In the closing days of the 2020 campaign, Joe Biden took a trip to Warm Springs, Georgia, where Franklin Delano Roosevelt used to go to receive treatment for polio. “This place, Warm Springs, is a reminder that though broken, each of us can be healed,” Biden said. “That as a people and a country, we can overcome a devastating virus. That we can heal a suffering world. That yes, we can restore our soul and save our country.”
Biden’s invocation of FDR was never just about rebuilding the country after Covid-19. Shortly after securing the Democratic nomination, Joe Biden began hyping a forthcoming “FDR-size presidency.” Speaking to CNN in April 2020, he said that reopening the country after the pandemic was “probably the biggest challenge in modern history, quite frankly. I think it may not dwarf but eclipse what FDR faced.” But the crisis also provided an opportunity to expand government for the first time in decades to provide badly needed reforms, particularly in health and childcare.
Crucially, Biden was willing to articulate the case that this was a moment for a new New Deal, the first major expansion of government since Lyndon Johnson’s presidency, and found a message that might bind the Democratic base toward a common cause. “The blinders have been taken off because of this Covid crisis,” he said at a fundraiser the following month. “I think people are realizing, ‘My Lord, look at what is possible,’ looking at the institutional changes we can make, without us becoming a ‘socialist country’ or any of that malarkey.” Now, Biden’s FDR-size presidency is at risk—and the time has come for the president to, once again, beat the drum.