Mises Wire

Joe Biden and the “Transformational” Presidency

Much is made of the failure of Republicans to make predicted gains in the recent midterm elections, but, as Ryan McMaken has pointed out, Congress plays a much-diminished role in national governance to the point that even had the so-called red wave actually occurred, it is doubtful that much would have changed regarding Joe Biden’s presidency. In fact, most of what Biden has done in his two years in office has been outside of congressional legislative matters.

McMaken points out:

This all combines to mean we should expect very little change on policies at the federal level. For example, we can expect to keep hearing plenty about the evil of fossil fuels. The administration will continue to press for less drilling for oil and gas, and the war on coal will continue. The administration will continue to issue new edicts for “fighting global warming.” 

As McMaken notes, Biden has used executive orders liberally, sometimes using a twisted interpretation of federal law, and then unleashing his regulatory and law enforcement agencies to get his desired results. For example, federal banking regulators and the Securities and Exchange Commission have pressured banks and other lenders not to led to the oil and gas industry, citing the fealty to fighting climate change as the reason.

Note that the administration is doing this not via congressional authorization, but rather through its own self-serving “interpretation” of existing federal law. Likewise, Biden’s infamous student loan forgiveness order was not through such relief passed by Congress, but rather using a 2003 federal law that permits the US secretary of education to employ “expansive authority to alleviate the hardship that federal student loan recipients may suffer as a result of national emergencies.” What constitutes a “national emergency” must be in the eyes of the beholder, as any reason will do—and, so far, the courts have signed off on this vast expansion of executive power. This is reminiscent of Franklin Roosevelt’s perverse interpretation of the 1917 Trading with the Enemy Act to undergird his gold seizure from Americans and devaluate the dollar.

(Biden has not been the only recent president to liberally employ executive orders for questionable reasons. Donald Trump used existing law to raise tariffs against Chinese products, claiming that his actions meant that the Chinese were now helping to pay for their exports to the USA. Once upon a time—before turning over some of its authority to the executive branch—Congress had sole authority to set tax rates.)

Biden’s reckless actions have come in part because progressives in the 1930s convinced Congress to give away much of its authority to the executive branch, the action well described by Paul Craig Roberts and Lawrence Stratton in their book, The Tyranny of Good Intentions. The authors described a scene in which Congress was passing bills not even yet written and acceding their authority to the president as a response to the economic calamity of the early 1930s.

The New Deal, which was Franklin Roosevelt’s set of policies ostensibly to combat the Great Depression (although one easily can argue that the New Deal was the main reason the depression lasted for a decade), made FDR a “transformational” president, a title that Biden actively is seeking for himself. Encouraged by historical writers such as Jon Meacham and Doris Kearns Goodwin, Biden wants to become an icon like Roosevelt, although the “hook” today is not economic depression (yet) but rather the so-called climate emergency.

Unfortunately, becoming a presidential icon requires that the executive branch impose severe economic damage to the country. Roosevelt’s New Deal, far from pulling the USA out of the Great Depression, left it mired it in what economist Robert Higgs called “regime uncertainty,” which resulted in high unemployment and a dearth of capital investment. Biden’s version of the so-called Green New Deal points the economy in the same direction. Writes Thomas Woods:

In the old days, progressives claimed to be trying to improve the standard of living of the ordinary person. Everything they advocated would have had the opposite effect, but at least they claimed to be making his life better.

Now they’re not even claiming that.

You will be poorer, they’re telling you. Your electricity bills will be higher. The price of your car will be higher. And according to them, higher prices are in fact a good thing, because they’re supposedly a sign of a strong economy.

His claims notwithstanding, Biden’s objective to have a “transformational” presidency is to make Americans worse off now in exchange for the remote possibility that the Green New Deal will allow for future generations to have better weather. Biden’s grandiose view of himself and his policies are egged on in part by Meacham’s flattery:

He has been described as Joe Biden’s “historical muse”, an occasional informal adviser to the US president and contributor to some of his major speeches including the inaugural address.

In March, Jon Meacham put together a meeting between Biden and a group of fellow historians at the White House that lasted more than two hours. What did he learn about the 46th president?

“He’s like an upside down iceberg,” the Pulitzer prize-winning historian says by phone. “You see most of it and that’s not spin: there’s just not a lot of mystery to Joe Biden. The last four or five minutes of his press conference in the East Room [on 25 March] when he talked about democracy and autocracy, that was pretty much it.”

As the average American family struggles to keep up with inflation and the Biden administration deliberately makes it more difficult for them to live a semblance of normal lives, historians such as Meacham are telling Biden to expand his reach and his authority in fundamentally changing how Americans live. Indeed, in Biden’s first two years, he has brought about fundamental change to American life, but that change has been harmful.

Robert Higgs in his article “No More Great Presidents” lays out the modern historians’ standard for “greatness”:

The lesson seems obvious. Any president who craves a high place in the annals of history should hasten to thrust the American people into an orgy of death and destruction. It does not matter how ill-conceived the war may be. 

So far, Biden has not launched the USA into a foreign war, although he has almost single-handedly financed (with US tax dollars, of course) the proxy war between Ukraine and Russia, using the Russian invasion as his justification for doing everything he can to prolong the fighting. However, by shackling the energy industries, blaming businesses for the inflation his government created, and doing whatever he can to make daily life difficult for ordinary people, one can say that Biden is at war with people who have no means by which to fight back.

Even had the red wave passed over the electorate this past week, it would have changed the Biden presidency very little, if at all. That is how powerful the executive branch under Biden has become. And Biden will continue to listen to the “historians” who fawn over his every word and tell him that he, too, can be a “great” president.

Image Source: Flickr | Gage Skidmore
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