of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
“Time wounds all heels,” though, as Groucho Marx said, and yesterday brought to light stunning revelations about the 44th president of the United States and his efforts to craft and preserve the Iran deal.
The Obama administration secretly attempted Continue reading
By Jack Crowe • National Review
The Obama administration helped Iran utilize sanctioned oil revenue stranded in a foreign bank account in 2016 while actively misleading Congress about the cooperation, according to the results of a Republican led Senate investigation released Wednesday night.
After signing the 2015 nuclear deal, which unfroze Iran’s U.S. accounts in exchange for the regime’s non-proliferation pledge, the Obama administration publicly maintained that all non-nuclear sanctions barring Iran from operating within the U.S. financial system would remain in place.
“Senior U.S. government officials repeatedly testified to Congress that Iranian access to the U.S. financial system was not on the table or part of any deal,” congressional investigators wrote in the report.
Despite this pledge to the public and Congress, in February 2016 the administration assisted Tehran in recovering Continue reading
By David Harsanyi • The Federalist
At a Las Vegas tech conference last week, former president Barack Obama told an audience that his presidency had been scandal-free. “I didn’t have scandals, which seems like it shouldn’t be something you brag about,” Obama joked, according to Newsweek. We hear this talking point quite often from Democrats.
Now, perhaps the president didn’t experience the fallout from a scandal, which is very different from never having been involved in one. For this confusion, Obama can thank the political media.
Why does it matter now? For one thing, historical revisionism shouldn’t go unchallenged. Democrats are running to retake power, and many of them were participants or accomplices in numerous corrosive scandals that have been airbrushed. Continue reading
by Adam Kredo • Washington Free Beacon
Iran continues to hide key work it undertook on nuclear weapons development while perfecting ballistic missile technology that could carry such a weapon, according to a new report from a senior Israeli military official that has fueled calls from Trump administration insiders and Congress to nix the deal ahead of a May deadline.
Significant flaws in the original nuclear deal reached by the Obama administration with Iran has enabled Iran’s ballistic missile program and permitted the Islamic Republic to obfuscate ongoing work on nuclear enrichment and possible weaponization technologies, according to Jacob Nagel, the former head of Israel’s National Security Council.
Loopholes in the original agreement have allowed Iran to continue working on advanced nuclear centrifuges that can enrich uranium—the key component in a nuclear weapon—at least 15 to 20 times faster than original models of these devices, according to Nagel, who is serving as a visiting fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, or FDD. Continue reading
Facebook faces what some are calling an “existential crisis” over revelations that its user data fell into the hands of the Trump campaign. Whether or not the attacks on the social media giant are justified, the fact is that the Obama campaign used Facebook (FB) data in the same way in 2012. But the reaction from the pundits and press back then was, shall we say, somewhat different.
According to various news accounts, a professor at Cambridge University built a Facebook app around 2014 that involved a personality quiz. About 270,000 users of the app agreed to share some of their Facebook information, as well as data from people on their friends list. As a result, tens of millions ended up part of this data-mining operation.
Consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, which paid for the research, later worked with the Trump campaign to help them target advertising campaigns on Facebook, using the data they’d gathered on users. Continue reading
by Matthew Continetti • Washington Free Beacon
Almost immediately after the news broke that President Trump intends to replace Secretary of State Rex Tillerson with CIA director Mike Pompeo, media figures speculated that the decision was about Russia. The argument went like this: Tillerson was fired because he had recently criticized the Russian government for its attack using a nerve agent on a former spy living in the United Kingdom. He thereby endangered détente with Russian president Vladimir Putin and so, the critics said, Trump sacked him.
Yet the rumor was exposed as false almost as soon as it was aired. For one thing, Tillerson had been informed that he would be removed days before he made his entirely justified condemnation of Russian behavior. For another, the Trump administration soon came out hard against the assassination attempt. Nikki Haley lambasted Russia at the United Nations. President Trump signed a joint statement with the British prime minister, French president, and German chancellor assigning responsibility to Russia. The Treasury Department announced further sanctions against Russian cyber-warfare.
It was Adam Kredo of the Washington Free Beacon who first reported the real story. Tillerson had been engaged in a months-long defense of the Iran nuclear deal that finally reached an impasse when he took Europe’s side in debates over the agreement. Continue reading