HCR: Is Biden assuming the mantle of Franklin Delano Roosevelt?

Heather Cox Richardson | Letters from an American | April 13

HCR
Heather Cox Richardson

April 13, 2021

Today, the administration issued a proclamation on Black Maternal Health Week. It noted that Black American mothers die from pregnancy-related complications at two to three times the rates of White, Hispanic, Asian American, and Pacific Islander women, no matter what their income or education levels. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris declared their commitment to “building a health care system that delivers equity and dignity to Black, Indigenous, and other women and girls of color.”

There has been talk lately about President Biden assuming the mantle of Democratic president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who piloted the nation through the Great Depression and World War II. There is a lot to that. Biden is enthusiastically embracing the idea that the government has a role to play in regulating business, providing a basic social safety net, and promoting infrastructure. That ideology has been on the ropes since voters elected President Ronald Reagan, who argued that the government pioneered by Roosevelt smothered business growth and stifled individualism by levying taxes for programs that Washington bureaucrats thought would benefit the nation.

Since he took office, Biden has used the government to help ordinary Americans. He began by ramping up coronavirus vaccines at an astonishing rate, and then got through Congress the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, designed to rebuild the economy after the devastation of the coronavirus pandemic. Now he is turning to the American Jobs Plan, another massive package designed to remake American infrastructure as it creates high-paying jobs, just as FDR’s New Deal did.

Biden is clearly trying to undermine the Republican mantra that government is inefficient, and he is succeeding. His own chief of staff, Ron Klain, has made it a point to compare the two men.

But an article by Laura Barron-Lopez, Alex Thompson, and Theodoric Meyer in Politico begs to differ. Based on an interview with House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC), the piece makes the argument that Biden is far more President Harry Truman than FDR. Unlike FDR, who constantly had to compromise with white southern Democrats to get his measures through Congress and thus had to back off on issues of racial justice, Truman worked to advance civil rights in the U.S. More like Truman than FDR, Biden has focused on addressing racial equity in his response to the various crises he has taken on in his first days in office.

To my mind, though, what jumps out about Biden and Harris is not their focus on either jobs or Black Americans, but rather their attention to the needs of children and mothers. Even before the pandemic, 21.4 million American women lived in poverty, as did nearly 11 million children, about 14.4% of kids under the age of 18.

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