Letters From an American

Biden: “America is back”

White House initiatives are up in the polls.

Biden: “America is back”

Map of United States of America (Getty Images)

February 19, 2021

Speaking virtually today to the Munich Security Conference, the world’s largest gathering to discuss international security policy, President Biden promised that “America is back.” He assured the world that the U.S. will work with our European partners. We are, he said, committed to NATO, which the previous president tried to undermine, and we will honor Article 5 of that compact, which says that an attack on any one NATO ally will be considered an attack on all of them. He noted that the only time this article has ever been invoked was after the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

Biden noted that “the past few years have strained and tested our transatlantic relationship, but the United States is determined… to reengage with Europe, to consult with you, to earn back our position of trusted leadership.” He said we must work together to address the coronavirus pandemic, the global economic crisis, and the climate crisis.

Then he cut to the core of what is at stake.

Democracy is under assault around the world, he said. “We are in the midst of a fundamental debate about the future and direction of our world. We’re at an inflection point between those who argue that, given all the challenges we face — from the fourth industrial revolution to a global pandemic — that autocracy is the best way forward, they argue, and those who understand that democracy is essential — essential to meeting those challenges.”

“… [D]emocracy will and must prevail. We must demonstrate that democracies can still deliver for our people in this changed world. That, in my view, is our galvanizing mission.”

It shows. Democrats are setting out to demonstrate that democracy works. While Republicans have become the party of obstruction, starving the government while turning the nation over to business leaders in the belief that the market will most effectively order society, Biden is advancing government policies that are hugely popular among Democrats and Republicans both. Timothy Egan of the New York Times today compared Biden to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who oversaw the creation of a government that regulated business, provided a basic social safety net, and promoted infrastructure.

More than 72% percent of Americans like Biden’s American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package. Sixty-one percent want a $15 federal minimum wage, which is currently in the American Rescue Plan. Sixty-three percent want the U.S. to be in the Paris climate agreement (which we officially rejoined today), and 83% want undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, the so-called Dreamers, to have a path to citizenship. Biden promised 100 million vaccines in his first 100 days; we should actually hit that goal by late March— a month early– even if the pace stays where it is.

Biden is making a clear contrast between his approach and that of his predecessor. Speaking at a Pfizer vaccine plant in Michigan today, he said: “”My predecessor — as my mother would say, God love him — failed to order enough vaccines, failed to mobilize the effort to administer the shots, failed to set up vaccine centers. That changed the moment we took office.”

Sixty-one percent of Americans say they are optimistic about the next four years.

Not just Biden, but other Democrats are also working to show that our government can reflect the community values of our people. Yesterday, when Texas Senator Ted Cruz (R) was being roasted for taking his family on a vacation to Cancun when his constituents were suffering without heat, power, and supplies, former Representative Beto O’Rourke (D), who ran against Cruz in 2018 and lost, was running a phone bank to connect hundreds of thousands of older Texans with services.

New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democrat who is often demonized by Republicans, also worked to demonstrate unity and government working for the people: she launched a fundraiser on social media and raised $2 million for the red state of Texas.

In contrast to Democrats and Independents, who are optimistic about the future, 65% of Republicans say they are pessimistic about it, and they seem determined to stop Biden in his tracks. They seem to be planning on regaining power by stopping people from voting, thus abandoning democracy altogether.

Republican state legislatures across the country are using the former president’s big lie to insist that they must change voting laws to stop voter fraud. The idea behind the attack on the Capitol on January 6 was that Democrats had stolen the election from the Republican incumbent. This was a lie, disproven in courts, recounts, and state legislatures, but it is now the excuse for suppressing the popular vote. This week, the Republican State Leadership Committee announced it was creating a commission to examine election laws “to restore the American people’s confidence in the integrity of their free and fair elections” by “making it easier to vote and harder to cheat.”

Republican state lawmakers are attacking the expanded access to voting put in place in 2020, especially mail-in voting. Although there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud in 2020, and repeated studies have shown voter fraud is vanishingly rare, 33 states are considering more than 165 bills to restrict voting, more than four times the number from last year. These bills are intended to stop mail-in voting, increase voter ID requirements, make it harder to register to vote, and expand purges of voter rolls.

But, even as Republicans are trying to curtail voting, Democrats are trying to expand it. Lawmakers in 37 states have introduced 541 bills to expand mail-in voting, expand early voting, promote voter registration, and restore the right to vote for those who have lost it. At the national level, the first measure Democrats introduced into Congress this year was the “For the People Act,” which embraces the policies in the state bills and also reforms campaign financing, requires candidates to disclose the previous ten years of their tax returns, and ends gerrymandering.

The current struggle over our government and our democracy is in the news in another way today, too. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia announced that a grand jury had indicted six more people for “conspiring to obstruct the United States Congress’s certification of the result of the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election, among other charges.” They join three others already charged for trying to “corruptly obstruct, influence, or impede an official proceeding.”

In his speech, Biden emphasized not just the importance of democracy, but also how much work it is to keep it. “Democracy doesn’t happen by accident,” he said. “We have to defend it, fight for it, strengthen it, renew it. We have to prove that our model isn’t a relic of our history; it’s the single best way to revitalize the promise of our future.”

He did indeed sound like FDR when he concluded: “if we work together with our democratic partners, with strength and confidence, I know that we’ll meet every challenge and outpace every challenger.”

We are pleased to be presenting daily posts from Heather Cox Richardson’s “Letters From an American” email newsletter. You can sign up to receive it in your inbox here.

Heather Cox Richardson

Heather Cox Richardson teaches American history at Boston College. She is the author of a number of books, most recently, How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America. She writes the popular nightly newsletter Letters from an American. Follow her on Twitter: @HC_Richardson.