Commentary

Biden as the Anti-Obama: I didn’t see that one coming | Fletcher McClellan

March 19, 2021 6:30 am

WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 11: U.S. President Joe Biden arrives to give a primetime address to the nation from the East Room of the White House March 11, 2021 in Washington, DC. President Biden gave the address to mark the one-year anniversary of the shutdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

One of the major goals of the Trump presidency, if not the number one aim, was erasure of the legacy of President Barack Obama.

Fletcher McClellan (Capital-Star file)

Whether the topic was the Paris Climate Accord, the Iran Nuclear Deal, the Affordable Care Act, civil rights for LGBTQ citizens, or immigration reform, the standing policy rule in the Trump White House was if Obama was for it, the president was against it.

Add to that Trump’s Twitter obsession with his predecessor. Obama appeared in around 3,000 Trump tweets over the last ten years, many of which were devoted to how the 45th president outdid the 44th.

For example, Trump expressed amazement at how Obama left over 100 federal judge vacancies for him to fill, not mentioning that the U.S. Senate under Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blocked all judicial appointments in the two years before Trump took office.

Trump consistently took credit for Obama accomplishments, such as criminal justice reform and veterans’ health care choice. He succeeded in passing an enormous tax cut bill for corporations and the affluent, but failed in his very first legislative priority, repealing Obamacare.

Of course, Trump issued dozens of executive orders overturning Obama decisions, approving the Keystone XL pipeline Obama had rejected, and reversing his fuel-efficiency standards and power plant emissions limits.

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However, many of these directives are in the process of being repealed by actions of President Biden.
In contrast to Trump, Biden has shunned press gatherings and public appearances in favor of a nose-to-the-grindstone approach. When he does speak publicly, Biden makes it a point not to mention the name of the “former guy.”

Biden’s efforts to obliterate the Trump legacy should surprise no one. What might come as a shock is how Obama’s vice-president is attempting to be not only the anti-Trump, but also the anti-Obama.

To be sure, Biden is stocking his administration with Obama alumni. During the 2020 Democratic primaries, he frequently mentioned his partnership with his former boss.

Upon taking office, though, members of the Biden team have discussed avoiding Obama’s “mistakes.”
What they mean is shown by how Biden and Congressional Democrats managed to enact the $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill.

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Liberal critics argued Obama’s response to the Great Recession was too timid and too modest.

The president’s stimulus package of 2009 was less than $800 billion after concessions to Congress. It contained tax cuts in the form of increased pay embedded in paychecks, not as checks mailed to citizens.

The Obama recovery bill helped prevent another Great Depression, but all people heard was Republican criticism of how its contents went to the undeserving and how it would contribute to the national debt.

In facing the severe economic downturn produced by the COVID pandemic, Biden made sure to propose over $1 trillion more than did Obama in 2009.

And, very soon, checks will be coming directly to households, although not with Biden’s signature as his predecessor insisted.

Furthermore, Biden did not waste time seeking Republican votes, as Obama did in passing the economic stimulus and Affordable Care Act. The Republican response then was delay-and-obstruct.

To Biden, Republicans are unreliable business partners, and he treated them as such. Not a single GOP member of Congress voted for the president’s proposal, though some have since claimed credit.

The bottom line is Biden got what he wanted.

Federal deficit-spending, a major concern of the Obama years, does not seem very important to Biden. He is preparing another trillion-dollar-plus initiative to repair the nation’s infrastructure and promote a carbon-neutral economy.

Lest it appear that Biden and his aides are backstabbers, their criticisms of the Obama presidency reflected 44’s own assessments in his autobiography, A Promised Land, released after the election.

The former president admits he didn’t do enough to promote his early achievements, and he allowed Tea Partiers to set the narrative.

Moreover, Obama confessed he was startled at the lengths Republicans would go to ruin his presidency, including shutting down the government, bringing the U.S. to the brink of financial default, and telling an untold number of untruths.

Nobody is startled now.

One wonders, however, when the new administration will encounter the roadblocks which faced Obama.
Handing out checks is easy. Reforming immigration, reducing gun violence, weaning Americans off fossil fuels – all problems that plagued Obama – are hard.

It is easy to dismiss a political party that cares more about cancellation of Pepe Le Pew than prevention of the spread of coronavirus, but electoral history tells us the Republicans are likely to win the 2022 midterm elections.

Before that happens, Biden may take Obama’s advice, based on painful experience, and move to abolish the filibuster.

Like all presidents, Biden wants to make history. Time will tell whether, in remembering the past, he will avoid repeating it.

Opinion contributor Fletcher McCllellan is a political science professor at Elizabethtown College in Elizabethtown, Pa. His work appears biweekly on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Readers may email him at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter: @mcclelef.

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