2021年2月9日 星期二

The covert unifier that America needed

Biden's policies have remarkably broad support.
President Biden delivers remarks at the State Department in Washington on Feb. 4.Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times
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By Paul Krugman

Opinion Columnist

In his inaugural speech, President Joe Biden talked a lot about "unity" — which made many progressives, myself included, very nervous. Would he do what President Obama did, scaling down his economic plans and wasting time in a vain effort to win bipartisan support?

It turns out that we needn't have worried. As I wrote in today's column, Democrats appear to have learned some lessons from the Obama years, and Biden's Congressional allies are moving fast on what seems likely to be a big economic relief package — one that seems almost certain to pass the Senate, barely, on a straight party-line vote.

Inevitably, some in the media are chiding Biden for, as they see it, going back on his promise to seek unity. But anyone who paid attention in 2009 knows that there was never a chance of getting support for economic relief, or for that matter almost anything else, from Republicans in Congress. If Biden had tried to move their way, they would simply have moved the goal posts, keeping compromise forever out of reach.

Yet there is a sense in which Biden actually is delivering on unity. He isn't giving any ground to Republican politicians; but his main proposals for Covid-19 relief draw broad support from ordinary voters, including many self-identified Republicans. So he isn't winning over any G.O.P. apparatchiks, because that's an impossible task, but he's unifying most of the country behind his agenda all the same. That is, he's a stealth unifier, with his cross-party appeal flying under the radar of pundits focused only on what politicians and activists say.

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In fact, public support for Biden's agenda is so strong that it poses some puzzles. For Biden's economic plans have much broader support than Obama's did at this stage of his presidency. Why? And why won't any Republican politicians go along with plans this popular?

Here's a chart I find eye-popping. It compares the public's views on the Obama stimulus in 2009, as reported in a CNN poll, with recent views on Biden's relief package, as estimated by Quinnipiac:

Americans like Biden's policiesCNN/Quinnipiac

In case you're wondering, that 2009 poll was taken while Obama was still in his honeymoon period, with personal favorables substantially higher than Biden's now (although Biden fares decently, certainly compared with his predecessor). So this reflects popular judgments on the policies, not the men. What's going on?

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Well, I have a theory. I've spent pretty much the whole pandemic shouting, to mainly deaf ears, that economic relief isn't "stimulus." My guess is that despite the best efforts of many in the news media to conflate the two, most voters get that; they see Biden's American Rescue Plan as, well, a rescue plan, not an attempt to pump up demand.

Not that there's anything wrong with pumping up demand, which was in fact exactly what the nation needed (and didn't get enough of) in 2009. But Keynesian economics, which underlies the case for stimulus in a depressed economy, is hard. Many people — including some professional economists — just can't wrap their minds around the idea that deficit spending can create jobs and make the nation richer. Even F.D.R. tried to balance the budget in 1937, with disastrous results.

On the other hand, the idea of helping people when disaster strikes is intuitive, and at least for now most Americans are feeling generous.

Republican politicians, of course, don't share that feeling. And they don't see any need to pretend otherwise. They're much more afraid of the party's base, which doesn't even accept Biden's legitimacy, than they are of being seen obstructing aid to Americans in need.

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But that more or less by definition means that they can't be won over, no matter what Biden does. The reality of where we are politically, hidden in plain sight, is that on policy Biden actually has unified a surprisingly large majority of Americans.

Quick Hits

Even Republicans used to support those $2000 checks.

But the Republican base hates compromise.

After all, their leaders blame Nancy Pelosi for the attack on the Capitol. Really.

Conservative think tanks hate the idea of helping children.

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Facing the Music

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Scream along to some America first rap.

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