Is Joe Biden Really Tacking to the Center?
The pundits are claiming that Biden is moving to the center, but it's complicated
President Joe Biden’s first two years were successful and more progressive than anyone expected. His success in passing progressive climate change, health care, and gun safety legislation, as well as the party’s performance in the midterms, unified Democrats across the ideological spectrum. Biden will not face a significant primary challenge (sorry, Marianne Williamson). Leading progressives in Congress, including his former rivals Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, enthusiastically support his reelection bid.
However, a series of moves in the last ten days on crime, immigration, budgetary policy, and climate have re-started a debate about Biden’s progressive credentials. In a short period of time, Biden:
Refused to veto a Republican rollback of Washington, D.C.’s reform of their criminal code;
Reportedly contemplated adopting harsher policies dealing with the influx of migrants at the border;
Rolled out a budget that was heavy on deficit reduction; and
Prepared to approve a large drilling project in the Alaskan wilderness (the White House denies that a decision has been made).
Pundits are questioning whether Biden is trying to resuscitate the cynical strategy of “triangulation” that Bill Clinton employed in 1996. Peter Baker wrote a New York Times analysis piece with the headline “Biden Moves to Recapture the Centrist IdentityThat Has Long Defined Him.” Republicans see an opportunity to divide the Democratic Party; and they want to paint Biden’s recent moves as part of a “pivot” to the center.
There is no question that some recent White House moves angered progressives. The rapid succession creates the image of an intentional movement to the middle. I don’t agree with that analysis. The reality around each of these moves is more complicated than the hot takes suggest. The broader picture suggests that not much has changed in Biden’s approach.
Is the Timing Intentional?
You learn quickly in the White House that the President has very little control of the issue agenda. So much is driven by events; and the agencies of the federal government are constantly sending you unexpected turd burgers to knock you off-message. The White House workday officially starts with a Senior Staff meeting in the Chief of Staff’s office, and it is a miracle if the Communications Director gets out of that meeting without their day ruined by learning about some controversial issue working its way through the pipeline.
Aside from timing the release of his budget, everything else was outside of his control. Congress drove the timing of the vote on the D.C. crime law. The pipeline and immigration news were the results of leaks to the press. I have no doubt the Biden White House would have preferred to release information on these controversies in the manner and timing of their choosing.
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