One of the most intriguing charges being hurled at President Biden after his big speech to Congress is that of plagiarism.
Not the literal kind – stealing someone else’s words – that ended his first presidential campaign back in 1987. We’re talking here about theft of political ideas.
The president can actually lay a legitimate claim to rhetoric aimed squarely at the working class, given that he’s Scranton Joe, graduate of a state school and the guy who regularly rode Amtrak back to Delaware.
So while some conservatives believe Biden is hijacking the MAGA agenda, the reality – and this is hard for some pundits to grasp – is that there’s a convergence between right and left on some of these issues.
Democrats were the party of the working class for decades, then Donald Trump lured some of those voters by breaking with Republican fiscal austerity. Now Biden wants to win them back.
When I asked Kellyanne Conway on “Media Buzz” whether it was a win for her side that Biden is trying to co-opt some of the Trump agenda, she said “definitely” – and pivoted to how his speechwriters must recognize that his administration’s liberal policies aren’t selling.
It vividly reminds me of how Bill Clinton worked with Newt Gingrich to try to neutralize some of the GOP’s sharper assaults, most notably by compromising on stricter welfare reform. The press dubbed it triangulation, fitting for a candidate who ran in 1992 against the brain-dead policies of both parties. Clinton’s image as a more moderate Democrat helped fuel his easy reelection victory.
For Biden, a strong supporter of unions, “this was an America First speech,” Andrew Sullivan writes on his Substack. “It was about building infrastructure, protecting entitlements, buying American, re-shoring industry, cutting drug prices, bringing the supply chain back to the homeland, and a high-tech industrial policy to compete more aggressively with the Chinese.”
On the other side, I remember interviewing Trump during the 2016 campaign and being struck by how strongly he defended Medicare and Social Security. Keep in mind that Republican orthodoxy for years under the likes of Paul Ryan had been to slash federal spending and rein in the two big entitlement programs.
Trump didn’t particularly care about shrinking the federal government (as was evident during his presidency), but he was up front about it. As he instinctively knew, the broad middle class believes there are plenty of programs for the poor and that the rich will always do well (Trump helped with his tilted tax cut). So he ran as a protector of the two programs that middle-class folks view as theirs (because they pay into it) and as a hedge against an impoverished retirement.
“Trump may try to reclaim his own party’s nomination – by reprising his 2016 campaign’s rejection of Tea Party austerity and attacking potential rivals (which means, primarily, Ron DeSantis) as libertarian dogmatists who don’t care about the middle class,” writes Ross Douthat in his New York Times column. So “the non-Trump GOP can expect to spend the looming presidential race facing similar attacks from the Biden White House and the Trump campaign.”
No wonder Biden, with his “blue-collar blueprint,” is running as the savior of Social Security and Medicare, helped by Florida Sen. Rick Scott’s proposal to sunset all federal programs every five years. Even Mitch McConnell is scrambling to say that’s the Scott plan, not the Republican plan. And Biden’s “Buy America” stance helps distract from the woke rhetoric and left-wing policies showcased by his administration.
Of course, Democrats have been arguing for decades that the other party wants to push Granny off a cliff when it comes to the two gargantuan programs. But it will be harder for Biden to make that case against Trump, given his track record.
It’s difficult for some prognosticators to understand how millions of people could have voted for Barack Obama and then Trump. Aren’t they polar opposites? The fact is that working Americans, who have felt ignored and unseen, will support anyone who they believe will give them a fair shake.
The bitter truth, as everyone in Washington knows, is that both parties will eventually have to take painful steps to shore up Medicare and Social Security or the programs will go bankrupt. But for now, both Biden and Trump regard them as politically untouchable, and maybe that’s why they’re starting to sound alike.