Biden isn’t Obama 2.0 – This is how the former vice president is setting himself apart from his old boss

Biden isn’t Obama 2.0 – This is how the former vice president is setting himself apart from his old boss
US President Joe Biden delivers remarks to members of “the intelligence community workforce and its leadership" as he visits the Office of the Director of National Intelligence in nearby McLean, Virginia outside Washington, U.S., July 27, 2021. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein
“It’s hard to say whether one approach was superior to another,” said Dr. Wright, “but it’s interesting to think about how different presidents of the same party make different decisions under similar circumstances sometimes.”

How are Biden and Obama different as people?

  • Well, one of the main things that differentiates former United States President Barack Obama from President Joe Biden is that they simply come from different backgrounds – and hemispheres.
  • Obama grew up in Hawaii, and when he entered national politics by entering the Senate in 2005. He quickly moved from being a Senator to running for President, to becoming the President.
  • While in some ways this newness to Washington was an asset, because it meant breaking down outdated barriers and policies, it also meant that Obama was widely seen as having a naive sense of practicality.
  • Biden, on the other hand, comes from Pennsylvania. He has spent almost all of his career as a politician, serving in the Senate from 1973 until 2009, and leans on this experience in Washington as proof that he understands how to get things done better than some.
  • For Biden, his experience has been seen as both a good thing and a bad thing.
  • Positive in the sense that he can maneuver through Washington bureaucracy better than most, and negative because he tends to stick to older, more traditional beliefs on how things should be done.

What about when it comes to policy?

  • When it comes to domestic policy, the two of them agree on a lot. The biggest difference between them so far is their approach to Congress.
  • During the first year of Obama’s term, the administration spent a lot of time negotiating with Congress on the details of a health care bill that eventually lost Republican support anyway.
  • Biden, though, having both a more intimate understanding of how Congress works and having learned from his time working with Obama, pursued a slightly different approach to negotiations.
  • “He has been more hands-on with the bipartisan push for infrastructure in the Senate and seemingly more confident about the ability for Republicans and Democrats to work together in a similarly polarized political environment,” said Dr. Lauren Wright, a professor of politics and public affairs at Princeton University.
  • “It’s hard to say whether one approach was superior to another,” said Dr. Wright, “but it’s interesting to think about how different presidents of the same party make different decisions under similar circumstances sometimes.”

What’s Biden doing differently in terms of foreign policy?

  • Well, it depends on where you look really, but one of the big shifts has been his approach to China.
  • Biden has taken a firmer approach though, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken saying that there are three ways the US will approach China; through confrontation, through competition and through cooperation.
  • That means that in particularly contentious situations, Biden is willing to confront China with pressure. On some issues, largely economic ones, competition will be the avenue the administration takes. And, on very particular issues such as climate change, the administration will seek cooperation.
  • Some of this is actually more similar to former President Trump’s unilateral China approach, which involved sanctions on Chinese companies and individuals.
  • The difference though, is that Biden works with China in places where it’s willing, and adopts a firmer stance in other areas.

What about in places like the Middle East?

  • “One [place where differences have emerged between Biden and Obama] is Biden’s troop drawdown in Afghanistan,” said Dr. Wright, “where President Obama actually added a few thousand forces in 2016, going against his original statement about a minimal presence of armed forces.”
  • Their position has in fact been pretty similar; both believe that the US shouldn’t be involved in the country anymore especially because while timelines are different, the outcome would ultimately be the same.
  • But, Obama initially sent more troops to Afghanistan before working to pull them out. In 2011, there were about 100,000 troops in the country.
  • Biden, on the other hand, said he would pull all US forces from the country by September 11.
  • His plans have been somewhat hampered recently, though, with the US sending as many as 8,000 new troops to Afghanistan to facilitate the evacuation of embassy personnel from the embassy in Kabul.

Anywhere else?

  • The other place where Biden has set a new path is in Cuba. Obama mostly took the approach of reducing sanctions and normalizing travel and trade between the US and Cuba.
  • But Biden has argued that more sanctions, not less, is what would help the Cuban people out the most, and has imposed new sanctions against Cuban officials. He has also asked government experts to come up with plans to expand internet access on the island.
  • It isn’t entirely clear where all of these foreign policy decisions come from. Some of them likely stem from Biden’s time as a Senator, while others probably come from his time in the White House, where he was a point person for a significant amount of the foreign policy.

Is he entirely different from Obama?

  • Well, no. Biden and Obama have plenty of similarities with some saying that Biden is “Delivering Obama’s third term.”
  • “Mr. Obama will be remembered for the slowest economic recovery since the Great Depression,” wrote Riley, “and Mr. Biden seems to have learned nothing from the experience.”
  • Others have also pointed out that Biden’s policies on things like illegal immigration and labor rights are perfectly in line with the way Obama handled them.

What’s next?

  • As time goes on, two things will happen.
  • First, we will get to see how effective Biden’s policies are in contrast to Obama’s.
  • Typically, this isn’t a very effective metric because there is often around a decade between terms from presidents of the same party. But, in this situation, there are only four years, giving us a more accurate comparison between the two presidents.
  • Second, as global situations change and develop, Biden will be forced to take a stance in other positions, and it’s likely that those positions will differ from his old boss’s.
  • But these aren’t very predictable, and will only reveal themselves as global events happen.
  • But for now, it looks like a similar domestic agenda has been met with a pretty different foreign policy one.

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