America has just exited a biennium of Democratic trifecta — control by the nation’s and the world’s oldest political party of the White House and majorities in the Senate and House of Representatives. It is only the third such biennium in the last 40 years, since 1993-95 and 2009-11, the first two years of the Clinton and Obama administrations.
It was a rare opportunity, then, for the party in an era going back most of a century when divided government has been the norm. How did the Democrats do?
Macroeconomically, the verdict is mixed — a disappointing result for a party that once enjoyed a reputation gained in the 1930s for economic stimulus and redistribution. It’s plain that Democrats applied too much stimulus and disappointingly little redistribution. They doubled down on Trump administration stimulus spending and would have gone further but for two senators’ rejection of the Build Back Better bill.
One result was not just transitory but persistent inflation that, previous experience suggests, may take years of slow growth to staunch. Another result was reduced workforce participation, particularly among men, as compared to pre-COVID years.
One consequence is slower economic growth, even with historically low unemployment rates. And male idleness seems correlated with increased substance abuse, physical and mental health problems and reduced life expectancy.
As for redistribution, economic gains in the Trump years were, for the first time in decades, greater in percentage terms for low earners than for the affluent. That’s at risk now and in the next few years if the hugely increased flow of illegal immigrants, encouraged by Biden administration policy, results in newcomers undercutting Americans in job markets. It’s not clear how America benefits from the perhaps 2 million illegal immigrants President Joe Biden has allowed to enter and linger in the United States, though Mexico’s president just thanked him for building not 1 meter of wall.
Similarly, policies supported by the Biden administration and the Democratic Congress, and pressed forward by state and local Democratic officials, have inflicted severe damage on public sector institutions long dominated by liberals — damage from which they have yet to recover.
Public school enrollment has fallen nationally, with the sharpest declines in states where teachers unions pushed successfully for extended lockdowns and masking and vaccination requirements.
Meanwhile, alternatives to standard and union-dominated public schools are thriving. Charter school enrollment rose sharply in the early months of the pandemic, and that growth has been sustained. And the home-schooling population has increased by 1 million students.
Instruction over computer screens not only produced plummeting test scores, especially among children in disadvantaged homes, but it also showed parents repugnant things some schools were pushing, such as critical race theory and gender identity politics.
No part of American society is more tightly controlled by the politically correct than higher education. And “controlled” is the right word for colleges and universities that have more administrators than teachers.
COVID gave them excuses to bully students — adults, legally — with unneeded masking and vaccination requirements. Ever since, college and university enrollment has been in decline. It hasn’t even been revived by the Biden student loan forgiveness program — an example of upward economic redistribution.
Speaking of which, the public health agencies repeatedly disgraced themselves during the COVID pandemic. The Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention waddled in late with COVID tests, failed to conduct useful research and took dictation from teachers unions on school restrictions. Recent Twitter revelations have shown how public health authorities tried to squelch the fact that COVID infection conferred immunity comparable or superior to vaccination.
And no part of the public sector has been more grievously damaged than mass transit. Office buildings emptied out during the pandemic in the densest downtowns, and they have not been refilled. Mass transit ridership is thus running about two-thirds of 2019 levels in New York, which accounts for half of American transit users, and in the five other systems (Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, San Francisco and perpetually mismanaged Washington), which account for most of the rest. Commercial real estate operators, a canny lot, will adjust to high vacancy levels, often through bankruptcy. But it’s hard to see how state and local transit agencies, even with some temporary funding from 2021-22 Biden Democrats, can maintain anything like current service.
So while private entrepreneurship may be thriving, as analyst Joel Kotkin argues, the Biden Democrats, who came to power determined to show that government can solve problems, have done quite a bit to prove the opposite.
Michael Barone is a senior political analyst for the Washington Examiner, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and longtime co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.