On Biden’s Agenda, Democrats Have a Warning From History
Democrats on Capitol Hill may not be directly taking their cues from the legendary Carthaginian military leader Hannibal, but as moderates and progressives fell on each other last week over President Joe Biden’s watered-down domestic spending plan, it sure felt that way.
A bit of history: On a fine August day in 216 B.C., hours after he’d completely obliterated the Roman legions sent against him at the Battle of Cannae, Hannibal made a fateful decision.
Rather than march on Rome and bring a still-emerging global power to its knees, Hannibal took a pass, deciding instead to wage a war of harassment that ended with his comprehensive defeat on his home turf at the Battle of Zama 14 years later.
When he learned about his leader’s decision not to march on Rome, one of Hannibal’s closest aides, Maharbal, turned to his boss and said, “So, the gods have not blessed one man with every gift. You know how to win a victory, Hannibal, but now how to use it.”
Enter congressional Democrats, who appear to have forgotten that voters sent them to Washington last November with a mandate to get big things done.
And after a relatively decent start, where they got stimulus checks into Americans’ mailboxes and COVID-19 shots into their arms, Democrats are at risk of sabotaging a plan that, while far from perfect, would still amount to a dramatic reimagining of the social safety net. The cost of failure is control of Congress. Nothing more, nothing less.
And it’s important to remember here that Democrats are confronted with a GOP every bit as feckless as the clueless Roman commanders who went up against Hannibal more than two millennia ago.
This is the same GOP still in slavish thrall to a twice-impeached president. A party whose members still deny Biden’s victory, and bend the knee to white nationalists. A party that seemed perfectly content to drive the nation into the economic ditch by not raising the debt ceiling, and may yet do it again when the temporary extension expires in December.
All Democrats have to do is come together, pass Biden’s budget bill, and then set about the relatively simple work of explaining to voters how they will benefit from the party’s domestic agenda. That and remind folks that the current GOP poses an existential threat to American democracy.
But at the start of the week, progressives on Capitol Hill are still pressing for more progress on the $1.75 trillion reconciliation bill before a vote on the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill, putting the White House’s agenda at risk.