From Scott Lincicome’s Capitolism newsletter “While You Were Seussing”:
Last Friday, President Biden began his nationwide victory lap for the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP). As stimulus checks land in Americans’ bank accounts this week, Biden and his Democratic Party surrogates have fanned out across the nation—including (coincidentally, I’m sure!) several swing states—to take credit for the national economic recovery that’s already well under way. No sour grapes there, I promise: Ever since Republicans lost Georgia (thrice), Biden was due some sort of big, pandemic-related legislative win (victors and spoils and all that). In fact, the most striking thing about the last few weeks hasn’t been Biden’s ARP victory or his gloating but the fact that, while the votes were being cast and even now, Republican Party opposition has barely registered—especially among the grassroots.
Instead, the biggest priority in right-leaning political circles in the days surrounding the bill’s passage wasn’t the numerous areas for Republican or conservative disagreement about the ARP’s many, many non-pandemic measures or its potential economic implications, but the decision by Dr. Seuss Enterprises to cease publication and licensing of six books that, in their view, contained “hurtful and wrong” imagery. This event, combined with a few other recent examples of “liberal cancel culture,” have dominated the airwaves and social media for the last month, essentially drowning out any Republican criticism of the ARP, regardless of its merit.
Surely, conservative culture warring makes some political sense: Even Republican policy stalwarts like President Reagan harnessed populist culture wars now and then, and—as conservative-whisperer Erick Erickson noted last week on Twitter—the culture wars probably trump (pun intended!) the policy wars at the ballot box today.
That said, I think Erickson misses a couple very big points here. First, while I certainly don’t expect politicians of any stripe to be Madisonian statesmen 24-7, they do have an obligation to—at least occasionally!—focus on boring things like policy, lest they become nothing more than media personalities doing transactional fanservice instead of actual legislators. Second, and relatedly, that boring stuff often affects—perhaps unbeknown to the TV audience—the very culture wars that these guys say they’re fighting.
Indeed, while Republicans were playing culture war cosplay over the last month, Democrats used the ARP to notch real social policy wins and are already gunning for more. So we’ll take a look at some of the biggest ones today and at what may be coming next, all the while wondering whether the new, Trumpier conservative grassroots will even notice.
The ARP’s Social Policy
The ARP contains numerous, non-COVID provisions that are—by Democrats’ own admission—intended to cement progressive economic and cultural priorities into core areas of U.S. social policy. This includes family policy and health care: