This isn’t 2009. Joe Biden cannot buckle on the armor of Barack Obama — he does not enjoy the same mytho-heroic status. And, unlike Obama in 2009, Biden is not faced with a crisis that is financial in origin and has a financial solution — COVID-19 is not going to sort itself out in the marketplace. Obama’s main source of political pressure was the Republican opposition — but as the GOP continues to bleed from its self-inflicted wounds, Biden’s main source of pressure is going to be the left wing of the Democratic Party, which would have preferred a President Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren but accepted Biden as an expedient, and which has too big an appetite to be bought off cheap. Even the $1.9 trillion that’s being packed into Democrats’ COVID-19 proposal will only be a light appetizer for progressives who want to impose monopoly health care on the country, abolish college tuition, etc.
COVID-19 should be, strange as it is to write it, the easy thing. Everybody wants a successful vaccination program, and everybody wants a strong economic recovery — anybody who runs against those is on a kamikaze mission. There will be honest disagreements about size, scope, and details, and Democrats are likely to win most of those fights this year — provided they do not get too greedy.
Getting it right on COVID-19 — politically right — would free the Biden administration up to pursue what should be its other top priority: rebuilding the trans-Atlantic alliance with an eye toward countering Beijing militarily, politically, and economically. That one has some tricky bits in it, too, but also should be — should be — eased along by broad bipartisan consensus about the end and many of the means. There, too, Biden has the opportunity to get some wins — a deepened U.S.-EU economic alliance would almost certainly move the country in the Democrats’ direction on environmental issues and labor policy. And some Republicans will be all too happy to go along with the Democrats on labor. Again, the main risk there is Democrats’ getting greedy, demanding a 90/10 split instead of the 60/40 one they could easily secure.