Have you heard any chatter in the news lately about President Biden’s Build Back Better plan?
How about any of the legislative efforts to protect voting rights against the flood of voter suppression laws Republicans are passing across the nation?
And when is the last time you’ve seen Senators Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema taking any heat or facing media scrutiny for joining Republican Senators to prevent the passage of the Build Back Better plan and legislation to protect people’s right to vote?
The news cycle seems to have turned to other serious matters, such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The issues of protecting economic, social, and political democracy in America and of ensuring Americans can access the vast national wealth they’ve helped produce to ensure they can take care of themselves and their families in the most basic ways, though, still must remain top priorities that need to be occupying the forefront of the nation’s collective political consciousness.
American democracy still hangs in the balance, maybe even hangs by a thread. I wouldn’t be surprised if one objective of Putin’s war was to undermine Biden and distract America from its most pressing issues.
Indeed, the Build Back Better plan and the For the People Act represent, or represented, the best efforts, respectively, to move the nation toward a more democratic economy and toward freer, fairer, and hence more democratic elections.
But as the legislation hit a roadblock, a dead-end that is hopefully temporary, these efforts and an awareness of the extent to which they were crucial to saving American democracy, seem to have faded from the popular, media-driven national consciousness.
When they are talked about, the media tends to frame them as failures of the Democrats and of Biden which threaten their re-election chances and Democrats’ hopes of retaining control of the Senate and the House of Representatives in the mid-terms later this year.
So if Biden’s legislative agenda can’t survive the stubborn, even hostile, opposition of the conservative bloc in the Senate composed of 50 Senate Republicans plus Manchin and Sinema, then what should his agenda be?
Well, if Biden and Democrats listened closely to Manchin last September, they would have their answer.
Back then, when he was under fire for stalling Build Back Better legislation, Manchin defended himself, saying:
“I’ve never been a liberal in any way, shape, or form. I don’t fault any of them who believe that they’re much more progressive and much more liberal, God bless them. And all they need to do is, we have to elect more liberals.”
Manchin told them all they needed to hear: elect more liberals.
It mind sound simple, and you may be groaning a big “duh” as you read this, but I do believe in this current political context Biden and the Democrats would be well-served to reflect deeply on Manchin’s words and run with them.
Here’s what I mean.
The legislation may be dead, but the issues shouldn’t be, and neither should the political dynamics that prevented passage of the legislation.
Media tends to frame the inability of the Senate to pass these key bills as failures of the Democrats and Biden, with the suggestion being that somehow these failures will or should push voters to look to Republicans as the alternative to this “failure.”
Biden and the Democrats need to push hard against this media narrative, trumpeting Manchin’s own words.
To secure the child tax credit, to make health care more affordable, to help Americans pay for childcare, to reduce the cost of prescription drugs, to create better-paying union jobs, to address climate change, and, most fundamentally, to insure people have the right to elect their representatives, the answer is precisely to follow Manchin’s advice:
ELECT MORE LIBERALS.
The best chance for Biden and the Democrats to save American democracy and provide economic justice and security for Americans is to invest as much time, energy, and resources into persuading Americans of the basic reality that Republicans will not support the very provisions in the Build Back Better and For the People bills that Americans overwhelmingly want and support.
While the media repeatedly spins a narrative that failure to pass such key legislation will hurt Democrats and Biden, Biden and the Democrats need to counter with the very true narrative that electing Republicans will hurt Americans—and they need to paint a vivid picture of what America under conservative rule will look like.
Americans are already getting a powerful taste of it, watching the child tax credit disappear. Biden and the Democrats passed the expanded child tax credit as part of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan in March 2021, and it provided monthly relief to about 36 million households and 61 million children, cutting child poverty rates by a third.
According to a report by the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University, this tax credit these households received on a monthly basis for the second half of 2021 had an enormous impact on the welfare of American families, as the report states:
“While in place, the monthly child tax credit payments buffered family finances amidst the continuing pandemic, increased families’ abilities to meet their basic needs, reduced child poverty and food insufficiency, and had no discernable negative effects on parental employment.”
It was the conservative Senate bloc of Manchin, Sinema, and the 50 Republicans who blocked its continuance. Child poverty rates have increased 41% since the payments stopped. The contrast of an America ruled by liberals versus that stifled by conservatives could not be clearer.
Again, the answer is clear to getting government to work for Americans and give them a voice in the nation as well as a fair share of the nation’s wealth they help produce: elect more liberals.
The child tax credit is one example of where and how Biden and the Democrats have an opportunity to paint contrasting pictures of what America will look and feel like under conservative or liberal leadership.
While Biden and the Democrats have the pulpit, they must shift their agenda to the campaign mode of telling this story, of playing the longer game of persuasion with the American electorate.
If there’s no hope for legislation to change America, there may be hope to change American minds to understand truly where their interests lie.
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.