Good morning. President Biden goes before Congress tonight to lay out his agenda.
Graduation at Motlow State Community College in Tullahoma, Tenn.Joe Buglewicz for The New York Times
'What are we going to do?'
Over the past decade, an idea has become popular with mayors and governors, both Democratic and Republican: A K-12 education is no longer enough.
Students should start school earlier than kindergarten, according to this view, both to help families with child care and to provide children with early learning. And students should stay in school beyond high school, because decent-paying jobs in today's economy typically require either a college degree or vocational training.
In response, many states and cities have expanded education on at least one end of K-12. Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, New York, Vermont and West Virginia have something approaching universal pre-K. Arkansas, Indiana, New Jersey and more than a dozen other states have tuition-free community college. These expansions appeal to liberals' desire to use government for helping people and conservatives' preference for expanding the economic pie rather than redistributing wealth.
By The New York Times | Source: The National Institute for Early Education Research
"The income disparity deal is real in our country," Bill Haslam, a Republican and the former Tennessee governor who pushed for free community college, told Politico, "and the question is, 'What are we going to do about it?'"
Or as Rahm Emanuel, a Democrat and former mayor of Chicago who expanded pre-K and community-college enrollments, told me: "High school just doesn't cut it anymore. It was good for the industrial age. For the information age, you've got to go to community college." Emanuel added, "It has bipartisan support."
Biden goes to Capitol Hill
Tonight, President Biden will go before Congress to lay out his agenda, and an expansion of federal funding for pre-K and community college will be a central part of it. Despite the recent gains, both pre-K and community college remain far from universal. And Biden's proposal is an example of how he is trying to define bipartisanship during a time when congressional Republicans are often unwilling to support almost any new federal policy.
I realize that may sound like a sweeping statement about the Republican Party, but I think the facts justify it. Consider the past decade:
When Republicans controlled the White House and Congress in 2017 and 2018, the only major legislation they passed was a tax cut, and the only other big bill that came close was a repeal of Obamacare, without a replacement.
When Donald Trump ran for re-election, the party did not write a campaign platform.
During Barack Obama's presidency, and now Biden's, Republicans have almost uniformly opposed significant legislation, be it on health care, climate change, Wall Street regulation or economic stimulus.
Biden is hoping he has found one exception — infrastructure. A handful of congressional Republicans have proposed a plan for new roads and other infrastructure that is much smaller than Biden's yet a possible basis for negotiations. Ron Klain, Biden's chief of staff, told a group of columnists this week that he considered the offer serious and "a step in the right direction."
On many other issues, though, there is no sign that congressional Republicans are open to compromise with Biden. Their political strategy, as Senator Mitch McConnell famously described in 2010, is to make a Democratic president look partisan and try to win the next election.
That forces Biden to choose between passing bills along party lines and getting little done. He has decided to try to pass bills — and to emphasize the ways that the ideas are bipartisan even if the vote in Congress may not be. Expanded pre-K and community college certainly qualify.
Still, there are problems with this approach. One example: Democrats are not the only ones with constructive ideas about education. Republicans sometimes put more emphasis on school accountability, while Democrats assume — incorrectly — that adequate funding ensures high quality. If the two parties were negotiating over a bill, it might include a mix of both sides' best ideas.
Instead, congressional Republicans have walked away from substantive legislative talks, in education and several other major policy areas. Biden does not have a magical ability to change that. But it is not a sign of a healthy democracy.
DC, Kyle J Baker/Marvel, David Crownson and Courtland Ellis/Kingwood Comics, Amy Reeder/Marvel
The evolution of Black superheroes
The latest entry in Black History, Continued — a Times project about significant moments and figures in Black culture — is about superheroes. Why? "Superheroes gave us an opportunity to look at this thing that will keep coming back through the year, which is, what is a Black hero and what do heroes mean in Black history?" Veronica Chambers, who spearheaded the project, said.
A new generation of writers is placing Black heroes at the center of big-budget films and TV shows, including "Black Panther" and "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier." Black creators are also reinterpreting well-worn superhero narratives. The writer Ta-Nehisi Coates is working on a Superman screenplay that many believe will include a Black version of the character.
Though the story lines are fantastical, the works often contain parallels to real-life experiences: In a recent adaptation of the DC Comics character Nubia, for instance, the police profile and detain her as she tries to save the day. There's also a graphic novel series — "Harriet Tubman: Demon Slayer" — that reimagines the abolitionist as a katana-wielding warrior.