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Post-World War II America boomed and the Biden jobs plan can make it boom again, but better.
The 2016 campaign slogan from the Trump campaign — Make America Great Again — hearkened back decades ago, to the 1950s and early 1960s.
After the privations and shared sacrifices of the 1930s and 1940s, prosperity and economic growth reigned in those years.
That economy and its benefits were touted internationally. Standing in a model kitchen at the American National Exhibition in Moscow in 1959, Vice President Richard Nixon told Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev that the prevalence and quality of consumer products were part of American greatness.
The American capitalism Nixon championed was no libertarian dream made real. Massive infrastructure projects were funded by the federal government, with President Dwight Eisenhower signing the Federal Aid Highway Act in 1956. Eisenhower’s predecessor, President Harry Truman, created the National Science Foundation in 1950 and its mission and budget expanded.
Back then Americans saw the government as a partner for a better economy. As Andrew Yarrow wrote in “Measuring America,” “Polls during the boom years of the 1950s and 1960s regularly found that virtually all Americans believed that the good times would just keep on rolling. They also believed that government was a prime and trusted agent of economic progress.”
Since then, not only has trust in government declined, but we’ve been experiencing what political scientists Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson call “American amnesia,” forgetting that this post-war growth depended on a “mixed economy” — of vibrant private and public activities.
Born during World War II and growing up in the boom times, Joe Biden hasn’t forgotten.
At the same time, Biden knows this wasn’t some utopian period. In his own family, his father lost his job and they needed to relocate from Pennsylvania to Delaware when his dad found new employment.
And Biden recognizes that gains were unevenly distributed, in part because barriers were erected to make it hard for Black people in the South to vote and that lack of political power translated into laws and policies that undermined their economic status and had generational impacts on family wealth. Those interstate highways that reshaped the country and created jobs cut through and undermined Black communities.
Decades later, we’re coming out of an economic crisis that arose because the Trump administration performed poorly in responding to a health crisis. Yet our situation involves more fundamental problems.
The United States has been in a state of policy drift, letting problems pile up and not doing enough to fix them. It’s like having a roof slowly wear out and then not tearing it out and replacing it properly, despite having little leaks turn into big ones. The result is akin to mold and rot that harms the ceilings, walls and framing, causing health and structural damage.
Biden wants to confront that drift and the resulting decay, to make America boom again, but do it better than what’s happened before — addressing multiple problems and helping broader populations.
The American Jobs Plan would create lots and lots of good paying jobs, with an eye to helping everyone and making the U.S. more competitive in our globalized world. It attends to crumbling roads, absent rural broadband, dangerous lead pipes, limited support for home care workers and those who need them, energy inefficient schools and other buildings, inadequate support for research, and an electric grid that lacks capacity and resilience.
Complaints from Republican politicians — about the dictionary definition of infrastructure or funding the plan with taxes on corporations and people making over $400,000 annually — aren’t flying with the American people.
Like Biden’s covid relief plan, his jobs plan is popular across political lines. A whopping 73 percent of Americans back it, per a Data for Progress poll, including 57 percent of Republicans, 93 percent of Democrats and 67 percent of independents, with individual provisions also supported. In a Morning Consult poll, almost two-thirds back raising corporate taxes to pay for it.
After our multiple crises and after decades of policy drift, of wealth shifting from the middle class to the wealthiest, Americans are ready to make America great again — but better.