Tuesday, February 27, 2024

That’s why Biden’s age is his greatest strength

Joe Biden is old. Like each of us, he comes from a specific place in history, in his case, the LBJ years. And that’s one of the main reasons his first term ended so well: his age, often cited as the biggest obstacle to his re-election, is his superpower.

There’s not much doubt that Third Act, the progressive organizing group for people over 60 that I helped found, will end up supporting President Biden’s re-election. We campaigned to protect our climate and our democracy, so the chances of us supporting Donald Trump – who withdrew us from the Paris climate accords and helped stage the January 6 insurrection – are zero. (Nikki Haley, another banned figure, strongly supported Trump’s withdrawal from Paris.)

Biden, on the other hand, is a cautious, small-time Democrat. Its climate record isn’t perfect, but it has helped push the development of renewable energy and, last month, it showed real courage by standing up to Big Oil and suspending new licenses for exporting LNG (liquefied natural gas).

However, individual political decisions do not explain why members of my organization are drawn to Biden. It’s not that we reflexively like old politicians; We take seriously the need to pass the torch to a new generation. But we also don’t mindlessly fire anyone just because they qualify for Social Security. Obviously you lose a step physically as you get older, but the presidency doesn’t require you to carry couches up the stairs of the White House. And science is increasingly finding that older brains make more connections, perhaps because they have more history to work with.

It is the details of this story that captivate us.

In the first presidential election in which Joe Biden was eligible to vote, Lyndon Johnson defeated Barry Goldwater. History remembers that LBJ’s presidency was messy because of his terrible adventures in Vietnam, but in other ways it was remarkable. His Great Society echoed Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal (FDR was Biden’s childhood president). Under Johnson, the federal government took ambitious steps to promote civil rights, control poverty, attack disease, beautify human landscapes and conserve wild landscapes, and development of science: these are the years of the Apollo space program. Not all projects worked, but many of them survived: Medicare, Medicaid, and food stamps, for example.

So Biden has been socialized at a time when the government has many reasons, and we can see it reflected in his first term’s commitment to rebuilding the great infrastructure, driving a new sustainable economy of energy with billions of dollars for solar panels and batteries. factories. , dramatically increasing the number of people with health care and promoting gun control, voting rights and reproductive rights.

This tendency to grow is different from its predecessors.

Barack Obama was able to vote for the first time in the Carter-Reagan election in 1980, a devastating victory for Reagan who rejected Washington’s active role in local politics, replacing the idea that government is a problem that the free market solves all problems. Reagan’s victory was so complete that it changed the boundaries of our political life for a long time: when Obama was asked, at the end of his term, why, even among the 60 Democratic senators at his inauguration, his political achievements – with the exception of Obamacare – relatively modest, citing a “remaining willingness to accept the political limitations that we inherited from the post-Reagan era. … Market solutions tend to be adopted for series of problems that don’t make perfect sense.”

Biden simply doesn’t have that leftover Reaganism; Its political composition was formed before the Reagan revolution. He saw a booming economy during the Johnson years, narrowing the gap between the rich and the poor. Reagan’s economic growth benefited the rich. Now Biden is back in LBJ mode and the gap – for the first time in decades – is starting to close again.

What are Trump’s political influences? Which presidency can you model? He voted for the first time in 1968, in the race between Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon. He inherited none of Nixon’s few good qualities (for example, he founded the Environmental Protection Agency). Trump seems to have largely adopted Nixon’s eternal sense of victimhood, not to mention his willingness to break the law in his own name.

What we need most is a commitment to the principles of the New Deal and the Great Society (with the idea of ​​America as a group project, rather than a series of individual, isolated efforts for personal development -progress). Handing over all important decisions to the “market” leaves us with a planet with mixed poles and caricature levels of inequality.

Johnson, of course, was not reelected; In the fierce war in Vietnam, he did not even flee. Biden seems to remember this too, with his simple decision that we will finally get out of Afghanistan. Now Gaza might be the kind of inhuman thicket that can humble him even more.

That’s a shame, because, four years from now, Biden may be able to restore the confidence of an America that is more self-destructive.

Age matters. My group agreed. Why does Biden think he can do what he did in his first term? Because I’ve seen it done. Let’s hope that the politicians of the future follow their successes closely.

Bill McKibben is a Schumann Distinguished Scholar in Environmental Policy at Middlebury College and founder of Third Act.

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