Comparing the Biden and Obama administrations

Comparing the Biden and Obama administrations

It was inevitable that people would compare the Biden administration to Obama’s to address the question as to whether the Biden presidency was merely going to be a third Obama term. While there are undoubtedly going to be great similarities (they are both solid members of the Democratic Party establishment after all), one way to measure the degree of closeness is to compare appointees made so far. Ryan Grim has made such a careful person-by-person comparison and concludes that although Biden is no progressive, his choices are more progressive than Obama’s, and that he has created a bit more distance from the Robert-Rubin/Goldman Sachs/Wall Street wing of the Democratic party.

FOR THE BERNIE Sanders wing of the Democratic Party, the Joe Biden presidential transition is what losing looks like. It is also, for better or for worse, what incremental progress looks like. Whether it’s enough to match the scale of the overlapping crises or to stave off a midterm wipeout remains to be seen, but a comparison to the transition of President Barack Obama reveals the distance the party has traveled over the past 12 years.

Biden’s version of the transition has raised howls for some of his picks, including Neera Tanden, the controversial head of the Center for American Progress, and Brian Deese, whose time at investment firm BlackRock has drawn opposition from some climate activists. But in almost every spot so far named, Biden has chosen a person more progressive and less entrenched with Wall Street than the official who held the same position in 2009 under Obama.

The comparison exercise may do more to reveal the weakness of the early Obama administration, and its reliance on the Rubin wing of the party, than to testify to the strength of Biden’s. And there are exceptions. On national security and foreign policy, Biden has hewed closer to Obama’s approach — and he has backtracked from Obama’s vow to bar lobbyists from his administration, putting an Apple lobbyist on his VP vetting committee. But Biden, when faced with choices so far, has at least made the least bad one on the table, especially when it comes to economic policy.

Overall, Biden’s choices for most positions, from the perspective of the more progressive wing of the party, aren’t necessarily good, but they’re not as bad as Obama’s either. Still, with millions facing eviction and destitution, and just a decade to turn the global economy around to avert a climate apocalypse, better isn’t good enough.

There are still plenty of appointments to come to see if this trend holds up.


  1. Pierce R. Butler says

    Meanwhile, it looks like the Democrats want to prove they’ve learned nothing and duplicate the Clinton/Obama kid-gloves-for-Republicans nonstrategy, again disregarding the official Oath of Office:

    I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.

    Coddling criminals for misguided political convenience not only doesn’t work, it ought to merit impeachment.

  2. consciousness razor says

    But Biden, when faced with choices so far, has at least made the least bad one on the table, especially when it comes to economic policy.

    Start with chief of staff: swapping out Rahm Emanuel for Ron Klain isn’t close.

    A strange example. Klain was Biden’s chief of staff from 2009 to 2011 (and Al Gore’s from 1995 to 1999). It’s literally the exact same person as in the Obama and Clinton administrations, which is nonetheless supposed to represent a change of some sort. We’re supposed to buy this because he’s not some other person who was floated by somebody — neither Rahm Emanul nor Steve Ricchetti, although maybe they were only proposed to set our expectations so low — and that seems beside the point in this argument.

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