(Jan. 22) President Biden is beginning his presidency as if he learned no lessons from Bill Clinton or Barack Obama.

Like Presidents Clinton and Obama before him, Biden’s substantive actions already are pushing well leftward politically rather than seeking centrist common ground. Both Clinton and Obama were punished for their early focus on decidedly liberal initiatives by seeing their parties suffer immense losses in their first subsequent midterm elections. Biden risks the same.

Among Clinton’s big, early-administration, liberal sins were the enactment of a tax hike and his decision to push his wife’s hideously complicated healthcare monstrosity (rather than, for instance, focus on welfare reform). For Obama, again, it was healthcare, enacted by improper legislative jujitsu, along with a host of leftist administrative actions, including a refusal to enforce civil rights laws against violent black perpetrators. Both men’s leftward lurches catalyzed energetic, grassroots-conservative backlashes that hobbled Democrats in Congress for the remainder of their presidencies.

Now, it’s Biden’s turn. He could be uniting nationalists and environmentalists by making a big deal of pressuring China to reduce its carbon emissions. He could convene Republicans, Democrats, and constitutional scholars to reform the judicial selection process to become less of a blood sport and, for real wonks, to examine ways to reform but not eliminate the filibuster. The key to both would be to stress bipartisan buy-in.

He could appoint a commission to help reform the bureaucratic state in ways that make it more navigable by ordinary citizens, perhaps along the lines suggested by Philip K. Howard in The Death of Common Sense. He could announce an initiative expressly to make the IRS less of a nightmare for taxpayers seeking relief or even just explanations.

He could offer challenge grants to states that prove success in improving their substance abuse rehabilitation and mental health treatment programs, not measured by the size of government or spending but by real-world results….

[The full column is here.]



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