WASHINGTON DC – Two weeks ago, I wrote that Senate Democrats were showing signs of political life after the Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer and Senator Joe Manchin, a moderate Democrat from West Virginia, reached a deal to revive a key piece of President Joe Biden’s domestic agenda, previously known as the Build Back Better Act. Under its new name, the Inflation Reduction Act, this legislation – which is most significant for the way it intends to tackle the climate crisis – passed the Senate on Sunday (7 August). The House of Representatives speaker, Nancy Pelosi, has said that it will pass the House today (12 August).
To spell it out: if this happens, a major part of Biden’s agenda will have actually been achieved.
Indeed, the last several days have seen a change in US politics. Biden also signed the Chips and Science Act, designed to make America more competitive with China (and which passed the Senate with Republican votes, partly because they thought climate change legislation was dead). Congress passed a law to help veterans exposed to burn pits. Biden signed an executive order dedicated to protecting reproductive rights, though more significant is that last week Kansas voters rejected a referendum to remove the right to an abortion from the state constitution. The president’s Twitter account tweeted out a list of achievements from the last several days with a little sticker of Biden and the words “I did that”. Biden’s approval rating also went up to 40 per cent, the highest level in two months.
Approval ratings should not motivate any presidency. Still, if it feels like things are moving in Biden’s direction, perhaps that is because Biden – and not just Biden, but Senate and House Democrats, and the legion of organisers throughout the country – is making parts of his agenda move in a positive direction. Rather than just telling people to vote, Biden and his fellow Democrats have spent the past couple of weeks providing a return on voters’ investment in them. Thus, giving people a reason to go out and vote for the Democrats again in the future.
In other words, the question is not whether things are going “well” or “badly” for Biden, but whether or not his administration is delivering for people – and whether Democrats are using their power to improve people’s lives. Improved poll numbers are a reward for serving the public, not the other way around.
Democrats haven’t yet averted a potential crisis in the midterm elections, however, and Biden remains far from a sure thing in 2024 should he run for re-election. But this week, the party can afford to feel more optimistic. Elected officials who like their positions should remember that their status is within their locus of control: the right to political optimism is gained by working for the people.