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Biden Seeks to Remedy Reagan

May 7th, 2021 by dk

Hours after President Joe Biden laid out his vision for a muscular federal government to a joint session of Congress, where did he and his wife go? They went where no sitting president has gone in 40 years. They made an Air Force One pilgrimage to Plains, Georgia to visit 96-year-old Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn. The timing was not accidental.

Much ink has been spilled over the past 100 days about whose presidency Biden’s most resembles. FDR and LBJ are the initials offered most frequently. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that Biden doesn’t think of it this way. He has somehow learned that it’s not really about him. He’s more interested in us. Magnanimity is Biden’s secret superpower.

Biden understands that he and Carter were swept into office by a country needing to shake the stink of the previous administration. (Nixon’s scandals may yet be diminished by Trump’s. History spools slowly.) When the country is reeling, Americans look for a reliable character with a magnetic smile to brighten the evening news.

Jimmy Carter was the last steward of a muscular federal government. He mostly failed at the job because he couldn’t navigate the crosswinds that blow through Washington. (Who knows how Obama would have done without Biden at his side?)

Biden was already a United States senator when Carter was elected in 1976. It was the first presidency he watched develop from a Capitol Hill perch. It was the first time Biden had both proximity to the White House and a premonition that never left him: “Someday, that will be me.”

We all know what happened next. Carter was judged a failure in his presidency and badly botched his campaign for reelection. Ronald Reagan won in a landslide and ushered in a generation of skepticism about the federal government’s role and reach in people’s lives.

Forty years later, the small-government fever appears to have finally broken. People have witnessed, sometimes with heartbreaking clarity, that certain tasks are best handled by the government. Which is to say, as Biden often does, best handled by all of us, together.

Biden wants to put us on a path that Carter saw but couldn’t realize. Both men are deeply animated by their faith, which may be the only cure for the sycophancy that grows like an invisible oval around them. (It looks like a halo only to those inside it.)

Our place in the world must promote peace. President Carter’s military never fired a shot. That accomplishment has not been repeated since.

We lead best when we lead by example. Addressing climate change will be harder today than it was in 1980. Don’t be surprised if solar panels return the roof of the White House.

Biden doesn’t want to repeat his predecessors’ successes. He feels called to correct mistakes exposed by history. He’s not a repeat of Roosevelt. He’s the remedy to Reagan.

Can Biden revive government’s reputation in the minds and lives of average Americans? It will be a heavy lift, but he visited last week with the only other living American who ever really tried.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and archives past columns at

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