While campaigning for president in 2008, Barack Obama said, “I think Ronald Reagan changed the trajectory of America in a way that, you know, Richard Nixon did not and in a way that Bill Clinton did not.” The point is that you can be considered a successful two-term president (as, I think, Clinton and Obama generally were), and not come close to making lasting change. From a progressive point of view, Clinton’s mistake was triangulation, which involved co-opting Republican language, such as declaring, “The era of big government is over.” Biden, it seems, has gone a different direction.
Ronald Reagan took office with the goal of winning the Cold War and restoring optimism in America, and on both counts, he succeeded. But the Reagan Revolution also fundamentally reshaped the public consensus regarding the size and scope of government. “The long cycle of growth in the role and activism of the national Government in domestic affairs that began with F.D.R.’s New Deal ended with Reagan’s New Federalism,” wrote Richard P. Nathan of Princeton University. ”The Reagan Presidency has produced a fundamental redirection in the domestic policies of the U.S. Government, both in the spending of the Federal Government and in the substance and purposes of its domestic programs.”
What if Biden turns out to be the liberal answer to Reagan? But he’s the deviously cunning Reagan who only pretended to be old and doddering as a ruse, as portrayed by Phil Hartman on Saturday Night Live. Oh yeah, and unlike Reagan, his party controls both houses of Congress. What if Biden, who was often seen as a “transitional” caretaker who was tolerable to get rid of Donald Trump, turns out to be a truly transformational president who brings about a new political consensus? Imagine the irony if Obama turns out to have been the John the Baptist to Joe Biden’s Jesus Christ.