The Biden Malaise: How America Bounces Back from Joe Biden's Dismal Repeat of the Jimmy Carter Years
By Kimberley Strassel
Twelve; hardcover, 288 pages; $30.00
Kimberley Strassel is a member of the Wall Street Journal editorial board, and she writes a weekly column, "Potomac Watch," that appears on Fridays. She is the bestselling author of Resistance (At All Costs) and The Intimidation Game.
It didn't take long for Joe Biden's presidency to be compared to that of another Democrat, Jimmy Carter, whose time in office was characterized by the word malaise.
In the new book, The Biden Malaise, Strassel argues that Biden has mired the country in rampant inflation and weakness on the world stage, and that the parallels between the Biden and Carter presidencies are striking. Though they are separated by nearly fifty years, they have suffered from the same domestic and foreign policy morasses, and Strassel examines why these claims gloss over important nuances that show President Biden's blunders are far worse.
Biden inherited a better situation than Carter, but he became captive to the progressive wing of his party, which led him to believe he was taking over at a moment of overlapping crises, with the Covid pandemic still going on when he took office in January 2021, to the economy, climate and racial justice. The White House set out to change many aspects of the American system, while Strassel argues that the economy would have bounced back as vaccines would bring American life back to normal, and the main risk was doing too much. Biden did just that, as he presided over the largest federal spending in United States history, $6.8 trillion in fiscal year 2021, which eclipsed the $6.6 trillion the prior year when the economy was essentially shut down with the onset of Covid.
Biden doubled down on Carter's mistakes and created crises that were unavoidable, as well as severe. The Biden administration's political mess was self-imposed, from soaring energy prices and inflation to humiliating foreign policy errors, such as the chaotic pullout from Afghanistan in August 2021, in which he went against the advice of military leadership.
Carter was president at a moment in which one long chapter of foreign policy, the Cold War, was yielding to a rise in democracy around the globe. Biden is presiding over a moment in which there is global disorder, with tyrants from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who took his country to war in Ukraine, to Beijing to Tehran aim to control bigger parts of the world.
There is also a lot of history that Strassel brings to the forefront, such as that identity politics began in the late 1970s, with Carter playing a part in its foundation. Carter embraced affirmative action, which was in its infancy and it put an unprecedented emphasis on using race and sex to make his judicial appointments. There were also a lot of "firsts" in the Carter administration, including the first African-American woman in the cabinet, Patricia Roberts Harris and the first Hispanic to serve as the Immigration and Naturalization commissioner, Leonel J. Castillo.
Biden put his own twist on this initiative by issuing an executive order seeking to expand "equity" in the government. Strassel writes that equality essentially meant that everyone has equal opportunity, while equity seeks out equal outcomes, marked by a forcible reallocation of resources and benefits, and segments a country into predefined boxes based on sex, race, gender, and income, which can emphasize differences and pit people against each other.
Strassel sees Democrats risking a backlash similar to what opened the door to the Reagan Revolution when Carter lost to Ronald Reagan in 1980. She offers a blueprint for the GOP to capitalize from the mayhem of Biden, one that rekindles the bold and reformist approach of the '80s into the '90s, an aspirational agenda that puts Americans back in control of their destiny on issues ranging from healthcare, to energy, to entitlements.
In this excerpt, Strassel writes of how people have viewed these presidencies: "Jimmy Carter marked the crest of a half century of New Deal and Democratic power in Washington. His agenda became synonymous in American minds with failed government, crippling bureaucracy, antibusiness sentiment, cultural radicalism, and U.S. humiliation abroad. That reputation was cemented in American minds by another fella, an articulate former governor of California named Ronald Reagan. He used a gospel of free markets and strong foreign policy to win the White House, but also to convert a generation of Americans to his cause. The Reagan revolution changed the nation's political demographics and redrew its electoral map. In his 1984 reelection, Ronald Reagan carried forty-nine out of fifty states - an electoral vote total (525) that no other candidate in history has matched.
It was in no small part thanks to Jimmy Carter.
As painful as the Biden presidency has proven to so many average people, it's also provided an invaluable service. America came out of the 1970s with a sharp appreciation for the vagaries of big government and a new wisdom about the laws of economics. That's been lost in more recent decades of steadily growing Washington. Biden's extreme policies are reminding the country of the danger of ignoring those hard-earned lessons of history.
This book will make the case that the Biden agenda is creating a similar backlash, and the early signs of a shift are already there. The Republican governors who won commanding 2022 reelection bids did so with support across the electorate, including among voters with whom the party often struggles. Florida governor Ron DeSantis beat his opponent by nearly twenty points, winning the woman vote, the Hispanic vote, and even the urban vote. Democrats are becoming the party of wealthy, coastal elites enamored with European-style welfare policies. This is providing Republicans the opportunity to form a broad and wide coalition of multi-racial, working-, and middle-class Americans.
But this book will equally remind conservatives that they have to work for it. Just as Democrats would be wise to absorb the lessons of Carter, Republicans need to remember Reagan. The right remains fractured in the wake of Donald Trump's presidency, with Republicans taking potshots at one another's credibility and loyalty. Too many Republicans are abandoning sound principles, chasing populist sentiment, hoping to buy voters with Democrat-lite promises. Years of liberal norm-breaking - bogus FBI investigations, secret impeachment proceedings, stripped committee assignments, calls to end the filibuster - are tempting Republicans to focus on investigations and retribution rather than the business of governance.
Reagan didn't win with anger, accusations, purity tests, or probes. He was the ultimate happy warrior, who tempted the skeptical with the power of ideas, words, and humor, and who opened the tent to all comers. He demonstrated the principles of conservative governing. He knew a divided Republican party - or an angry one - was a losing party.
Americans are deeply disillusioned. They live in what is supposed to be the most vibrant political system in the world, yet they are astonished by the daily failure of competence. Congress seems no longer capable of legislating. Democrats have abandoned federalism, the electoral system, and the concept of equality. The administrative state rules all. President Biden grandstands, even as he resolutely refuses to work with Republicans. He waves his magic scepter and decrees lawless eviction moratoriums, vaccine mandates, and student loan forgiveness. Judges - at both the federal and state levels - act as de facto policy makers. The country is yearning for change."