Joe Biden will be a Republican president
Past performance is no guarantee of future returns, but there are few more reliable ways to predict what comes next than to examine the historical record, because, most of the time, history really does repeat itself.
What kind of president would Joe Biden be? His centrist supporters assure progressives that he will be one of them, pushing an aggressive legislative agenda reminiscent of FDR's New Deal. His Republican opponents portray him as a socialist. But Biden hasn't actually promised anything ambitious.
The last two Democratic presidencies provide a good indication of what a Biden administration would look like. Like Biden, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama hail from the centrist party establishment. If personnel is policy, the three men hang out with many of the same advisors, businesspeople and elected officials. They're not identical: Clinton is a charismatic retail politician; Obama is aloof and professorial; and Biden is an Lyndon Johnson-style buttonholer minus Johnson's secret idealism. But they're ideologically and temperamentally similar to a remarkable extent.
I remembered Clinton and Obama as deeply disappointing to voters with traditional liberal Democratic values. I remembered that most of their major legislative accomplishments would not have been out of place under a Republican administration.
When I checked the historical record recently, however, it was even worse than I remembered.
Clinton used his political capital to push through free trade deals like NAFTA and the World Trade Organization, which killed manufacturing jobs and drove the final nails into the coffin of big labor. He "ended welfare as we know it," making it even more difficult for people who lost their jobs to get back on their feet and adding the chronically poor to the ranks of the homeless. Clinton signed Joe Biden's now-infamous 1994 crime bill into law, codifying a racist judicial system that disproportionately punishes black men for relatively minor offenses.
Clinton repealed the 1930s-era Glass-Steagall Act, banking deregulation set the stage for banks to wallow in the reckless predatory lending practices that tanked the global economy in 2008-09.
His most impressive achievement was balancing the federal budget and paying off the deficit, but he didn't do it by raising taxes on the rich. He imposed austerity on social programs -- just like a Republican would do.
I searched hard for Clintonian achievements that could credibly be called liberal or at least left of center, but aside from a few minor regulations here and there, there aren't any. "So we liberals and radicals searched the Clinton administration for vast new programs to applaud. But nothing loomed into view," Paul Berman wrote in The New Republic at the end of Clinton's presidency in 2000. Clinton was a moderate Republican president.
In some ways -- especially foreign policy -- Obama was even worse. Clinton bombed with the bloody relentlessness of a Reagan or a Bush: Bosnia, Sudan, Afghanistan and, forgotten now, Iraq so much and so often that pilots dumped their bombs in the desert to cover for the fact that they were running out of fresh targets. His sanctions stopped everything, including medical supplies, from entering Afghanistan. But he had nothing on Obama.