It’s not about ‘will’. Can Joe Biden succeed as president?

RASHMEE ROSHAN LALL January 29, 2021

Here are the two questions everyone’s asking:

** Will Joe Biden succeed as America’s 46th president?

** Can Joe Biden succeed as America’s 46th president?

The first question is ultimately unknowable. Who knows if Mr Biden will be able to restore order to his country’s politics and take America back to the superior position it once enjoyed on the world stage. A lot has to work out for that to happen. More specifically, the second question must be answered before we address the first.

So, can Mr Biden succeed as president? That’s not a woolly question. For Mr Biden’s presidency to be successful, he needs to accomplish the following:

Make government work once again for the American people.

That means the Biden administration has to be competent, caring and conscientious in managing the public purse and delivering what the people need.

How that can happen is still up in the air. The Republican Party has latched on to Mr Biden’s call for “unity” in its usual way. It deems any and all plans for action that are unpalatable to it as not particularly unifying. For instance, Republican senators, have been criticising their Democrat counterparts’ plans to move Mr Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief plan quickly through Congress.

The Democrats would like to do this – or at least to pass a decent relief package – as quickly as possible in an honest attempt to help people who’re suffering. They want to provide cash to those who need it, extend unemployment benefits set to expire in mid-March, increase child tax credit and funnel hundreds of billions of dollars into schools, vaccines and the healthcare system.

But Republicans want to pick and choose. The relief plan they’re prepared to back would provide money for vaccines and some other things. It would not be the comprehensive care package that would allow the American people to feel that their government is working for them and delivering, and making a difference to their lives and how they feel.

If the Democrats were to agree to Republicans’ niggardly plans, it would mean, in the words of White House press secretary Jen Psaki, “choosing” between issues that are all equally urgent. “Choosing between helping families to put food on the table and making sure kids go back to get back to school or making sure kids get back to school and getting a vaccine in the arms of Americans,” Ms Psaki recently said.

Democrats would like to do the things that show government is working with bipartisan support. But they need to carry on down alternative paths if the Republicans baulk. The Republican Party, remember, has rediscovered financial prudence and rectitude four years after it passed Donald Trump’s huge tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

Honestly, the only way Mr Biden can be successful as president is to show his people that government can work – and work for them.

He needs, as Ezra Klein has noted in The New York Times and Martin Wolf in the Financial Times (both are paywall), visible success.

I would argue Mr Biden also needs palpable success, ie from government action that produces results, which can be felt.

The alternative would be awful. Were the US government to fail yet again, it would serve to advance the nihilistic programme long pursued by the Republican Party and its insurrectionist leader.