By almost any measure, Joe Biden’s first 100 days have been hugely successful. Getting millions of Americans inoculated against Covid-19 and beginning to revive the economy are central to that success.
Two-thirds of Americans support Biden’s $1.9tn stimulus plan, already enacted. His infrastructure and family plans, which he outlined on Wednesday night at a joint session of Congress, also have broad backing. The $6tn price tag for all this would make it the largest expansion of the federal government since Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. But for most Americans, it doesn’t feel radical.
Rather than bet it all on a single large-scale program such as universal healthcare – which Bill Clinton failed to accomplish and which Barack Obama turned into a target of Republican fearmongering – Biden has picked an array of popular initiatives, such as preschool, public community college, paid family and medical leave, home care and infrastructure repairs, which are harder to vilify.
Economists talk about pent-up demand for private consumer goods, caused by the pandemic. Biden is responding to a pent-up demand for public goods. The demand has been there for years but the pandemic has starkly revealed it. Compared with workers in other developed nations, Americans enjoy few if any social benefits and safety nets. Biden is saying, in effect, it’s time we caught up.
Even on the fraught issue of race, the contrast with Trump has strengthened Biden’s hand
Besides, it’s hard for Republicans to paint Biden as a radical. He doesn’t feel scary. He’s old, grandfatherly. He speaks haltingly. He’s humble. When he talks about the needs of average working people, it’s clear he knows them.
Biden has also been helped by the contrast to his immediate predecessor – the most divisive and authoritarian personality to occupy the Oval Office in modern memory. Had Biden been elected directly after Obama, regardless of the pandemic and economic crisis, it’s unlikely he and his ambitious plans would seem so benign.
In his address to Congress, Biden credited others for the achievements of his first 100 days. They had been accomplished “because of you”, he said, even giving a nod to Republicans. His predecessor was