It’s not too early to think about legacy, and Joe Biden is doing so. The Biden administration took office faced with some of the biggest challenges a new president has ever had to grapple with — from the massive economic downturn, to the out-of-control coronavirus, to the climate crisis, to a nationwide racial justice reckoning, to a large swath of Americans believing Donald Trump’s big lie and questioning whether Biden won the election, which has sparked a crisis in our democracy.
This inheritance is an enormous challenge, but also a burgeoning opportunity. There is no question that reform comes from crisis, and seizing on catastrophe to mobilize the full resources of a nation is what great, transformative presidents have done throughout history. Mobilizing a country to build infrastructure, recreate trust in government, and meet the moment is what builds a lasting legacy.
And it’s no wonder that pundits have already begun to compare President Biden to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Lyndon Baines Johnson. FDR walked into a banking crisis and the Great Depression, LBJ walked into a nation reeling from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and a civil rights inflection point — both seized on their respective moments to build big.
As the first 100 days of the Biden administration recede in the rear-view mirror, we see a president who has surpassed self-imposed benchmarks for vaccinating Americans, who has signed into law an essential relief bill in the American Rescue Plan, who has laid out specifics for both infrastructure and helping regular Americans in his American Jobs and American Families plans, and one who understands the necessity of passing critical democracy reforms.
As we compare this set of accomplishments to other historic presidential achievements, the common thread is the sense of urgency: the idea that from crisis comes opportunity, which must be seized before it dissipates. There is a recognition that this is no time to be cautious, and instead the time to use quick successes to build belief in government and, by so doing, make still greater leaps on policy.
Whether or not Biden earns his slot in the history books with LBJ and FDR may depend upon his next moves, and whether he can keep the momentum going. His administration and the evenly split Congress face tough challenges around the passage of his next two economic and recovery plans as well as the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to fix our democracy. These are two areas where, for the good of the nation, Biden simply cannot fail and must continue to build his legacy in the mold of previous great leaders.
His ambition is certainly meeting the moment, and the public is calling out for the reforms he has outlined: from more child assistance, to education investments, to physical infrastructure improvements, to green jobs, to fixing our democracy — including by protecting voting rights, getting money out of politics and strengthening ethics.
If passed, the American Jobs Plan and the American Families Plan would be massive investments in our nation’s future. The American Jobs Plan would create millions of jobs and rebuild our country’s infrastructure and workforce. The American Families Plan would be a down payment on our children and families — helping regular Americans cover the basic expenses that so many struggle with, and doubling down on the American Rescue Plan’s investment in reducing in child poverty.
To go with these investment plans, the president also is proposing a new tax plan to make sure corporations pay their fair share in taxes. A recent study found that 91 Fortune 500 companies paid $0 in federal taxes on U.S. income in 2018. This is simply unacceptable; profitable corporations should not be able to avoid paying taxes by shifting jobs and profits overseas.
As the nation considers these essential investments and changes, we also need to deal with the plague of voter suppression laws sweeping the country, and the generalized lack of trust in our political system. A core part of Biden’s legacy will result from how he deals with this democracy inflection point. The For the People Act is historic legislation that would make it easier to vote in federal elections, end congressional gerrymandering, overhaul federal campaign finance laws, increase safeguards against foreign interference, strengthen government ethics rules, and more. It must be passed and signed into law.
Winning these reforms will ensure Biden’s legacy of building back better, and will solidify his place in history alongside FDR and LBJ as a transformative changemaker. Failure is simply not an option.
Lisa Gilbert is executive vice president of Public Citizen. She wrote this for InsideSources.com.
This article originally appeared on The Record: POINT-COUNTERPOINT: Biden’s opportunity for greatness — fixing our democracy and investing in the people