Will Biden Be a Transformational President?

COMMENTARY Progressivism

Will Biden Be a Transformational President?

May 3rd, 2021 3 min read
COMMENTARY BY
Lee Edwards, Ph.D.

Distinguished Fellow in Conservative Thought

Lee Edwards is a leading historian of American conservatism and the author or editor of 25 books.
FDR transformed the role of our government, declaring that government had a "responsibility" to care for the welfare of its citizens. Keystone Features / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

Presidents most often become great when tested by a great crisis such as a war or a depression.

His rhetoric is more moderate, but his actions are expanding the size and scope of the federal government beyond the boldest schemes of FDR and LBJ.

That will be a truly transformational day, when the United States of America, the most prosperous nation in the history of the world, declares bankruptcy.

Will Joe Biden be a truly transformational president. If so, how?

History offers us a prism through which to consider the question.

Presidents most often become great when tested by a great crisis such as a war or a depression. Franklin D. Roosevelt is usually ranked among our greatest presidents because his New Deal is credited with leading America out of the Great Depression and because he led the Allies to victory in World War II. Non-woke historians, however, note that U.S. unemployment was still in the double digits after six years of the New Deal. But there is no disagreement that FDR transformed the role of our government, declaring that government had a "responsibility" to care for the welfare of its citizens. Prior to Roosevelt, no president had ever claimed such authority for the federal government. Congress enacted 15 major bills and an estimated 76 laws in the first 100 days of FDR's presidency.

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Emergency relief for the unemployed? Check. Farm subsidies? Check. Industrial recovery? Check. Bank deposit insurance? Check. Conservation jobs? Check. Social Security came two years later. The Supreme Court voided the Agricultural Adjustment Administration and the National Industrial Recovery Act, but the precedent for a major governmental role in the national economy was established. The New Deal was a giant step toward socialism with American characteristics.

Elected by a landslide in 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson resolved to outdo his idol, FDR, with what he called the Great Society, which, he said, “demands” an end to poverty and racial injustice. He directed a Democratic Congress to approve a torrent of legislation, including the Civil Rights Act, a Voting Rights Act, urban mass transportation, food stamps, higher education loans and aid, immigration reform, and the creation of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Even that wasn’t enough for LBJ.

Not wanting to be viewed as "soft" on communism, he took personal command of the Vietnam War. Unlike Roosevelt, who left military decisions to military experts, Johnson immersed himself in the minutia of the war, down to selecting bombing targets. As the number of Americans dead and wounded mounted, so did the number of demonstrations in Washington and other U.S. cities. In the end, LBJ did not dare seek reelection for fear of defeat.

Which brings us to President Joe Biden.

His rhetoric is more moderate, but his actions are expanding the size and scope of the federal government beyond the boldest schemes of FDR and LBJ. Like FDR, he is exploiting the trifecta of crises confronting the nation—COVID-19, the economic lockdown, and simmering racial tension. Like LBJ, he is taking the government where it has never been before. Among his many progressive "accomplishments": revoking the Keystone XL oil pipeline, halting development of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, rejoining the World Health Organization and the Paris Climate Accord, halting construction of the Southern border wall, targeting the Second Amendment with new gun control measures, and passing the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Act. Next up is the $2 trillion American Jobs and Infrastructure Plan. But that is not enough for progressives like the aptly named "Jacobin" magazine that complains that “nothing in the Biden agenda even aspires to... structural formation."

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What radical socialists demand is passage of H.R. 1, extending the vote to U.S. inhabitants without exception, a minimum wage of $15, health insurance for everyone, the Green New Deal (which would phase out oil, gas, and coal energy), and onerous taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals. Biden is transforming America into a socialist state, apparently unaware that Israel, India, and the United Kingdom all tried socialism for decades and finally rejected it because it does not work. The utopian progressives refuse to acknowledge the essential truth of Margaret Thatcher’s observation: "The trouble with Socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money."

With a national debt of more than $28 trillion and annual deficits of $3 trillion to $4 trillion, we are fast approaching the day when we will run out, not just of other people’s money, but our own money as well. That will be a truly transformational day, when the United States of America, the most prosperous nation in the history of the world, declares bankruptcy.

This piece originally appeared in the Washington Examiner