February 8, 2023 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
The night the old man handed them their asses
We’ll talk about Bidenism the way we talked about Reaganism.
I don’t want to hear anymore bollocks (you heard me) about the president being too old to reelect. If the man can walk, he can run, and he can do a lot more than walk. He can flip the way we understand ourselves in this country.
I exaggerate, some. Joe Biden’s State of the Union address last night reflected, in terms of policy and politics, a reversal of the last 40 years, a period beginning with Ronald Reagan and ending with Donald Trump. With a single speech, he swapped hot-rocks fascism for stone-cold liberalism.
That reversal will take time to finish, as the last reversal took time. America’s transition from demand-side economics to supply-side economics dragged on over several presidencies, only coming to completion with Bill Clinton. But make no mistake: that reversal, rooted in chaos and crisis, is well underway.
Everything the Republicans say they are, for the working class, is what this president has become. Trump said he stood for “the working man” while making it clear that “the working man” was white. Biden stands for “the working man,” but makes clear “the working man” is anyone who works.
For Trump, “real Americans” were straight, Christian and male.
For Biden, “real Americans” are real Americans.
Don’t let the commentariat fool you into believing Biden was just doing what Trump did, only better, with policy backing up his words. When it comes to “made in America” and domestic nation-building, Trump is an imitator.
Biden is the Original Gangster.
Over and over, the president said that he and the Congress need “to get the job done.” “The job” meant a lot of things, from banning “assault weapons” to codifying Roe to raising taxes on the very obscenely rich, but the impression left by the recurring theme was surely recognized by New Deal scholars.
The takeaway from the 1929 crash was that “trickledown economics” nearly took the guts out of America. Even if Franklin Roosevelt, who came from Manhattan aristocrats, had wanted to keep the status quo, he couldn’t. Crisis forced his hand. So he and the Democrats, to prevent the wholesale loss of faith in democracy and capitalism, decided to flip the previous 40 years.
Not only did he put the US government on the people’s side. He set it against empurpled “economic royalists.” He famously said: “They are unanimous in their hate for me — and I welcome their hatred.” There were so many echoes of Roosevelt’s bring-it-on attitude last night it drowned out the heehawing of House Republicans bespittled by the old man handing them their asses.
But again, Biden is the OG. Here’s what he told the Associated Press in a sit-down last year. He’s been saying something similar for a long time:
I’m not a big believer in trickle-down economy, and, um, and so everything I look at from the time I took this office, but even before that when I was a senator all those years, is what’s the best shot to grow the economy from the bottom up and the middle out because when that happens everybody does well. The wealthy do very, very well.
And the biggest thing I think that, when I came into this job, that I have the greatest frustration with the last four years, is that, um, uh, everything was constructed and built and arranged in order for the top 1 to 3 percent of the population to do very well. The rest was sort of, I mean that literally, everything else seemed to be an afterthought (my italics).
In a key moment last night, said as if merely a variation on a theme of “blue-collar revival,” Biden killed two birds. He drained away what’s left of “neoliberalism” – the idea that governments should be hands off markets that know best – as well as what’s left of a Left that has squalled for years for greater government involvement in the economy. He said: “Capitalism without competition is not capitalism. It’s extortion. It’s exploitation.”
Can you imagine what Matt Taibbi is thinking?
“Better milk this con long as I can,” probably.
The thing about saying that the government is on your side is that it’s risky. It depends on existing political conditions. Biden knows that better than anyone in Washington. He got his start fighting “forced bussing” – or the government compelling local public school boards to racially integrate. He made his nut telling white constituents they were right to be big mad.
Conditions, born of chaos (insurrection) and crisis (covid), have changed so much over the intervening years that Biden has gone from rebutting Ronald Reagan’s 1982 SOTU, which reflected the last paradigmatic president to flip the way Americans understand themselves, to being a new paradigmatic president who’s flipping the way Americans understand themselves.
The old man can do more than walk. Anyone who can convince America that stone-cold liberalism is down-the-middle politics deserves to run again.
John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.