President Biden is fighting a three-front war.
• A civil war. Last summer, hard-left enabled hooligans sacked our cities and on Jan. 6, the radical right invaded the Capitol. Each was met with too little police resistance thanks to cynically opportunist, administratively-inept political leaders.
• A public health disaster. The vaccine rollout debacle lays bare how moribund most public health and local government agencies have become.
• An economic mess. A stronger, more effective stimulus is needed to get most folks back to work, but COVID-19 also aggravated deeper structural problems. Young people who were underemployed and never fully recovered from the 2008 Financial Crisis, and the fallout from the digital revolution will leave 5 to 10 million adults ill-skilled and permanently unemployed or scrapping along in part-time work for years.
All this is set against the background of China pirating our economy and climate change.
Mr. Biden is quite right that fixing what’s broke at home, cultivating allies abroad and getting America engaged again in international forums like the WHO and the Paris Climate Accord is essential. No matter how inadequate those institutions may be, withdrawing American participation, as President Trump did, created a wide opening for Beijing to expand its soft power.
But Mr. Biden is wrong to drive every domestic policy decision through the prism of climate action and race and gender justice — and to seek solutions through harsh mandates.
More robust growth during the Trump years raised outcomes for minorities and provided money for utilities and auto companies to pursue more quickly clean energy and electric vehicles than many advocates of jackboot government planning will admit.
American business needs a cheerleader — Mr. Biden can provide where Mr. Trump failed — but hardly needs coercion. The Europeans and Chinese are driving Teslas, because American enterprise can get things done old world state planning can only aspire.
Still with so many immediate and longer-term challenges, Mr. Biden has a crisis of limited resources. The Federal Reserve can’t keep printing $3 trillion a year to finance massive new spending. And higher taxes by slowing growth will only limit scarce private resources.
Better-focused, more-limited spending than the recent $900 trillion stimulus and the additional $1.9 trillion Mr. Biden proposes would yield better results.
One-time payments to households where breadwinners are working will often be saved, finance imports from China or bolster inflation for streaming services and consumer products. Whereas, more-focused payments to the unemployed would be more fully spent on necessities, better assist minority communities and foster longer-term growth, especially if wedded to business-based worker training.
Money saved could also help finance Pete Buttigieg’s proposed $2 trillion infrastructure program. By building out electric vehicle charging stations and reducing transportation costs, it would reduce CO2 emissions and yield a 20 percent annual return on investment.
Near term, the governors and Mr. Biden can dispatch the National Guard to calm cities, establish inoculation centers and secure great public functions like inaugurations, but repeatedly turning to the military for solutions is a terrible sign of weakness. Third World dictatorships have efficient militaries but dysfunctional civilian agencies — increasingly so do we.
Relying on military solutions enables local government corruption — politicians can keep spending on vote buying welfare programs instead of delivering quality public services. And it does little to address the underlying rage among the disenfranchised that instigated riots in the cities last summer and the January mob on the National Mall.
Neutering the police — or more police — are hardly the answer. We need a national dialogue on race that forces the hard left and hard right to face each other.
The problem is that minorities and women are adequately represented by the executive classes that run advocacy organizations and profit from corporate contributions and government set asides, quotas and funding — even as the ordinary oppressed continue to suffer in unsafe neighborhoods and poverty.
Disenfranchised Whites and young folks without futures generally have no legitimate voice, because they are held in contempt or simply ignored by mainstream politicians who now prevail and the national media. Disaffected, they fall victims to Trumpism, socialism and QAnon and other conspiracy movements
Mr. Biden must reach out to them but so far, he has been all about identity politics — look at his cabinet. He must find ways to give the disenfranchised on the right a voice or they will find another Donald Trump, the events of Jan. 6 will repeat and become a prelude to something far more devastating.
Americans may not want a civil war, but they are standing in the middle of one.
• Peter Morici, @pmorici1, is an economist and emeritus business professor at the University of Maryland, and a national columnist.