Joe Biden is off to the most left-wing start of any Democratic president in recent memory.
The dulcet tones of Biden’s inaugural address already seem an artifact of a bygone era. Republicans will hammer him for the rest of his presidency for failing to deliver on his unifying message, but the fact is that Biden is governing as he promised — further to the left of his own record, further to the left of Barack Obama, and further to the left of any Democrat who made his career prior to the ascendency of the cultural left.
It’s not new for Democrat presidents to want to tax, spend and regulate, even if Biden seeks do more of all three than his immediate predecessors. Biden layers on top of this a cultural agenda that represents a new dimension of radicalism that would be alien and baffling to past Democrats, who may have wanted to extend the New Deal, but never sought to transcend the gender binary.
Biden has proved willing, too, to go it alone via rapid-fire, unilateral executive actions.
If Lyndon Johnson gave us the Great Society, he came to office seeking to fulfill the legacy of his martyred predecessor, which included passing a tax cut. Once elected in his own right in 1964, Johnson embarked on a spate of federal activism that no subsequent Democrat has matched, although Johnson largely enacted his priorities the old-fashioned way, by passing bills through Congress, and operated in a much more culturally conservative country and party.
Jimmy Carter, who ran as a Southern moderate and stumbled out of the gate, doesn’t really rate.
Bill Clinton and Barack Obama were both ambitious, but also cared about the budget deficit and allowed it to restrain their agenda in a way that the Biden Democrats now totally reject.
If Clinton pushed the envelope on health care (ultimately getting nowhere), the signature economic initiative of his early administration was a deficit-reduction measure. Obama passed a blowout spending stimulus bill in his first months, although the imperative not to allow it to exceed about $800 billion seems quaint in retrospect.
Biden is out of the box with a proposed $1.9 trillion relief bill that includes a $15-an-hour minimum wage that not too long ago was the pipe dream of his party’s socialist wing, as well as a massive bailout of states and localities. Biden campaigned on a $4 trillion tax increase that one sympathetic observer has said would be “one of the largest wealth transfers in American history.” Meanwhile, he’s filling positions beneath the cabinet level with progressives with a mandate to increase regulation across the board.
All of this is augmented by new progressive causes that were just beginning to get a foothold back in the Clinton and Obama years.
Biden’s obsession with fighting climate change speaks of an overwhelming hostility to fossil fuels as such that is something new. He has proposed a sweeping enforcement-never amnesty for more than 10 million illegal immigrants that makes past failed “comprehensive immigration bills” look modest by comparison. And his culture-war executive orders extend not just to abortion, where other Democratic presidents have signed executive orders quickly as well, but to transgender causes.
There will also be a continual focus on what Biden’s chief-of-staff calls “a racial equity crisis,” which will be a warrant for new, more aggressive identity politics.
The lesson is that the most important thing that any movement can do is influence the direction of a political party. If the center of gravity of a party moves, the entire establishment moves with it. So it is that Joe Biden, who has never been woke himself, is attempting to deliver victories to the left wing of his party almost unimaginable eight or 12 years ago — and do it quickly.
Despite Biden’s moderate mood music, we can’t say we weren’t warned.
Rich Lowry is editor of National Review.