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Politics The Biden administration should tell a story about good government to win in 2022, 2024

16:07  27 january  2021
16:07  27 january  2021 Source:   thehill.com

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The Biden administration should tell a story about good government to win in 2022, 2024 © The Hill The Biden administration should tell a story about good government to win in 2022, 2024

President Biden was sworn in last week, but now the hard part begins: showing tangible results to the American people.

The success of Biden's presidency - and Democratic fortunes in 2022 and 2024 - will depend on internalizing the lesson of the Obama years about telling a story of meaningful improvement in people's lives.

In recent interviews about his first term, Barack Obama has said that his biggest regret was the failure of his administration to tell a story of progress to the American public. In his first two years in office, Obama stabilized the cratering economy and passed the Affordable Care Act. But he let those policies get defined by Republicans, who hammered Democrats at the polls in 2010.

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Joe Biden himself, as vice-president, noted in 2016 that "We don't go out and explain why we're doing what we're doing...When we have a good idea, we think it will be self-evident."

This is the frequent lament of Democrats and progressives: The government consistently makes meaningful change in people's lives, and nobody knows it.

In Michael Lewis's book "The Fifth Risk," former USDA Undersecretary Lillian Salerno described how the agency's Rural Development program was responsible for $30 billion in loans and grants per year, which in turn helped put billions into small rural economies. But when she visited small town mayors, they often had no idea their own community was being funded by the federal grants that they criticized. In the South, she was greeted with the message, in her words: "We hate the government and you suck." The people she was talking to had no idea she had helped pump $1 billion into their economy that year.

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So what does a full-court-press, all-hands-on-deck, public mobilization and story-telling mentality look like?

Take the Export-Import Bank (EXIM), which is responsible for creating U.S. jobs by supporting the export of U.S.-made goods through direct loans and loan guarantees. EXIM has a lending authority of $20 billion, and has been an effective job creator, funding thousands of small manufacturing projects that each employ a few dozen to a few hundred workers. EXIM could become a critical tool in the building of a green economy, supporting loans towards American companies working in green technologies - major down payments on Biden's Build Back Better promises. It's also critical for keeping American business competitive with heavily subsidized Chinese companies, which would allow Biden to show American workers who were vulnerable to Trump's hollow trade promises that the new administration understands their fears and is fighting for them.

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But none of that works unless the bank - and the Biden administration at large - are telling a public story both nationally and locally about government progress and about keeping his promises. Every time EXIM makes a loan to a business, a representative of EXIM should visit the community to hold a press conference about it, meet with the workers, and learn about its work. Each new job should be celebrated as a triumph. Local officials and national representatives should be invited to share credit - and when necessary, held to account to explain their opposition.

This could be replicated across the federal government - from every school garden planted by a USDA initiative to every time a smart technologist from 18F finds a way to save taxpayers money. Every time an OSHA inspector meets with frontline COVID responders to every time the U.S. trade representative battles to save Midwestern jobs, it should be part of an ongoing story of how the government works to help people's lives.

The Biden administration should even consider creating a new position based in the Executive Office to work across agencies on the mobilization element of their policies - someone who could work with agencies to better conceptualize the way their policies will include the public, be presented to the public, and help change perception of what the government is delivering for everyday Americans.

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The policy decisions that this administration pursues will be directly linked to election results in 2022, 2024, and beyond, and every personnel and policy decision needs to be understood through that lens, because policy is also politics. Across agencies and at every level of the federal government, the Biden-Harris administration must tell a relentless story about the difference it is making in people's lives, day in and day out.

The American people want to see the government working for them. They want to see more money in their pockets, cheaper prescription drugs, faster internet, and cleaner air, as a direct result of government policies.

It's the job of this new Democratic administration to tell them that it is, indeed, working for them - and getting results.

Stephanie Taylor is the co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee and the Progressive Change Institute.

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