But Biden has chosen a more ambitious path. As a veteran legislator, he still believes when voters yearned for competence and normality in November 2020, it didn’t just mean they wanted a President who avoided Twitter and refrained from firing White House staff in dramatic, made for television announcements. He understood Americans wanted a President who could actually tackle the nation’s biggest problems.
Competence means governance and problem-solving. It means getting things done, so voters can see tangible results. The New Deal was successful not because it offered voters some grand ideological vision of society, but because President Franklin Roosevelt addressed the problems Americans faced by providing public jobs, electrifying rural areas, building roads and bridges and creating unemployment insurance and Social Security.
In 1965, voters were excited about President Lyndon Johnson’s Medicare not because it shifted the debate over the American safety net, but because older Americans could afford the health care they needed.
Biden also enjoyed high approval ratings early in his presidency in part due to the vaccine rollout and the American Rescue Plan, which provided financial support to families across the country.
Our political standards have fallen so far we have forgotten what competence actually looks like. When Spanberger argues Americans voted for Biden because they wanted him to be “normal,” she underestimates what the American electorate wants and needs. What made Biden so attractive to Americans was he came to office with decades of experience. In fact, he entered the White House as one of the most seasoned politicians since George H.W. Bush. In the aftermath of the tumultuous Trump presidency, Biden seemed like the kind of person who could get things done and rely on the help of experts and political veterans who knew how to move the needle on public policy.
Addressing other perennial issues, such as drug costs, childcare, family leave policy and climate change will only boost his standing.
Despite some Democrats denouncing progressive policies in response to the party’s election losses this week, Biden should continue to work in tandem with Democratic leaders to make progress on these issues, rather than getting mired in a conversation about procedural issues or costs. Any success at addressing these longstanding problems would be good for Biden, good for the party and a huge benefit for the American people.
Passing the infrastructure bill counts as a significant victory for Biden. But there is still the reconciliation package — and plenty more to be done beyond that. If the Democrats cannot offer tangible progress on the economy, the pandemic and popular social policies like paid family leave, they will likely be looking at Republican congressional majorities in 2023 and a very competitive presidential election the year after. But if they keep problem-solving, the party can beat the odds and pave the way for a much brighter future.