Does the future belong to the left?
Before he appeared at his first solo press conference of 2022, President Joe Biden knew he had a communication problem that he needed to address. Namely, how to get off the defensive. How can he avoid spending his time with the White House press corps defending his decisions and explaining his actions while being accused one after another of failure?
Biden stepped in, knowing what issues would be of paramount importance and what questions would be raised: Why had he not been able to control a coronavirus pandemic that is now killing 2,000 Americans every day? Why was he unable to stem an inflation that was eating away at American families’ wages, salaries and savings at a 7 percent annual rate? Why wasn’t he able to secure a southern border that 150,000 illegal immigrants crossed every month?
To get off the defensive and onto the offensive, Biden brought his own questions to his GOP inquisitors and conservative critics: “What are Republicans for? what are they for Tell me one thing you’re here for,” Biden demanded.
Biden turned the tables, accusing his Republican critics of having no political agenda other than willfully obstructing his goals. “The fundamental question is: what is Mitch (McConnell) for? … What does he intend to do with immigration? what is he for What does he suggest to do anything better? … What does he intend to do with these things? What are they for?”
Biden argued that while the Democratic Party has an agenda with stated goals that will benefit millions, the GOP is the party of “no.”
Why don’t we fight on this terrain for a change? Biden was demanding. And behind his desperation he is right.
Democrats have an agenda. They have things they want to achieve. And the party of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is essentially an opposition party whose goal is to prevent them from succeeding.
In short, behind Biden’s call for the GOP to name its targets was an attempt to shift the debate to terrain more familiar and favorable to the Democratic Party. Because the truth is that the Democrats are the ruling party and the Republicans are the private sector party. These are their historical roles. Biden is trying to re-emphasize this crucial difference.
Democrats, for example, almost unanimously support federally funded universal preschool education, childcare, the child tax credit, student loan forgiveness and federal standards for federal voting. Historically, Democrats led the fight for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, civil rights, voting rights, welfare, and most of the rest of a federal monolith that today consumes perhaps a quarter of our GDP.
The Republicans were the party that opposed government expansion in our lifetime, and their role has often been to orchestrate an orderly retreat to a new defensive perimeter after recent defeat. The most famous Republican of the last century was Ronald Reagan, who famously declared that the nine most terrifying words in the English language were “I’m with the government and I’m here to help.”
Republicans have emphasized that government’s primary responsibility is to provide the security that citizens cannot provide themselves. Security from crime and violence, security from invasion of the country, security from hostile foreign powers.
Biden’s problem is that while millions could agree on aspects of his Build Back Better plan, the top concerns of voters right now are those responsibilities of government that his party is clearly failing to fulfill: controlling the pandemic, stopping the police shootings and killings, continuing the Invading across our southern border to prevent loss of income and savings from inflation.
Yet despite Biden’s party’s vulnerable position today, it has relative strengths and long-term trends in its favor.
America’s white majority, home to the GOP’s grassroots base, is a dwindling majority, older on average than the Democratic Party’s core constituency—the young, the immigrant, and the people of color.
Second, the Democratic mega-states in the presidential election—California, New York, Illinois—appear solid blue, while Republican mega-states like Texas and Florida appear less solid red.
Third, America’s major media outlets, based in New York and Washington, DC, are liberal and democratic, as are our cultural institutions—museums, Hollywood, higher education, the entertainment industry.
Fourth, the trend for democracies is to devolve more and more power to central governments, not less. Under President Calvin Coolidge, the US government’s share of GDP was 3 percent.
As for the culture wars, traditionalism has been in retreat since the 1950s.
Biden appears to be a failed president who believes in the inevitable victory of the ideology towards which he has been moving himself in his 50-year career, since arriving in Washington as a 30-year-old centrist Democrat.
Unfortunately, he can’t be wrong.
Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of Nixon’s Wars in the White House: The Battles That Made and Broke a President and Divided America Forever and founding editor of The American Conservative.
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