July 12, 2023 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
Regime change now has a name: ‘Bidenomics’
Mr. Normalcy is a transformational president.
Joe Biden ran for president as Mr. Normalcy. During the pandemic, with the body count rising and the economy teetering, he looked pretty good next to a lying, thieving, philandering sadist who refused to lead the nation or take responsibility for it. Compared to Donald Trump, Biden was a no-brainer. All he had to do was brush his teeth and mind his posture.
But Biden is not Mr. Normalcy. He never was. He has long denied being abnormal, to be sure, for reasons good and bad, but he appeared recently to have changed his mind. Last month, during a speech in Chicago, he embraced the fact that he is what his former boss had always wanted to be: a transformational president. “Bidenomics is working,” he said. “The American people strongly support Bidenomics.”
This is a BFD, and not because he’s reclaiming an insult. “Bidenomics” is real, new and, most of all, believable. Its namesake is self-consciously embracing it, indeed he’s running for reelection on it. Biden is saying the old regime is dead, and if I win, I’ll make sure it stays that way.
That’s a BFD.
Biden is not arguing that the old political order is dead. He’s pointing his finger at its moldering cadaver and saying, look! It’s dead!
“Bidenomics” is real. The economy is adding jobs at rates unseen since the 1960s. Private firms hired nearly half a million people last month, doubling expectations. (Inflation has also been slowing, for months).
“Bidenomics” is new. The last time the government invested in the economy, in the way that it’s currently investing in it, was six decades ago, which is also the last time jobs were added at such rates.
“Government is no longer shying away from pushing investment toward specific goals and industries,” wrote EJ Dionne. “Spending on public works is back in fashion. New free-trade treaties are no longer at the heart of the nation’s international strategy. Challenging monopolies and providing support for unionization efforts are higher priorities.”
But the biggest reason “Bidenomics” is a BFD is that it’s believable.
Since I came of age in the 1980s, most people most of the time have been receptive to the claim that “government interference” in a free market society – taxing wealth progressively, regulating critical industries, expanding opportunities, investing in public works – is something akin to socialism. To be sure, no one really knew what socialism was, not even the so-called socialists. It just sounded right.
“Student loan socialism.” That’s what Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell called Biden’s planned student debt-relief program. Thirty years ago, that would have clanged. But it doesn’t sound right anymore.
For one thing, the Great (Long) Recession showed us that a free market society can’t be free. If you’re too big to fail, you’re also too big to jail – full stop. For another, the pandemic showed us that “government interference” isn’t as bad as we thought, given that we’d have died without it. The lucky survivors among us would be much poorer, too.
Biden is not just arguing that the old political order is dead. He’s pointing his finger at its moldering cadaver and saying, look! It’s dead! In Chicago, he said the regime of the last 40 years, which included the policies of his Democratic predecessors, is no longer viable. New conditions, problems and urgencies call for a new political order.
Normal presidents try to appear to break from the past.
Transformational presidents do not try to appear to break. They break.
But the past was already broken.
Biden is not leading us toward new regime as much as he is toward a new consensus by which it is broadly agreed on that the old regime has already changed. The old order (called “neoliberalism” or “Reaganomics,” after Ronald Reagan) started OK. It privileged tax cuts, deregulation, privatization and free trade. But these were at the expense of normal people, their standards of living and their democracies. The old regime was good — for the very obscenely rich.
Even so, every president since 1980, including Biden’s former boss, protected that political order, even as it immiserated the middle class over time. (Wages were higher in the 1960s, adjusted for inflation, than today, though, thanks to “Bidenomics,” they are finally catching up.)
Joe Biden is the first president in my lifetime, going back to Richard Nixon, to self-consciously take the side of people who work for a living while also self-consciously making enemies of people who own so much they don’t have to work. That’s a transformational president.
That’s regime change.
That’s a BFD.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.