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[Publisher’s Note]

The New Roosevelt?

“What is Biden’s actual record? Will he be reelected simply because his name isn’t Trump?”
A version of this column originally ran in Le Devoir on June 5, 2023. Translated from the French by Elettra Pauletto.

Are American politics running amok?  There’s something surreal, even suicidal, about recent electoral campaigns—dramas that unfold in slow motion without anyone really noticing. That’s what came to mind recently when I received the umpteenth marketing email from the Biden-Harris reelection campaign. Since voting is still very far away, I almost threw it in the digital trash, but wait! It had an urgent message: “John, we checked our records and noticed that you have not yet made a donation to the Biden-Harris campaign.” Apparently, my last name was missing from the roster (there was, however, an identification number: 60f88ba). But no matter. I could remedy my financial shortfall with a “suggested” donation of $25 and become a “founding donor.” With this rather inexpensive contribution, I would receive a Biden-Harris membership card signed by “Joe” and bearing the call to action: “Let’s finish this job!”

As I read the invitation, Biden’s approval rating was the lowest since he took office—36 percent, according to an ABC/Washington Post poll—so I understood the email message a bit better. Also 56 percent of those polled disapprove of his governance, and 58 percent of surveyed Democrats say they want their party to be represented by another candidate in the 2024 elections. At this time, however, no serious candidate dares to face the incumbent president for fear that if Biden pulls out of the race, ex-president Trump will be reelected and it will be the end of the republic.

There was a time when I more or less agreed with the idea that another Biden-Trump showdown would be the best guarantee of a Trump defeat. That the American electorate was so deeply disgusted with the grotesque monster of Mar-a-Lago that it would rise a second time to reject him. If a rival like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis managed to clinch the Republican nomination, I was sure that Trump, out of pure malice, would launch an independent candidacy that would split the Republican vote and benefit the Democratic candidate.

But lately, this ready-made scenario seems to have lost ground. What is Biden’s actual record? Will he be reelected simply because his name isn’t Trump? Until now, the White House’s legislative agenda has been rather limited. When Biden’s communications advisers assigned him the title of New Franklin D. Roosevelt, it seemed like the Trump threat would soon disappear for good. Although the FDR II program borrowed heavily from that of Bernie Sanders, Biden’s working-class record remains slim. Admittedly, there was a child tax credit—actually a very “progressive” plan—that lasted only a year before expiring. But other than that, what? While the actual FDR went into his 1936 reelection with numerous successes for ordinary people, including social security and unemployment benefits, Biden has nothing comparable to speak of. No expansion of Medicare, no rise in the federal minimum wage, not even free community college (a matter so dear to the first lady, Professor Jill Biden). Biden issued an executive order to reduce the debt of former students crushed by enormous loans, but this gift to the indebted it still being blocked by federal courts.

All in all, Biden has achieved very few concrete things that would move working-class people to vote for him. The wealthy, of course, have received the Democrats’ largesse, including extending income protection for investment bankers and hedge-fund managers, who pay capital-gains tax rather than the much higher 37 percent tax on ordinary people’s income. In theory, Biden could promote his efforts against climate change through public investment in solar energy and electric vehicles, but for many low-income people “the environment” is a meaningless, abstract concept. And regarding his re-industrialization policy, Biden will always be thwarted by Trump, who in the past has been critical of the free-trade agreements that Bill Clinton enacted and Biden voted for as senator.

So what remains of Biden FDR? Immigration reform? The front page of the pro-Biden New York Daily News on May 9 announced that refugee centers in New York City are at a “breaking point” due to undocumented immigrants sent from Texas by that state’s Republican governor.

Trump supporters may be ignorant or crazy, but they’re very motivated to vote. Even if most of the electorate doesn’t like Trump, Biden is not the darling of those voters who are anti-Trump. For a candidate who appears increasingly sleepy (and lame), the risk is that many voters won’t wake up on November 5, 2024.

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