Collectively or individually, all could paralyze the Biden presidency. He has a short time to act, a tiny margin to legislate and a narrow window to sell his program.
Biden is the oldest elected president in history. At 78, he’s close to the lifespan of the average American white man. The pandemic has spared him the rigours of the election campaign and overseas travel. He’s had fewer chances to misspeak.
Can he seriously run again in 2024? Time does not extend before him as it did before FDR (12 years) and LBJ (five years).
In effect, Biden has four years to make his mark, maybe two. He cannot afford to become ill, weak or mute.
Moreover, he has less legislative latitude than Johnson and Roosevelt. They began their presidencies with huge majorities in Congress. Biden’s Democrats have a two-seat majority (with four vacancies) in the 435-seat House. Their dominance in the 50-50 Senate depends on Vice-President Kamala Harris breaking ties.
Biden has no prospect of the bipartisanship that Johnson enjoyed with Illinois senator Everett Dirksen and midwestern Republicans. Today’s world is entirely different.
The clock is ticking. If Democrats lose the House in 2022 — the president’s party loses an average of 22 seats in mid-term elections in the first term — Biden must rely on executive authority.
Little time, fewer votes, less legitimacy. Biden’s margin of victory in the election was seven million votes, or 4.5 per cent. Had 44,000 votes in Georgia, Wisconsin and Arizona gone the other way, the Electoral College would have tied.
No president since Abraham Lincoln (who saw seven states secede between his election and inauguration) has faced this crisis of legitimacy. Neither Johnson nor Roosevelt faced a fevered opposition led by a vengeful, twice-impeached president denying his role in an armed insurrection.
Yes, Johnson had Barry Goldwater, the John Birchers and the far right. FDR faced Father Charles Coughlin, Huey Long and Charles Lindbergh, all authoritarian, anti-Semitic or isolationist voices calling him “a socialist.” These are dwarfed by Fox News, Donald Trump and House Republicans claiming the election was stolen.
But LBJ and FDR were swept into office on historic electoral landslides. (LBJ won 61.2 percent of the vote, FDR 57.3 percent.) Johnson inherited a traumatized America eager for him to complete John F. Kennedy’s legacy on civil rights. FDR campaigned on reversing the laissez-faire capitalism of three conservative Republicans.
Both had a mandate for change, allies in Congress to mobilize and time. Biden wants to end the pandemic, rebuild the economy, create new infrastructure, reform immigration and protect voting rights. To succeed, he will need every break: personal health, a united party, sustained popularity, a disorganized opposition and a compliant judiciary.
If he does even some of what he promises, Joe Biden will become the 21st-century heir to the architects of the Great Society and the New Deal — and he will richly deserve it.
This content was originally published here.