The Biden Administration Year 2
In this moment of "all the things" it's easy to forget that President Biden should just be getting started.
When President Biden took office one year ago (seriously, only one year ago?) in the echoes of January 6th, I was concerned that one crisis would crowd out the other — that the pandemic (and especially its economic consequences) would consume all the oxygen, and our civic crisis would get ignored. I have been pleased (occasionally excited) by the Biden Administration’s ability to multitask, to hold multiple urgencies at the same time. At the same time, I have been constantly struck by the slow pace of action. Free home COVID tests and N95 masks on the backend of the omicron peak? Support for changing the cloture rule in the Senate after his most important domestic priorities have been scuttled and the voting rights exemption has been thoroughly undermined and reframed by the Right with the help of Sens. Manchin and Sinema? What exactly is taking so long? Is it indecisiveness? Naivety about a now-fictional bipartisanship? Lack of conviction? Or something else entirely?
Given the complexity, it’s likely to be a complex combination of all of these things (and likely others), but at a basic level President Biden’s instincts for institutionalism and incrementalism are taking too long to evolve. He must recognize that while his broad commitment to democratic institutions is essential — in fact that conviction that the system is more important than any political priority is exactly what is missing from faithless opponents — it is not a strategy. Evolving those institutions to be less habit and personality dependent, to be adjusted for modern America, our new media landscape, process, and opportunity has to happen faster.
When talking about America’s supposed desire for moderation, I often focus on our desperate desire to moderate the tone and tenor of politics, not policy. I don’t think there are that many policy centrists in America. Biden does not have to (and isn’t likely at this point in his life and career) become more liberal or more revolutionary (as much as I may wish he would): he can remain where he is policy wise AND remain committed to institutions AND still become more clear-eyed about how those institutions need to evolve in order for him and the rest of our leaders to be able to lead. Right now he and the Democrats are squandering the power they have borrowed from the America people partially because the systems in which they operate are not working well. Helping institutions evolve and even abolishing those that need be is a form of institutionalism. Ensuring that it’s possible to do your job is part of the job. So what do I want from year two and beyond? President Biden and the Administration to do the whole job.