Joe Biden: An American Mitterrand?

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The career of Francois Mitterrand has bemused many biographers. A political chameleon, he was noted for his progress from a functionary of Vichy France and at least a putative recipient of its highest decoration, the Francisque, to a popular front with the Communist Party in the early 1980s, and then halfway back again, with an orthodox monetary and fiscal policy. His was a career of real achievements: the co-option and virtual extinction of the French Communist Party, a generally successful latter-day economic and social policy, maintenance of France’s position in Africa and as an independent nuclear power, important decentralization reforms, and the binding of Germany to Western Europe by his insistence on the euro as the price of French agreement to German reunification.

President Joe Biden, though lacking Mitterrand’s intellectual gifts and abstaining from his successful practice of de facto bigamy, certainly has displayed similar chameleon-like qualities. He was a strong supporter of the drug war, contributing to its draconian penalties for black “crack” dealers and relative leniency to dealers in the more upscale powdered cocaine. He trumpeted his parochial school background, while assisting in the nomination massacre of Judge Robert Bork for failing to acquiesce in fashionable “privacy” doctrine. He agreed to reopening the scandalously run hearings on the Clarence Thomas nomination, while letting it quietly be known that he did not believe Anita Hill.

He ran in the Democratic presidential primaries as a moderate, but swiftly filled his administration’s civil rights agencies with the most extreme persons available, promising to reverse judicial and Trump administration’s protections of the right of cross-examination for accused college students and suddenly emerging as a champion of transgender rights. Once a champion of “law and order,” he has begun populating the federal courts with former public defenders, many of them countercultural folk who are sure to explode as time bombs in the future, to the embarrassment of the Democratic Party. Typical of the species is an Obama judicial appointee, Judge James Bredar of Baltimore, who without allowing the Trump Justice Department to be heard, rushed approval of a police “consent decree” the fruit of which has been an approximate doubling of the homicide rate in Baltimore. This culture-wars “liberalism” is reminiscent of the effort of Mitterrand’s first Prime Minister, Pierre Mauroy, to circumscribe the role of Catholic private schools. Mauroy was compelled to resign after a street demonstration involving a million persons, said to be one of the largest in the history of France.

In the economic realm, the Mitterrand-Mauroy government initially proposed nationalization of the banks and an inflationist economic program. When capital flight and enhanced unemployment ensued, Mitterrand ousted the Communists from his cabinet and found new premiers. Biden’s program unexpectedly proposes drastic expansion of the federal rule in preschool education and day care, college finance, and care of the elderly and a sharp and sudden increase in the capital gains tax almost certain to produce both capital flight and a reduction in the volume of capital transactions.

The volume, in multiple trillions, of new proposals, the COVID-induced increase in the national debt, the aging of the population with its demands on the public purse, and the reluctance of Republicans and some Democrats to increase taxes are likely to produce a crisis of confidence and a further flight of capital, if not abroad, to land, gold, and collectibles, and possible monetary inflation or even hyper-inflation. No one really knows how much public debt is too much public debt. Both the U.S. and the U.K. had postwar debt exceeding gross national product, but both then had powerful Treasury Departments whose commitment to necessary austerities even under left-wing governments was not in doubt. Today’s cocksure economists regard economics as a discipline akin to mathematics, but history and social psychology play unpredictable parts.

The Biden administration appears to be beating a disorderly retreat in some of its fiscal and immigration policies. It will not be aided in doing so by the weakness of its domestic cabinet; like those of Carter, Clinton, and Obama, identity politics played too large a part in its construction. Unlike the proposals of Roosevelt’s cabinet, which included persons of the stature of Ickes, Wallace, Hopkins, Perkins, and Jesse Jones, Biden’s proposals have not been carefully worked out. Nor will Biden be aided by his embarrassing Congressional leaders in both Houses, a condition which he has shown no signs of attempting to remedy. A Senate leader who pickets the Supreme Court and a House leader who urges the 16-year-old vote are not what the nation has been panting for.

Biden’s chief political reliance has been on the weakness of the Republican Party—”don’t murder a man who is committing suicide.” In Trump, he confronted a three-time loser, whose Ukrainian antics lost the House, whose misbehavior at the first debate with its call-out to paramilitary groups lost the presidency, and whose impugning of the integrity of Georgia’s election officials lost the Senate. There are signs that a diminishing number of Republicans still hearken to the sound of the thundering dud. “Enough already!’, once a common refrain in New York’s County of Kings, seems to be penetrating to his native County of Queens also. But there has not been much constructive Republican leadership, save from Senator Scott of South Carolina and the Utah senators, who think in terms of a functioning polity, not of ideological posturing.

A reversal of policy by Biden may have begun, and is still possible. The posturing on social issues may be irrevocable in its alienation of Catholic, Evangelical, and Mormon voters, forfeiting any chance of recreation of the Roosevelt coalition. But a program based on an increased minimum wage, with payroll tax concessions to young workers; a permanent expanded family tax credit, fair to single-earner as well as two-earner families; a serious Roosevelt-like program of youth employment, including a revived Civilian Conservation Corps; and a serious program to assimilate past illegal immigrants while discouraging future ones, through long waiting periods, high Australian-style application fees and serious vetting by local agencies like the Selective Service System, would have wider popular appeal than the Democrats’ present antics. They are not going to preserve or expand their power by packing the Senate and Supreme Court; abolishing the secret ballot, voter identification, and the Electoral College; and subjecting state legislation to federal bureaucratic review—the stuff of their present dreams.

President Biden, one suspects, knows this. He is not as adroit as Mitterrand, and has the difficulty that “personnel is policy.” Short of a thorough housecleaning, there is not much room for hope. The probable outcome, alas, is political deadlock, stagflation, and intensified political and ethnic animosities.

George Liebmann is president of the Library Company of the Baltimore Bar and author of works on law and history, most recently America’s Political Inventors: The Lost Ary of Legislation and Vox Clamantis In Deserto: An Iconoclast Looks At Four Failed Administrations.

The post Joe Biden: An American Mitterrand? appeared first on The American Conservative.



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