Joe Biden is old. Like each of us, he comes from a particular place in history, in his case the LBJ years. And that’s one of the main reasons why his first term has been so full of accomplishments: his age, often cited as the biggest obstacle to his re-election, is actually his superpower.
It was never really a question that Third Act, the progressive organizing group for people over 60 that I helped found, would end up supporting President Biden’s re-election. We are campaigning to protect our climate and our democracy, and so the chances of us supporting Donald Trump – who pulled us out of the Paris climate accords and helped organize the January 6 insurrection – were zero. (Nikki Haley, another unauthorized person, vigorously supported Trump’s withdrawal from Paris.)
Biden, on the other hand, is a scrupulous, scrupulous Democrat. His climate record isn’t perfect, but he’s helped jump-start renewable energy development, and last month he showed real courage by standing up to big oil and suspending new permits. export of LNG (liquefied natural gas).
Yet individual policy decisions do not explain why members of my organization are drawn to Biden. It’s not that we reflexively like older politicians; we take seriously the need to pass the torch to a new generation. But we also don’t mindlessly fire someone just because they can collect Social Security. Sure, you physically lose a step as you get older, but the presidency doesn’t require carrying couches up and down the stairs of the White House. And science is increasingly finding that aging brains make more connections, perhaps because they have more history to work with.
It’s the details of this story that really draw us in.
In the first presidential election in which Joe Biden was eligible to vote, Lyndon Johnson defeated Barry Goldwater. History remembers LBJ’s presidency as chaotic because of his tragic adventure in Vietnam, but in other ways it was remarkable. His Great Society echoed Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal (FDR was Biden’s childhood president). Under Johnson, the federal government took ambitious steps to advance civil rights, fight poverty, fight disease, beautify human landscapes and conserve wild landscapes, and advance science – these were the years of the program Apollo spacecraft. Not all of the projects worked, but many did: Medicare, Medicaid, and food stamps, for example.
Biden was therefore socialized into an era when government took on big causes, and this is reflected in his first-term commitment to rebuilding infrastructure on a large scale, spurring a new sustainable energy economy with trillions of dollars for solar panels and battery factories. , dramatically increasing the number of people receiving health care and advocating for gun control, voting rights and reproductive rights.
This propensity to think big is different from that of his immediate predecessors.
Barack Obama first voted in the 1980 Carter-Reagan election, a landslide victory for Reagan that repudiated any active role for Washington in domestic politics, replacing it with the idea that government was the problem and that the free market solves all problems. Reagan’s triumph was so complete that it changed the boundaries of our political life for a long time: when Obama was asked, at the end of his term, why even with 60 Democratic senators at his inauguration, his achievements policies – with the exception of Obamacare – had been relatively modest, he cited a “residual willingness to accept the policy constraints we inherited from the post-Reagan era.” … It is likely that market solutions were adopted to solve a multitude of problems, but this was not entirely justified.”
Biden simply doesn’t have this residual Reaganism; its political composition was formed before the Reagan revolution. He observed a booming economy during the Johnson years, which narrowed the gap between poor and rich. Reagan’s economic boom benefited the rich. Today, Biden is back in LBJ mode and the gap has started to close again – for the first time in decades.
What are Trump’s political influences? Which presidency could be its model? He was able to vote for the first time in 1968 between Hubert Humphrey and Richard Nixon. He didn’t inherit any of Nixon’s few qualities (he founded the Environmental Protection Agency, for example). Trump especially seems to have adopted Nixon’s sense of endless victimhood, not to mention his willingness to break the law for his own benefit.
Commitment to the principles of the New Deal and the Great Society – to the idea of America as a group project, not a series of isolated, individual efforts at personal advancement – is what we have desperately needed. Handing over all important decisions to “the market” has left us on a planet with melting poles and caricatured levels of inequality.
Johnson, of course, was not re-elected; with the Vietnam War raging, he didn’t even run. Biden seems to have remembered this too, with his blunt decision to finally get us out of Afghanistan. Now, Gaza might just be the kind of inhumane quagmire that could bring him down again.
That would be a shame, because in four more years, Biden may well be able to restore confidence in an America that has turned on itself so destructively.
Age matters. My cohort agrees. Why did Biden believe he could do what he did in his first term? Because he had seen it come true. Let us hope that the politicians of the future will closely follow his successes.
Bill McKibben is Schumann Distinguished Fellow in Environmental Policy at Middlebury College and founder of Third Act.
Note: The content and images used in this article is rewritten and sourced from www.latimes.com