Biden’s historic moment

Americans are ready for big ideas

Joe and Jill Biden in sunglasses shades in Iowa 2019
President Joe Biden and Jill Biden speaking with supporters before the election at the Des Moines Register's Political Soapbox at the 2019 Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, Iowa CC BY-SA 2.0 Joe & Jill Biden Credit: Gage Skidmore

Good for President Joe Biden for touting the significant accomplishments of his administration’s first 100 days before a Joint Session of Congress. And good for him for pushing a bold, progressive agenda.

Biden’s $4 trillion in federal spending contained in two proposals — the American Jobs Plan and the American Family Plan — represent, as the New York Times put it, “a fundamental reorientation of government not seen since the days of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.”

It’s about time.

Biden’s vision of a government that helps people is a welcome relief after the nihilism of the Trump era. Americans are ready for change. We have lived through a pandemic that exposed the weakness of the go-it-alone, live-and-let-die Republican philosophy, and we are ready for a better, more optimistic, more humane approach.

During hearings last week in which Wisconsin Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee expressed outrage and dismay over the $800 million coming to help low-income children in Milwaukee Chris Thiel, the legislative specialist for the Milwaukee Public Schools, told me, “This is what help looks like. And people like it.”

The Republicans, in Wisconsin as in other states around the country, have become the party of not helping. 

They’ve rejected the federal Medicaid expansion, they’ve tried to turn away money for schools and businesses and infrastructure. They have worked to overturn common-sense public health measures to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus. They’ve spread doubt about everything from masks to vaccines to the idea that giving people unemployment insurance will benefit society, arguing instead it just discourages them from going to work.

The insanity of the individualistic approach to the pandemic, loudly championed by Wisconsin’s Trump-enabling conspiracy theorist Sen. Ron Johnson, has too many adherents. 

As Terry Falk reported this week, parents are demanding that masks be made optional in school, as if whether or not to spread disease were a matter of individual choice. 

Last weekend, at the drive-up vaccine site at Madison’s Alliant Energy Center, a group of protesters gathered outside holding signs denouncing vaccination and spreading fear and doubt:  “You are not their experiment” “When is the next pause?” “Defund the media”

This is the fruit of the GOP’s decline into Trumpism and alternate realities.

Most of the Republican Party’s energy these days seems to be spent on spreading lies about the 2020 presidential election being stolen and going down Q-Anon conspiracy theory rabbit holes. They’ve basically ceded reality, and the whole discussion of people’s real needs, to the Democrats.

Biden is seizing this unique historical moment to highlight the contrast between this GOP vision and his vision that, as he put it, “Democracy still works. Our government still works and can deliver for the people.”

Watching as Republican members of Congress sat on their hands as Biden celebrated progress toward the goal of cutting child poverty in half and called for getting lead out of Americans’ drinking water this year pretty much said it all. 

Cultural appeals to racism, fear and insecurity cannot forever trump constructive efforts to address peoples’ real needs. No wonder the Republican Party is spending so much energy trying to make it harder for people to vote. 

It’s the right time for Biden’s bold progressive program. Progressives, centrists and the entire reality-based community, should embrace it.

Ruth Conniff
Ruth Conniff is Editor-in-chief of the Wisconsin Examiner. She formerly served as Editor-in-chief of The Progressive Magazine where she worked for many years from both Madison and Washington, DC. Shortly after Donald Trump took office she moved with her family to Oaxaca, Mexico, and covered U.S./Mexico relations, the migrant caravan, and Mexico’s efforts to grapple with Trump. Conniff is a frequent guest on MSNBC and has appeared on Good Morning America, Democracy Now!, Wisconsin Public Radio, CNN, Fox News and many other radio and television outlets. She has also written for The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Los Angeles Times, among other publications. She graduated from Yale University in 1990, where she ran track and edited the campus magazine The New Journal. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband and three daughters.