A Unified Theory of Bidenism

As the Biden presidency approaches its 100-day mark Friday, is it too soon to attempt a unified theory of America’s 46th president? On the one hand, three months isn’t a very long time (even in politics). On the other, Biden hasn’t exactly been slow to act since he entered the White House, and neither he nor anyone else in Washington is displaying much patience when it comes to defining “Bidenism.”

The striking thing about the Biden presidency so far—for both his fiercest critics and most enthusiastic cheerleaders—is the paradox of the man who campaigned on a return to normalcy governing with FDR-level boldness. Both camps see this as a political trick, either a sinister sleight of hand or a clever packaging of progressive policies in moderate terms, depending on their point of view. 

But the inconsistencies of Biden’s first 100 days do not neatly fit this “moderate talk, radical action” pattern. An administration set on selling progressive economic ideas to the widest possible audience would spend a lot less time talking about equity and white supremacy, for example. An administration committed to stressing the need for cooperative action on climate change wouldn’t glibly suggest that pipeline workers who just lost long-held, high-paying jobs could simply learn to build solar panels. Instead, the contradictions point to a more fundamental dynamic, and perhaps the defining feature of the emerging Bidenism: a refusal to acknowledge the existence of any tradeoffs or difficult choices when it comes to governing. 

Barely a day goes by without the White House sternly dismissing the suggestion that there might be any sort of downside to anything they are doing. Is there a tradeoff between an aggressive reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the next nine years and the fortunes of workers in America’s energy sector? Don’t be silly. Would a minimum wage hike hurt small business owners? Of course not. Is there such a thing as “too much” on pandemic relief legislation? Only if you’re a free-market purist. 

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