Opinion | Biden Is Trying to Co-opt Trump’s Biggest Strength

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Back in May, Jake Sullivan, Biden’s national security adviser (and a key aide, before that, to both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama), made this explicit during a speech to the Brookings Institution. Sullivan slammed the belief that “the type of growth did not matter.” That had led, he said, to administrations that let Wall Street thrive while “essential sectors, like semiconductors and infrastructure, atrophied.” He dismissed the “assumption at the heart of all of this policy: that markets always allocate capital productively and efficiently.”

And he tendered a modest mea culpa for his own party. “Frankly, our domestic economic policies also failed to fully account for the consequences of our international economic policies,” he said. In letting globalization and automation hollow out domestic manufacturing, Democrats had been part of a Washington consensus that “had frayed the socioeconomic foundations on which any strong and resilient democracy rests.”

Biden’s speech in Chicago tried to show he was a Democrat who had learned these lessons. First, there was his emphasis on place. “I believe every American willing to work hard should be able to say where they grew up and stay where they grew up,” he said. “That’s Bidenomics.” Later, he said it again. “I believe that every American willing to work hard should be able to get a job no matter where they are — in the heartland, in small towns, in every part of this country — to raise their kids on a good paycheck and keep their roots where they grew up.”

I talked to Jared Bernstein, the chairman of Biden’s Council of Economic Advisers, about the thinking here. “One of the pretty bereft assumptions of traditional economics is that you don’t need to worry about place because, as long as there are good jobs somewhere, people will go there and get them,” Bernstein told me. “It doesn’t really work that way.” One reason it doesn’t work that way is housing costs. “The idea that you can relocate from rural America, where housing is cheap, to expensive-housing America, even with the pay differentials, is a bit of a fantasy,” he said.

Biden’s answer is built around the investments being made by the Inflation Reduction Act and the bipartisan infrastructure bill. You don’t install wind and solar farms in Manhattan and San Francisco. You don’t even necessarily do it in blue states, much to the chagrin of Democratic governors. Biden pointed to Weirton, W.Va., “where a steel mill closed in the beginning of the century” and, because of him, an iron-air battery plant is “being built on the same exact site, bringing back 750 good-paying jobs, bringing back a sense of pride and hope for the future.” The Rocky Mountain Institute, a clean energy research firm, estimates that Biden’s red states will get $623 billion in clean energy investments by 2030, compared with $354 billion for blue states.

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