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Opinion: Why Joe Biden is a man in a hurry

Frida GhitisFrida Ghitis
Two months into his presidency, Biden has already notched up major achievements in his far-reaching agenda. In addition to enacting a raft of executive actions, including rejoining the Paris climate agreement, he has signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan into law, launching a frontal assault on the pandemic, shoring up the finances of struggling Americans, supporting local governments and expanding access to health care. He has also reengaged our allies and moved uncommonly fast to nominate a diverse group of federal judges to the bench.
Whether or not you agree with his priorities, it’s undeniable that the scope of his actions in the last 70-some days has been enormous. And Biden — the man Trump frequently derided as “sleepy” — is just getting started. His $2 trillion infrastructure proposal is his latest move in what is already one of the most ambitious presidencies in decades. And it’s all happening at a dizzying speed.
Why is Biden in such a hurry?
Part of it is the political calendar. The president has a better shot at legislative success before the midterm elections. Both former presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump were stymied after the opposition party made significant gains in the 2010 and 2018 midterm elections. Biden could face the same fate in 2022, especially since Democrats already have a tenuous hold on both chambers of Congress. But there’s more.
Matt Gaetz's diversionary tactics aren't workingMatt Gaetz's diversionary tactics aren't working
At 78, Biden is the oldest president in US history. He may also be one of the most introspective.
One of the changes that comes with age is the growing realization that your time is limited. It’s not just a political consideration — it is a metaphysical and spiritual one. As he approaches 80, Biden has a perspective that may not come as quickly to younger politicians who are more focused on short-term victories.
That’s visible in the way he speaks about his plans and his poignant references to their potential impact long into the future. He doesn’t just talk about the practical day-to-day effect — he looks decades ahead and offers the picture of a country that has turned the corner and reaped lasting benefits from having met the challenges of this moment.
During his first formal press conference last week, Biden talked about the urgency of succeeding in the global contest between democracy and autocracy, and how the US must show it can adjust to a changing world. “This is a battle between the utility of democracy in the 21st century and autocracies,” he said, adding, “Your children or grandchildren are going to be doing their doctoral thesis on the issue of who succeeded: autocracy or democracy?”
The same future-focused appeal surfaced on Wednesday when he unveiled his infrastructure plan. “We have to move now,” he said, “Because I’m convinced that if we act now, in 50 years, people are going to look back and say this was the moment that America won the future.”
The problem with Biden isn't his trips, note cards or dogsThe problem with Biden isn't his trips, note cards or dogs
It is one of the paradoxes of Biden’s presidency that he is trying to secure as many victories as soon as possible, with an eye toward shaping a distant future. Biden seems to have a particularly acute faith that what he does now may be more fully grasped by future generations.
In the final months of the 2020 campaign, much of Biden’s messaging focused on defeating the pandemic. But he always had bigger goals. Some were concrete: creating jobs, upgrading infrastructure, fighting climate change and expanding access to health care. Others were more philosophical or moral. The words “decency” and “soul” kept coming up.
Biden said from the very start of his presidential bid that he decided to run after neo-Nazis descended on Charlottesville in 2017. Having seen America drift in a frightening direction, Biden said he intended to “restore the soul of America.”
At any other time, this might have sounded like an empty campaign slogan. But Americans knew what he meant. His presidency is not just about infrastructure or public health, it’s about restoring respect for the values the US has sought to advance, however imperfectly, from its founding days: equality, freedom, and an abiding faith in democracy — all of which were eroded in the past four years.
Biden will inevitably make mistakes and fail to reach some, if not many, of his goals. But his aims are ambitious. He’s rushing to bring about the changes that he believes will transform the country in the long term. He’s also trying to steer the US away from the ugliness that reared its head in the last four years, and making sure the rest of the world sees a country worth emulating.
Every president worries about his legacy. But Biden is a man driven. He is not just seeking the approval of today’s voters. He’s trying to shape the country in a way that will change the course of history — with lasting reverberations long after he’s gone. To do that, he has no time to waste.
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