18 February 2021
Back to the Past
by J.R. Thomas
Joe Biden is out to prove that old adage that you cannot teach an old dog new tricks. He’s forgotten the nightmare of the last four years and gone back to where Barrack Obama laid down his burden – kicked away from Hillary Clinton’s feet by, well, you know who. We’ll come back to The Donald before long, but let us look at Mr Biden’s first four weeks in office.
It began of course with Joe getting himself inoculated, live on TV, to prove it was safe. No queue jumping required; Mr B is in the qualifying age group. That hasn’t stopped him wearing a mask at most times, presumably to set a good example, though it is one that does not seem to be followed with the almost religious fervour with which mask wearing is observed in the UK. His next stage is to start moving about the US, starting at a vaccine manufacturing plant in Wisconsin, mainly to promote his “American Rescue Plan”, as it is called. That is contained in a bill shortly to begin making its way through Congress, to enable the President to spend around US$1.9trillion to ward off the effects of the Coronavirus slowdown and stimulate the economy. This largesse, according to opinion polls, is popular with a majority of the public. Wise old sages around Joe are hopefully whispering in his ear though, that whilst government spending is often popular (especially with the beneficiaries), the tax rises to pay for it often do not go down so well when the inevitable bill arrives. In this case the bill is likely to be most painful just about 2024, when, guess what, there is another Presidential election.
You might assume that the Republicans would not be upset about something likely to do great damage to Democrat hopes in four years time, but the GOP seems not to be in a mood for in-depth thinking and strategic plotting just at the moment. They are already making a huge noise about the cost of the Rescue Plan, and an even bigger hoo-ha about the Democrats in the House bolting onto it various other points from Joe’s electoral manifesto. The main target of their ire is a clause slipped in to increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour, something which some Democrats are also concerned about. In fact, it looks as though it might just pass in the House, but only just, and will certainly fail in the Senate.
The Republicans are going to have plenty else to get upset about in forthcoming months, never mind minimum wages. Mr Biden has indicated that Mr Trump’s policies on the Mexican border are to be reviewed and amended. This does not mean that the wall (mostly fence actually) is to be torn down. What Joe wants to do is to introduce a policy for the legal admittance of immigrants from Mexico and central America, which will increase the numbers coming into the country and give them legal rights to work and to benefits – state benefits we mean, not those of cheap burgers and 400 TV channels. He is combining that with a programme to legalise most of those already in the country but who entered illegally, or even are the children of those who entered illegally. It has to be right, of course, that once people are living without threat of repatriation they should gain full benefits of citizenship, not least because they can be taxed, and also vote; (a GOP senator pointed out that those who have the determination and drive to move into the US are by those very characteristics likely to be at heart Republican voters, a trend which was apparent in the last election, so there may be some feet shuffling all round on this). But opening the borders to greater numbers is a different matter – among the low paid workers of the US, further competition for jobs and housing does not go down well, minimum wage or no. That was a significant factor in the 2016 election, and could be again in 2024.
Then there is another plank of Joe’s policy which may cause apoplexy among members of the GOP. That is the Democrat’s urge to intervene in foreign lands. It is a very odd feature of American politics that conservative and right leaning voters tend to be against foreign military adventure, and liberal and leftist leaning voters like the idea of boots overseas. The first test will be Afghanistan where the last remaining American troops are leaving and all will have gone by the beginning of May. Or, they will if Mr Biden sticks with the agreement made by Mr Trump last year. The Democrats hated it then and they are being proven right; the Taliban are once again fighting in much of Afghanistan, and the country, after proper democratic elections in 2014 and 2019, is once again descending into chaos, with totally inadequate internal resources to fight off the insurgents. In 2014 Mr Obama led US intervention to ensure the election result prevailed. Will Joe reverse the last four years policy of minimal intervention and phased withdrawal? What happens there will be key to the Biden Administration’s foreign policy in the Middle and Near East.
The problem is of course that outside intervention in Afghanistan has always ended in painful and disastrous withdrawal. The British know that, the Russians know that. Mr Biden may have the entirely laudable urge to bring peace and democracy to this appallingly troubled country, but he has history against him, and he has a perhaps bigger immediate political problem. There are so few American troops in the huge country – less than three thousand – that to leave them there is pointless and puts them very much at risk. So, if he is to go any way toward his objectives, he will have to put more troops, quite a lot more troops, onto that rocky terrain. Democrat voters outside DC may think that is simply wrong, however high-mindedly wonderful the President’s moral objectives.
All this of course should be manna to the Republicans with mid-terms in 2022 and looking out to a further Presidential struggle two years after that. It is certainly manna to the currently best known Republic politician, the unimpeached Donald Trump. In the end the impeachment ended with nobody much (apart from Ms Pelosi) caring whether it happened or not. That leaves Donald free to run again in 2024, and to make a great deal of mischief in the meantime, with a $30m fund to pay for his fun. Donald seems to have a mesmeric effect on his party – like mice facing a very large ginger cat, they are paralysed by what may happen to their re-election chances in the House and Senate if Donald turns on them. But that may be part of the recovery from the electoral loss and Mr Trump’s extraordinary behaviour post-election. It is likely to last just until they find a new standard bearer who can articulate a vision of a strong, free enterprise, open society, bright and confident America. The Republicans, like the UK Tories, do not like losers and that the great ginger cat is, and soon they will realise it. Then Mr Trump’s hold over them will fade away. Is there such a leader out there? We suspect there are several and we will in future articles start to look at who may emerge to challenge the old guard of both parties and re-position the American dream.