As we enter a new year, we’re facing the third variant of the deadly covid virus. Although omicron is more transmittable, data from Great Britain indicates that it’s less lethal than its predecessors. I would hope that as we act prudently by following health protocols and protecting the most vulnerable, we can return to some modicum of normalcy as we face the third year of this deadly virus. Normalcy means we should no longer lock down the fiber of our society — schools, commerce and the like — and learn to manage our lives while circumnavigating the virus.
Turning to the body politic, after the presidential election I greeted Joe Biden’s win with my wish to let Biden be Biden. I wrote that he had “a 40 year history of forging compromises with Republicans…. Biden should not be dragged down by the ultra-left of his party…. As Biden mentioned in his victory speech, he will govern as much for those who didn’t vote for him as for those who did.” The American people voted for Joe Biden, not for Bernie Sanders and not for the chaos enveloping his predecessor.
Unfortunately, Biden has governed to a great degree as if Bernie Sander’s platform were his compass.
The day after he took office, Biden cancelled the Keystone pipeline, a key demand of environmental progressives. By so doing he eliminated 11,000 jobs, forcing oil to be transported on land via railroad and trucks .This alternative uses more fossil fuels than the alternative, not even counting oil spillage by accidents and other factors.
Months later, as gas prices spiked, the president begged OPEC to increase oil production, which it refused. When his energy secretary, Jennifer Granholm, was asked whether the U.S. could increase oil production, she responded: “This is hilarious. Would that I have the magic wand on this. Global oil prices are set by foreign producers, all of whom declined to increase production.”
We need to adapt to the challenges of climate change. We need to significantly reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. But we also need green alternative sources to fill the gap. We’re not there yet by a long stretch. We therefore can’t make decisions based on the dogma of climate change activists.
Moreover, our energy independence is a strategic asset as we face global challenges from China, Iran, and Russia. Regarding the latter and in an ironic twist, the Biden administration approved the final stage of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany. This gave the Russians leverage to apply oil blackmail on the Germans and NATO. As more than 100,000 Russian troops, tanks, and missiles have massed on Ukraine’s border, Biden told Vladimir Putin that severe sanctions would be applied if Russia invades Ukraine. Meanwhile, we’re negotiating with the Germans to include the closing of the pipeline as one of the pressure points. As Germany, unlike France, has abandoned its nuclear reactor program to supply cleaner energy, the pipeline is a key source of energy, and the prospect of the pipeline becoming operational has spun off thousands of potential jobs. As of this writing, it’s uncertain if Germany will agree to close the pipeline.
Considering the debacle of the Afghanistan withdrawal, which was based on an artificial timeline instead of conditions on the ground, NATO countries in Eastern Europe are nervous about what will happen if the U.S. and NATO don’t thwart Russian aggression. They remember well how Russia conquered Crimea in 2014, while we timidly applied sanctions waved off by the Russians as the cost of doing business.
In his magisterial work “On the Origins of War,” Donald Kagan touted the strategy of promoting peace through strength, or as Teddy Roosevelt put it, “speaking softly while carrying a big stick.” This approach helped win the Cold War, and we need to show this strength in confronting Russia.
This same approach relates to the laborious and stalled Iranian negotiations. The U.S. has already stated that it would go to a Plan B if negotiations fail. We’re rapidly reaching that point as Iran is close to developing a bomb. There needs to be a show of strength as recommended by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. In its letter sent to the Biden administration and signed by such luminaries as Leon Panetta, David Petraeus, and Dennis Ross, it said that “we believe it is important for the Biden administration to take steps that lead Iran to believe that persisting in its current behavior and rejecting a reasonable diplomatic resolution will put to risk its entire nuclear infrastructure, one built painstakingly over the last three decades.” This is certainly what Israel seeks.
Turning domestically, the Build Back Better legislative defeat should have the Biden administration recalibrate its approach to align with the art of the possible. Knowing that the progressives probably would lose the Democratic majority in the House, they built BBB to include entitlements with only a few years of implementation. By funding them with 10 years of revenues, they would establish facts that future politicians would find difficult to allow to lapse. When Joe Manchin mentioned this fiscal gimmick to the president, he responded that future Congresses would fund it. Yet the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office calculated that funding BBB’s entitlements for the full decade would add $3 trillion to the deficit, which now stands at $27 trillion. This bill was a package that purportedly would reduce poverty but also included many billions to allow primarily wealthy people to deduct up to $80,000 in property and real estate taxes. All the while we face insolvency in the Medicare Part A Hospitalization Program in 2026.
This legislative defeat should be viewed as an opportunity to have greater focus by setting priorities that are politically possible. William Galston of the Brookings Institute posited such an approach. The child tax credit expansion included in the American Rescue Plan, approved last March, will expire on December 31.This tax credit has bipartisan support and helps combat poverty. Wouldn’t it make sense to fully fund this program as a signature initiative rather than licking your wounds and insulting your opponents and their constituents?
Writing about the golden mean in his “Nicomachean Ethics,” Aristotle says that “morality…requires that one neither under-do nor over-do. One must hit upon the right course (steering between too much and too little)…. Good judgment requires that one find the mean between the extremes.”
Considering how narrow his electoral mandate was, Biden was elected to govern promoting stability ,not melodrama, with a broad consensus, not partisan advantage.
Let Biden govern with the golden mean as his north star.
Max Kleinman of Fairfield was the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest from 1995 to 2014 and he is the president of the Fifth Commandment Foundation.