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Opinion | The Revolution Joe Manchin (Probably) Can’t Stop

Joe Biden wants to overtake Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The current president’s love for the 32 nd president is well known; he’s given Roosevelt’s portrait a place of honor in the Oval Office, invited New Deal historians to the White House and encouraged comparisons between today’s crisis of democracy and the calamities the country faced during the Great Depression. When Biden announced in February that he wanted to “change the paradigm” on economic thought, he was opening a battle to return Democrats to the muscular liberalism of figures like FDR and Lyndon Baines Johnson.

Now, he’s declaring victory, recently telling House Democrats that his Build Back Better program would cap an economic agenda greater and more significant than FDR and LBJ combined.

The president is getting a bit carried away. Its many merits notwithstanding, Biden’s economic plan simply does not compare in either scope or ambition to the New Deal or the Great Society. The Build Back Better legislation, which is tortuously winding its way toward a potential House vote this week does, however, reflect a clear change in the intellectual wind. Democrats are almost entirely united behind Biden’s economic vision — which is why Biden keeps invoking FDR and LBJ when selling the plan to his party.

Two of the final holdouts to this new consensus, of course, happen to be sitting U.S. senators who hold veto power in an evenly divided Senate. And as the disappointing results for Democrats in Tuesday’s elections show, their party is paying a dear political price for their penchant for gridlock. But whatever injury Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) ultimately inflict on Biden’s plan or his presidency, their effective ostracism by the party rank-and-file in an age of hyperpartisanship is telling. By repeatedly positioning themselves outside the Democratic mainstream, Manchin and Sinema have handed Biden a victory in the battle of ideas, even as they force him to scale back his policy ambitions.

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