Biden in the balance

In an historical eyeblink, the United States has gone from being the country with the least ideological parties to the most politically polarized country among the wealthy nations. There once were large intersections between Republicans and Democrats—common ground—but today the intersection between R and D is an empty set. Lots of people think this is a bad thing. A house divided against itself cannot stand sort of thing.

I am not so sure. A solid edifice in which the chasm between the ideal that “all men are created equal” and the reality of white supremacy, gender inequality and plutocracy have been finessed, brokered, and compromised away will stand for a long time — but not forever, fortunately. Like bridges, social and political systems are affected by wear and tear and, unless they are maintained and modernized, they fall.

When people say we are in a time of reckoning, they mean this, that it is past time to maintain and modernize our physical, political, and moral infrastructure. Then there are the people who not only resist change but seek it to bring back the past. That is what make America great again means. There is a fierce fight between the two camps since the good old days were not good at all for the historical have nots, but for the historical haves they were good, at least in the blurry focus of memory.

By now it is clear that the Biden-Harris administration is among those who want to reckon with the ills of the present and the past, at least with most of them. The Republicans in Congress? Whatever changes they can obstruct, they will obstruct. But elections have consequences, and the GOP does not have the power in Congress they did the last six years of Obama when they obstructed everything and anything.

Nor do the Republicans have the racist rage that Obama produced just by being Obama, that is by being a serious, decent man with a sense of humor, a killer jump shot, a good father, a highly capable executive, and a great speaker with sincere empathy and the ability to inspire. The last time the Republicans had anyone like that they were in bed waking up from a dream. The Republicans were so upset with having to contend with a real leader, and not someone they could caricature or condescend to, that even before Obama took office, they met to conspire on how to torpedo his every move.

Biden took office amid not only one crisis like Obama but multiple ones, and ironically this has given him extra degrees of freedom, more room to maneuver. When hundreds of thousands of Americans die from a virus, a good portion of the economy disappears, millions go hungry, and the number of jobless climbs to new heights, people want big, bold action. Biden has given it to them by pouring money to keep the economy from collapsing and is moving to pour in some more to build a twenty-first century infrastructure, which means more than just nuts and bolts but also childcare and paid leave. The family is as fundamental to full labor force participation (and maximum national productivity) of men and women as a foundation is to a building. Republicans do not see it that way and cry socialism, but most women do not see socialism when they see affordable, good quality childcare. They see freedom and equality.

The Biden administration has not been perfect. There are two foreign policy blind spots that repeat failed policies of the past, foreign policies that respond to domestic constituencies rather than geopolitical ends or ethical purposes. 

So far, all the numbers are moving in the right direction, for the country and for Biden, unlike during Trump’s Republican administration. Employment and GDP are up. Covid-19 infections, hospitalizations, and deaths are down.

The analysts all point out it may not last because incumbent administrations tend to lose seats in midterm elections, such as the one to take place in 2022. On the other hand, it’s hard to argue against success. Biden’s policies have been popular all long. If they prove even more successful than expected, it’s going to be tough for Republicans to mount a campaign based on anything other than bile and venom. Amid a broad-based recovery, never mind a boom, which may happen, the politics of grievance will sound hollow.

The Biden administration has not been perfect. There are two foreign policy blind spots that repeat failed policies of the past, foreign policies that respond to domestic constituencies rather than geopolitical ends or ethical purposes. Biden’s Cuba policy is identical to what Trump put in place to obliterate the opening engineered by Obama.

The other bad policy is the knee jerk support for Israel, which empowers authoritarians in Israel like Netanyahu to wreak as much terror and death as they want on Palestinian. The “Israel has a right to defend itself” mantra is worn-out cant. All the fearsome Hamas rockets killed a dozen Israelis, including two children. On any New Year’s Eve, more people in the United States are killed by guns fired into the air and fireworks.  Israelis, on the other hand, killed 248 Palestinians, including 66 children.

The pictures of the destruction in Gaza and Israel are worth a million words, irrefutable evidence of Goliath-David conflict. Look, America, you paid for this. Biden’s policy is as one-sided as that of most presidents but more one-sided than Obama’s. It is the ally of oppression and enables Israeli intransigence.

Progressives need to confront anti-Semites who see the conflict as an opportunity to sow anti-Jewish hate in our name. Let’s not allow them to conflate criticism of Israeli policies with anti-Semitism. There already are enough reactionary anti-Semites; a progressive anti-Semite is a contradiction in terms, an oxymoron. Progressives don’t wear t-shirts that say 6 million were not enough or attack synagogues. Trump supporters do. Anti-Semitic hate crimes must be punished to the full extent of the law, regardless of the motive.

The failure of the Republicans to punish anti-Semitism in their ranks is egregious. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene has equated mask mandates with the Yellow Star of Holocaust infamy. She has blamed Jewish lasers for California wildfires. The Republican leadership has reacted slowly and weakly.

The only saving grace is that Taylor Greene’s claims are so outlandish they have zero credibility among reasonable people. Do lasers have nationalities? Why would Israel attack the national resources and the people of the United States, their only virtually unconditional ally in the world?

Masks save lives. Yellow stars were one-way tickets to the extermination camps. Greene is the limit case of Republican irrationality and ignorance. But the Republicans should look in the mirror and ask: Who are we that we attract such friends?