Biden: New Deal or Just Big Deal?

“This is a big f***ing deal…”, Vice-President Joe Biden hoarsely whispered into President Obama’s ear.

He introduced an awkwardly unwelcome --- just observe Obama’s pained expression in reaction --- note of vulgarity to what should have been a sublime moment for the forty-fourth president: the 2010 celebratory announcement of Obamacare’s enactment into law. That's something that now seems strangely moderate in comparison to today’s unhinged deliberations. 

Of course in typical fashion, Mr. Biden messed it up: articulating his private aside loud enough to be picked up by microphones, thus assuring still another notable entry in some future Biden Book of Grossly Inappropriate Language, a voluminous work to be sure.

But now, through the inexplicable workings of fate, he’s President Biden, and his disturbingly unnatural post-election absorption into radical-left politics gives that now dominant wing of  the Democrat party an opportunity not seen since the Great Depression to put a torch to so many of the things their socialist sensibilities find abhorrent about this nation, including its demographic make-up. Indeed, the compliant nature of Biden’s useful decrepitude gives today’s fire starters a clear edge over their 1930’s counterparts in the potential for societal arson.

Franklin Roosevelt, whom Biden (and every Democrat not advocating for outright anarchy) presumes to emulate was --- at least until he was near death in his fourth term --- a strong leader and savvy politician. Say what you will about the efficacy of his Great Depression-fighting economic policies, he was nobody’s puppet. Roosevelt made his own mistakes and learned his own lessons; most notably from the original court-packing debacle of which Biden now threatens a sequel. Chastened by the rebuke, FDR soon recognized the dangers of getting too far ahead of public opinion. The result was a more cautious politician, swallowing some practical limits on his administration’s ambitious social reform agenda. That adjustment was clear in the days leading up to our entry into World War II. But through it all, a public thirsting for real leadership in anxious times never had to guess who was actually calling the shots.

Joe Biden --- even his younger iteration --- is none of those things. If indeed he still possesses the intellectual vigor to be doing any of the driving, he appears unwilling to even tap the brakes on, let alone appreciably slow the careening “transformational” vehicle his party has set in motion.  Yet their goal is not transformation in the sense of instituting reform, but instead dissolution, a complete reordering of American society. And whether being manipulated from behind or feebly holding the wheel, Joe’s on board for the entire weird trip, without discernible regard for the many hazards lying ahead.

If there is a more apt, if surely imperfect comparison (at least in motivations) to be made between Joe Biden and some past president, it’s probably Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Both Johnson and Biden served their vice-presidential terms under two of the most charismatic and youthfully vibrant leaders of their day. Both had far more political experience than their younger bosses, and both were generally ignored by them. John Kennedy and Barack Obama relied upon a circle of equally young advisors, rather than heed the (often wrong) counsel of their more seasoned running mates.

Johnson desperately needed to prove to himself and the world that a crude, profane Texas deal-maker who rose from squalor could enact more landmark progressive legislation than the suave, handsome, rich-from-birth son of a former ambassador to Great Britain, whom Johnson succeeded only by virtue of an assassin’s bullet. Similarly Biden, who attained the presidency at a far more advanced age than Johnson, more than anything else wishes to make a mark on history as his very own “big f***ing deal”; as consequential a president as Obama, and it doesn’t seem to matter to him just how he gets there.

But in life, Kennedy and his coterie of “whiz kids,” sophisticates and Boston brawlers took no great pains to hide their contempt for LBJ. So too, Biden is dogged by the bitter knowledge that his former chief and those around him treated him with a quiet, but still unmistakable disdain.

Though generally a more able man than Biden, Johnson, who served as Senate Majority Leader before joining Kennedy’s ticket, suffered from some of the same leadership flaws --- born of insecurity --- as our current president. Despite his combative nature, Johnson was nevertheless intimidated by some of the intellectual holdovers from Kennedy’s cabinet such as Dean Rusk, Robert McNamara and McGeorge Bundy, and so, like Joe Biden, LBJ was inclined to “listen to the experts.” Lacking in both men is the self-reliant judgment and innate, gut wisdom that can’t be acquired even through long years of political survival and its concomitant tactical maneuvers. Yet that quality right there is absolutely essential in a president making crucial life and death decisions.

Perhaps in some ways this comparison is not altogether fair to Lyndon Johnson. When he unexpectedly and tragically came to the Oval Office, no one needed to speculate as to whether he was in complete possession of his faculties, or if someone else was pulling his strings. Much of the Great Society legislation --- subsequent bureaucratic overreach and waste notwithstanding --- was necessary and beneficial to furthering the nation’s goal of addressing ongoing racism and poverty. But Johnson’s genuine failings as a chief executive also helped give us the tragedy of the Vietnam War and the upheaval that followed; a loss of national confidence that persists to this day, serving in part as an antecedent to the worrying violence we’re now experiencing.

President Biden, it appears so far, in his unchecked, unprincipled quest for historical relevance, will probably only succeed in widening the schism formed in the turbulent 1960s, and further undermine our belief in the future of this country. Seeking to be someone instead of accomplishing something constructive, can be a big deal to be sure, but in the very wrong direction.

Image: Photo by Cliff, via Flickr, portrait by Peter Hurd // CC BY 2.0

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