A President Making History?
As soporific his campaign was, so much could Joe Biden, if he enters the White House, profoundly transform the United States. As the Democratic Convention opens, there is something new about Joe Biden’s candidacy. Never in modern American history has a candidate had the opportunity to both enter the White House with such an unimpressive campaign and make major changes once in office.
A nomination won by default
Let’s put it bluntly: Joe Biden could win the November 3 general election much like he won his party’s nomination, largely by default. After suffering resounding defeats in the first states to hold primaries – including a fifth-place finish in New Hampshire, historically crucial as it usually leads to a tightening of the candidate pool – Biden saw the entire Democratic establishment rally in extremis to his cause, out of desperation, in order to prevent a takeover of the party by the populist candidate Bernie Sanders.
A historic presidency?
Does this mean that a Biden presidency would be as irrelevant as his campaign? On the contrary: if he were to win, Biden could transform the country in a significant way. First, he would risk arriving with his party at the helm of Congress, the latter also appearing ready to modify some major parliamentary rules in order to give himself even more elbow room to govern. Even crossing his arms and letting the next Congress legislate, contenting himself with signing the bills once they are sent to his office, Biden could have a historic impact on several fronts, including:
legalizing the situation, or even granting American citizenship to the estimated dozen million illegal immigrants in the United States, has been a cherished dream of the American left since the 1970s when Biden was debuting his career in the Senate. As president, he would have a real chance of making this dream come true.
In the Obama-Biden tandem’s first year in the White House, in 2009, the Democratic-majority House of Representatives adopted an ambitious carbon trading plan, which was subsequently buried in the Senate. With the Democratic Party having since taken an even sharper green turn, and Biden himself calling climate change a top global emergency, the pressure to adopt meaningful binding measures will be enormous
during the heated debate over “Obamacare” – the vast program of reform of the health care system in the United States – the left-wing of the Democratic Party called for the adoption of a “public option”: medical coverage provided and administered by the federal government and competing with private insurance companies. The program was torpedoed at the time because it was deemed to go too far. Biden has made this the core of his health promises. And if this “public option” were to become a reality, it could confirm the fears of its critics: to weaken more and more the private sector in the American health system and to open even more the door to a takeover of the federal state.
Barack Obama called the December 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut the worst moment of his presidency. And his inability to convince Congress in the aftermath of the shooting to adopt any significant gun-tightening measure is one of his biggest grievances. Its former vice-president could complete the work started then: the Democratic Party, even more, urban and more to the left than it was just a few years ago, is showing itself more and more inclined to rub shoulders with the gun lobby. This is particularly true in a context where the National Rifle Association (NRA), the powerful arms lobby, has been struggling particularly in recent years (especially with the lawsuit filed in early August in the Supreme Court of the State of New York by the prosecutor. General of that state, who accuses the NRA and its president of mismanaging the organization’s funds and violating federal laws and those of several American states).
Then, while the Supreme Court was a big issue in the 2016 race – and in Trump’s victory – few seem to care about Biden’s potential to leave his mark there in turn. Two judges – Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, both appointed in President Clinton’s first term – will be 87 and 82, respectively, when they are sworn in next January. Biden could easily solidify the left-wing of the court when replacing them. Then all eyes should be on Clarence Thomas, a 72-year-old President Bush (Sr.) appointed judge who is part of the Court’s conservative majority. If Biden were to be called upon to replace him, it would be a tectonic shift that would be seen in the Supreme Court, where the Left Wing would truly take power for the first time in decades.
The foreign policy generally remains more difficult to anticipate. If only because it is dependent on various geopolitical developments, which sometimes (often) occur against the will of the United States. Beyond the particular experience, Biden has in this area – he who long chaired the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs – and the more “traditional” style of American diplomacy that a Biden administration would bring, very clever is one that can predict what the world will be like in four years.
Still, in the United States, Biden’s impact could be significant – and lasting. His campaign may not be marking people’s minds right now, but his presidency has the potential to mark generations.