October 29, 2021
[Photo by Warren K. Leffler, “Federal City College, Skill Center,” 1969, Library of Congress.]
The Republican Party has long ceased to offer policy ideas and is focusing on culture wars and obstruction. Their big statement this week has been to throw “Let’s go, Brandon” into speeches and, in the case of Representative Lauren Boebert (R-CO), into a rap video in which she stars. The phrase means “F**k Joe Biden,” for those in the know; they use it because social media moderators do not flag it.
The press secretary for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) tweeted it out on Thursday morning, just after the president announced a framework for the Build Back Better bill, the larger infrastructure package the Democrats intend to propose alongside the smaller bipartisan infrastructure bill. Congress has been negotiating this larger package intensely for months, and it appears to be reaching a final form.
But while the media has followed every twist and turn of Democratic disagreements over the measure, suggesting those normal disagreements are somehow a sign of dysfunction, the big story of the negotiations has gone largely unnoticed. That big story is that Republican lawmakers simply refused to participate in discussions over a series of proposals that as a whole are backed by 57% of the American people and that have even higher approval rates individually: one poll found 83% of Americans eager to give the government the power to negotiate lower drug prices. (In contrast, only 33% of the American people liked the Trump tax cuts passed without Democratic votes in 2017.)
A refusal to join debate on such a popular issue is dysfunction, indeed.
Instead of participating in the democratic system, Republicans turned over to conservative Democrats, especially Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, the job of making conservative changes to the measure, while they simply fired insults at the president.
Republicans are frustrated in part because Biden and the Democrats are remaking the nation. After forty years in which lawmakers rolled back government action, the Democrats under Biden are investing again in the American people.
In his remarks about the Build Back Better plan on Thursday, Biden noted that for most of the twentieth century, we invested in ourselves, and that investment in our families and children, including through education, was key to our prosperity and international standing.
In the 1980s, though, we abandoned that investment, handing the task of developing the country to private interests. It didn’t work. From being first in the world for infrastructure, the World Economic Forum now lists us 13th. From leading the world in educational achievement, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development now ranks us 35th out of 37 major countries for investment in childhood education and care.
“We need to build America from the bottom up and the middle out, not from top down with the trickle-down economics that’s always failed us,” Biden said. “I can’t think of a single time when the middle class has done well but the wealthy haven’t done very well. I can think of many times, including now, when the wealthy and the super-wealthy do very well and the middle class don’t do well.”
While outlining the details of the Build Back Better plan can wait until there is a final bill, we do know that the final blueprint provides a massive investment in childcare and eldercare, families, and education, and it uses the need to address climate change to produce good jobs. The government will serve the American public, not a small group of business leaders.
“Any single element of this framework would fundamentally be viewed as a fundamental change in America,” Biden said accurately on Thursday. “Taken together, they’re truly consequential.”
The Biden administration announced another major investment in the American people this week.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced a plan to modernize American diplomacy. The plan centers around State Department employees, “because,” Blinken said, “they’re our greatest asset.” He promised to “elevate new voices and encourage more initiative and more innovation,” and also to encourage diplomats to engage more fully with Americans at home, so that our foreign interactions both reflect the needs of our democracy and make sense to American citizens.
Blinken intends to ask for congressional approval to establish a new bureau for cyberspace and digital policy. He will also name a new special envoy for critical and emerging technology. This new push will challenge China’s growing power in these fields and reestablish U.S. leadership; Washington Post foreign affairs columnist David Ignatius called it “part of a much broader effort by the Biden administration to get serious about the global technology race.”
Blinken also plans to increase staffing to address future pandemics, and to seek funding for training diplomats to address climate issues.
His focus on the people of the State Department illustrates the nation’s shift away from unilateral actions and military solutions and toward multilateral diplomacy, meaning that the U.S. wants to “cooperate with other countries to contend with the greatest challenges of our time, none of which we can tackle effectively alone.” “[W]herever and whenever new rules are being debated, for example, on how the global economy should work, how the internet should be governed, how our environment should be protected, how human rights should be defined and defended,” Blinken said, “American diplomats need to be at the table.”
Under Biden, the Democrats are replacing the Republican ideology of the past forty years, which focused on individual liberty and cowboy diplomacy, with a plan to invest in our people and to cooperate with other countries.
This return to principles that ushered in our most prosperous years hardly seems like a good reason to curse the president.