Asking for unity, Biden unveils ambitious agenda

Asking for unity, Biden unveils ambitious agenda

Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. was sworn in as America’s 46th president this week, pledging to bring civility and unity to a nation reeling from a deadly pandemic and deeply divided after four tumultuous years under Donald Trump. “This is our historic moment of crisis and challenge,” he said. “Unity is the path forward.” Kamala Harris was sworn in as vice president, the first woman and person of color to hold that position. After an insurrection that saw pro-Trump rioters storm the U.S. Capitol exactly two weeks earlier, the nation’s seat of power was transformed into a veritable fortress, ringed by fences and patrolled by 25,000 National Guard members and hundreds of active-duty troops trained to handle chemical, biological, and explosive weapons. In place of a crowd, a sea of flags representing the more than 400,000 Americans killed in the pandemic filled the National Mall, as Biden spoke of a need to end our “uncivil war” and “restore the soul” of America. “We can do this if we open our souls instead of hardening our hearts,” he said. “Every disagreement doesn’t have to be a cause for total war.”

Facing challenges greater than any new president since Franklin Roosevelt in 1933, Biden, 78, immediately began work on an aggressive agenda to combat the pandemic and reverse a long list of Trump policies. He planned to sign 17 executive orders, proclamations, and memorandums, whose aims included rejoining the Paris climate agreement, halting border wall construction, and rescinding rollbacks to vehicle emissions standards. He promised within days to send an immigration reform package to Congress that would ease the pathway to citizenship for millions. And he vowed to push for passage of his $1.9 trillion pandemic stimulus plan, whose provisions include federal unemployment supplements, a round of household stimulus checks, state and local aid, rent assistance, and child-care subsidies.

Biden takes office at “an extraordinarily tense and uncertain moment in American history,” said the Chicago Tribune. He faces a rampaging pandemic that’s filling hospitals and cemeteries, a battered economy, and deep racial and political divisions. But he brings with him reason for optimism. A man of “voluminous experience,” he’s assembled a seasoned team and laid out thoughtful and detailed economic and pandemic plans. Instinctively empathetic, Biden is a “sober realist” who “promises to neutralize some of the bitter animosity that has poisoned our politics” during the Trump years. “Every American should hope for his success.”

With most Americans craving “an end to the furious rancor of recent years,” the measured, bridgebuilding Biden “could be the man for this moment,” said The Wall Street Journal. But his success will depend on resisting “the divisive progressive domination sought by his party’s left.” Buoyed by “the Democratic media complex and Silicon Valley,” the party’s left wing aims to “use the federal government as a battering ram to drive economic and cultural ‘transformation.” To succeed in healing divisions, Biden must tune them out and not use “the rhetoric of crisis” to pursue “radical change.”

Biden’s pandemic stimulus plan is downright “Rooseveltian,” said Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times. Like FDR, he’s fighting an economic crisis by trying “to address long-neglected problems” of inequality. Poverty-fighting measures include food assistance, measures to prevent homelessness, and an expansion of the child tax credit that could cut child poverty by nearly half. In a nation that is struggling with hunger, disease, and broken communities, such bold action is “thrilling to see.”

The stimulus bill is “a Trojan horse for a sweeping liberal agenda,” said Brad Polumbo in Supposedly focused on pandemic relief, it’s larded with “blatant partisan priorities” like bailouts for “badly managed blue states” and a $15 minimum wage that would push small businesses “past the brink” and erase up to 3.7 million jobs. This is a “massive expansion of the welfare state,” not pandemic relief, and Republicans “shouldn’t feel guilty” about voting against it.

This is no time for moderation, said Robert Reich in The Guardian. Talk of governing from the “center” is meaningless at a time when the Republican Party resides in “a counterfactual wonderland of lies and conspiracies.” Instead, Biden must chart a bold course: “advancing the needs of average people over the plutocrats and oligarchs” and embracing both “racial justice” and “the struggle of blue-collar workers whose fortunes have been declining for decades.”

Biden could be a transformative president, said Seth Cotlar in USA Today, but first he must overcome Americans’ “anti-government cynicism.” The New Deal belief in “the federal government as a positive force” in Americans’ lives hit a brick wall in the Reagan years. But after suffering through a pandemic worsened by federal inaction and ineptitude, the public may be ready for “a more proactive federal government.”