Four years ago, when Donald Trump had just taken the Presidential oath of office, I wrote that it was “The Highpoint of the Trump Presidency,” and eight years before that, when Barack Obama had just taken the Presidential oath of office, I wrote that it was “The Highpoint of the Obama Presidency,” and I see no reason not to say just about the same thing about the Biden Presidency today.
With Obama and Trump, their supporters had been projecting their hopes and dreams onto the candidates for almost two years. They were like the Mirror of Erised in the Harry Potter stories, reflecting back their heart’s desire. They were imagining all kinds of great things.
I don’t think Joe Biden is anyone’s heart’s desire. Realistically, for many voters, the most attractive thing about Joe Biden is that he wasn’t Donald Trump. Their heart’s desire was a world without Trump as President. They imagine Biden will deliver a wonderful Trumpless world.
That’s all about to change. Starting today, Biden’s ambitions and goals are going to get a lot more specific and concrete than just “building back better” or whatever the slogan was. Starting today, we’re going to judge Biden on what he does and—most importantly—on what he accomplishes.
If you have high hopes for Biden, he’s going to disappoint you. He has to. There’s no way he can accomplish all the things he’s said he’s going to do, and as we’ve learned from watching Obama and Trump, in many cases, he’s not even going to try. Fortunately for Biden, his messaging hasn’t been real strong, so most of us aren’t real clear on what he’s promised. (Again, he’s already delivered on Not Being Trump.)
If Biden wants to get anything done, he’s going to have to make some tradeoffs, and then his choices will reveal his true values. His supporters will find out what his presidency is really all about. They’ll find out which of them he really loves, and which get left in the cold.
As a libertarian, I have little to look forward to in a Biden administration. I do hope that he will dramatically step up federal efforts to fight the pandemic, although it’s about a year too late to make a big difference. Other that that, the most I can maybe hope for is that his public policy choices will occasionally lead to some idea I like. A few libertarians are encouraged by his plans to relax immigration restrictions. And he seems to have less of an authoritarian personality than Trump, although his policy goals remain frighteningly broad. I hope that Biden’s economic team will be more open to free trade, but fighting “unfair” foreign competition always sounds good to a lot of politicians. Biden is familiar with the levers of power in Washington, so I imagine there will be less government-by-tweet — which will likely be good for stability in the financial markets.
Biden campaigned as a stealth candidate — allowing us to accept him as Not Trump without making much of an impression otherwise. I expect him to be a lot more outspoken and active now that he doesn’t have to win anything, and that’s probably going to make me miserable for the next four years. However, I don’t think most current Biden supporters are going to feel much better about his presidency. The reality can never live up to the dream of all the ways the country could be better without Trump, and starting today, the reality of the Biden presidency is unavoidable.
Whatever it is, here it comes.
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