Democratic President Joe Biden, now 80, has long considered himself a centrist, taking pride in his ability to make bipartisan deals with Sen. John McCain of Arizona, Sen. Bob Dole of Kansas, President Ronald Reagan and other conservative Republicans during his decades in the U.S. Senate. Biden has always supported elements of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal and President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society, but there were times, over the years, when he frustrated the liberal/progressive wing of his party.
During his 2023 State of the Union speech on Tuesday night, February 7, Biden railed against far-right MAGA Republicans who would like to abolish Social Security (a New Deal program) and Medicare (a Great Society program). Biden was careful, however, to emphasize that he wasn’t talking about all Republicans or all conservatives.
In a think piece published by The Nation on February 14, journalist John Nichols lays out some of the ways in which Biden has been sounding very FDR-ish lately.
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Nichols points out that Biden “most emphatically” rejects being called a “socialist” and identifies as a “capitalist.” But in an FDR-like fashion, Nichols observes, Biden is making some of the points that FDR made in the 1930s during the Great Depression.
“Biden has begun to deliver a critique of capitalism that, while hardly radical, recognizes many of the complaints made by the system’s critics,” Nichols observes. “That was clear in the 2023 State of the Union address, which saw the president spell out concerns about the excesses of capitalism in the sort of detail rarely heard from an American president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt occupied the Oval Office.”
According to Nichols, Biden sounded a lot like FDR when he warned, “Look, capitalism without competition is not capitalism. It’s extortion. It’s exploitation.”
FDR was most definitely a liberal, but he was not anti-capitalist. Rather, he viewed his New Deal as an effort to save capitalism, which is also how liberal Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) views her economic agenda. Warren has described herself as “a capitalist to my bones,” arguing that Wall Street’s excesses are harming a system she supports. Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, in contrast, actually identifies as a “democratic socialist,” although he firmly rejects outright communism and looks to Sweden and Norway — not Cuba or North Korea — as economic role models.
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Nichols writes, “Most socialists would argue that capitalism, even in its most benign form, is fundamentally about exploitation. But Biden’s line of reasoning echoes that of FDR, who used his bully pulpit to identify his presidency as a reckoning with the forces of reckless banking, speculation, and monopoly — going so far as (to) declare in a 1936 campaign address, ‘They are unanimous in their hate for me — and I welcome their hatred.'”
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