A number of political analysts have arrived at that conclusion over the past year, especially given the massive public needs arising out of the pandemic and economic crisis. Is it true?

Katrina vanden Heuvel, the editorial director and publisher of the 155-year-old left-wing American magazine The Nation, wrote in The Washington Post back in early February that U.S. President Joe Biden had embraced this sentiment during his early days in office, with plans not just for pandemic relief and economic stimulus but infrastructure development, climate-change mitigation, racial-justice initiatives, and more. “Biden is essentially announcing that the Washington consensus—one that favors deregulation, austerity and pro-corporate trade policies—is bankrupt,” she wrote. Biden has since signed into law the American Rescue Plan Act, representing $1.9 trillion of relief and stimulus spending, which the self-identifying socialist Senator Bernie Sanders called “the most consequential piece of legislation for working families passed in many decades.” As Dean Baker argued to Michael Bluhm last week, this legislation is the largest expansion of the U.S. social safety net since the Great Society reforms of the 1960s.


Graham Vyse: If an era of small government is ending in the United States, when did it start?

Katrina vanden Heuvel: I would date this era of small government—and not just small government but antipathy toward government—to Ronald Reagan. Limited government has always been part of the American DNA and even part of the classical-liberal tradition to a certain extent, but Reagan in the 20th century laid down the parameters and shifted the paradigm away from Franklin Roosevelt.

I remember William Greider, who was our correspondent [at The Nation], wrote an essay about the right’s goal of “rolling back the twentieth century.” What it suggested, and what I believe, is that Reagan—who had voted for Roosevelt and had an evolution—was a response to the New Deal. Bill Clinton talked about how “the era of big government is over.” To grace it with big words, you had a kind of neoliberal pickup—a Reagan-lite neoliberalism, in some ways, of austerity, fewer taxes, deregulation.

Vyse: You criticized Bill Clinton from the left at the time.

Vanden Heuvel: No question. We were very critical of the Clinton administration from a social-democratic or left-progressive perspective. The rollback of the New Deal proceeded under Clinton. You know, the economist Larry Summer got booed [recently] when he weighed in on the stimulus, but he was a key figure in the Clinton administration. It was also sort of happy times economically during the Clinton years. You didn’t have this crisis.

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