If anyone had been asked to describe Joe Biden’s policies in a single word before he took office, few would likely have replied “fearless.” Biden was, after all, known best for carving out deals that generated often moderate solutions and netted incremental progress. Expectations of milquetoastiness were high.
A campaign season in which his primary focus was on healing the divisions between right and left, and seeking bipartisan solutions, certainly didn’t leave the impression that Biden would govern in any way other than seeking consensus, taking the small wins, and trying to sooth the nation’s rising temperature. All of which didn’t sound awful, especially not in comparison to the That Other Guy, but there was a reason why many people told pollsters they were voting against TOG more than they were voting for Biden.
But eight months into his administration, Biden isn’t tiptoeing away from confrontations or putting a finger in the wind before he takes action. In the last month, President Biden has ended a 20-year war, pushed a plan to move 45% of the energy grid to solar, and demonstrated that he will use every aspect of presidential power—Fox News, right-wing radio, and the feckless media be damned—in order to drag the pandemic to a close.
Three weeks ago, Biden delivered a forceful speech on the final stages of the Afghanistan War. In that speech, Biden showed that he would not be cowed by media shouting the word “chaos” or analysts dragging out popularity polls. Throughout the speech, Biden held fast to his decisions, did not shy away from taking the blame for the outcome, and made it clear that he was not going to take any of the suggestions from the right, all of which boiled down to restarting the war. “I refuse to send another generation of America’s sons and daughters to fight a war that should have ended long ago,” said Biden. And he didn’t.
Following that action, Biden might genuinely have been expected to spend some time focused on edging up his support in the polls. Maybe going on the road a bit to explain how all those policies that people seem to like had come out of the White House they weren’t prepared to credit. It might have seemed like the best time to get on a train, smile at a few factory workers, remind everyone that good old Uncle Joe is actually rebuilding the economy at a record pace. All those things might seem even more necessary considering that Biden is pushing forward a reconciliation bill that contains a stack of items critical to his agenda.
On Thursday afternoon, Biden gave a big middle finger to any thought that he was about to step back and let the nation chill. In a speech directed squarely at the people who are keeping the nation pinned down by lingering illness and unnecessary deaths, Biden made it clear that "We're going to protect vaccinated coworkers from unvaccinated coworkers,” before explaining how the administration would use the power of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to require vaccination at all companies employing over 100 workers.
Rather than hold out an olive branch to Republican politicians who are endangering the lives of local citizens, Biden came straight through them. He defended local school officials who were trying to protect children through masks and vaccines, called out attempts to take money from schools and officials who did the right thing, and promised that the federal government has their backs.
Defcon 1 level of response from Fox News and Republicans at both state and federal levels shows just how shocked they were by a Biden that came out not just swinging, but ready to shove them all aside. And responses like that from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott are left not just looking powerless, but pitiful in their hypocrisy. This is, after all, the man who just signed an order saying that businesses are not allowed to require vaccination, claiming that it’s a “power grab” to say that businesses must require vaccination.
Republicans have spent the last year eroding the authority of school boards, city, and county officials by passing laws that strip away their authority to deal with emergencies and protect both children and adults. Biden just took that ball away from them and threw it far downfield.
What President Joe Biden has demonstrated in both the war in Afghanistan and in the ongoing fight against COVID-19 is that when push comes to shove, he’s willing to shove harder than any Democratic president in 50 years. He’s stood firm in the face of political opposition, and moved forward with surprising vigor and inventiveness. It’s clear that ending the war in Afghanistan mattered to Biden, and he ended it. It’s clear that fighting the pandemic matters to Biden, and he’s fighting. It also seems that Biden is equally serious about battling the climate crisis, and the plans he’s pushing there are—finally—at a level that approaches dealing with something that’s truly an existential challenge. When something matters enough to President Biden, he takes action that is astoundingly bold and refreshingly clear of concern about the political consequences.
Now if he would only feel that way about the filibuster, the Supreme Court, and protecting the rights of women.