Biden Bids Farewell to the Reagan Era

Forty years ago, in a joint session of Congress, a young senator from Delaware, Joe Biden, heard then President Ronald Reagan say the words that would mark an era: “The federal government is too big and it spends too much money.”

The era of the iron consensus in the United States and in the West on the desirability of shrinking government, containing government spending, deregulating the market and taking away socialized subsidies was beginning.

For the next 40 years, Biden and his party, the Democratic presidents and, of course, the Republicans, lived under the shadow of those words, with the certainty, proven in many elections, that any proposal to grow government would have a bad effect on voters, and that on social policies there was room only for small changes, laborious negotiation and meager results in Congress.

The assumption of the restrictions of those times, somewhat macabre for the world’s oldest democracy, was that government was this corrupt thing happening in Washington, among professional politicians alien to the people, interested only in spending and serving their clientele, increasing the powers that be, and less and less that of the citizens, the people of the exertion and labor of the American dream.

In her unmissable column, “On Politics,” in The New York Times last week, Lisa Lerer stated that Biden said words completely contrary to this consensus on the size of the state and on the representativeness of government. He said, “We need to remember, the government isn’t some foreign force in a distant capital. No, it’s us, all of us, we the people.”

It was an eloquent way of saying goodbye to Reagan, not because of the force of the words but because they were preceded by profound prior decisions in the opposite direction of the small-government mantra.

Everything in the beginning of the Biden administration — the unprecedented size of public spending, the variety of social policies, the speed and depth of decisions — outlines years of an enormous government, capable of imagining a richer and fairer country than the market could deliver in the years of the Reagan consensus.

Something big and noteworthy is happening in Washington.

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