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Build Back Better

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Kelly Hyman Build Back Better. The First 100 Days of the Biden Administration, and Beyond, Amplify Publishing, 2021

Thank you NetGalley for providing me with this uncorrected proof for review. 

As I finished reading Build Back Better, Brian Williams began The 11th Hour on MNSBC, with his familiar phrase enumerating the day of the current Presidency. Tonight, it was ‘Day 147 of the Biden Administration’. That Kelly Hyman has written in detail about only the first 100 days, and that the story continues, is not a defect. This is particularly so when her approach is that of a thoughtful observer and sometime advocate, rather than a writer who is ticking off the good and bad points of the administration, arriving at a number, and leaving the scene for someone else to analyse. Not that this work dwells on analysis. As is appropriate, Hyman provides a useful dialogue reflecting some of her thoughts and evaluation, some of the responses to President Biden and Vice President Harris initiatives, and at times, her hopes for the future.

Hyman provides a clear record of what has happened, including detail on the Executive Orders signed by President Biden, where policies have been introduced or changed between this administration and the last, and reflection on some of the proposed policies being devised and debated in Congress and between the Democratic and Republican Parties. 

I admit that I had some misgivings about this author. Kelly Hyman appears on Fox and Friends, Newsmax, OAN and local Sinclair outlets at times and would accept invitations to speak on other right wing news outlets. At the same time, she is an acknowledged Democrat, has donated her time to working for the Party, and is a Democratic strategist, ‘a voice for the hope and values of the new administration’. She believes that conservative media consumers deserve to hear more than one opinion – and offers it. Indeed, she says, ‘This book is an open letter to my viewers on conservative media. Independents and Democrats are welcome as well’. I am glad that I decided to join her audience too. 

Build Back Better provides a clear, authoritative account of the start of Joe Biden’s Presidency. It is a useful read for those interested in American politics in general, and for those who wish to follow this Presidency in particular. I found Kelly Hyman’s book a sound accompaniment to watching MSNBC political news, American political historian, Heather Cox Richardson’s column and podcasts, and local (Australian) news sources.
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The first one hundred days of a U.S president's time in office can often be a decisive indicator of what is to come.
The wealth of New Deal legislation launched during FDR's first three months in 1933, for example, were critical to restoring public confidence during the Great Depression. A similar deluge of bills released during LBJ's early days  following Kennedy's 1963 assassination also proved indicative of the 'Great Society' programmes which would characterise his first year in the presidency, although not the escalation of the Vietnam War which would come to dominate it and ultimately overwhelm it.
Gerald Ford's early decision to pardon his disgraced predecessor Richard Nixon in 1974, meanwhile, probably doomed his own presidency from the start.  Both the ultimately successful presidencies of Kennedy and Clinton got off to a bad start too:, the end of JFK's first one hundred days coinciding with the aftermath of his biggest ever failure, the disastrous 1961 invasion of the Bay of Pigs on Cuba. In contrast, the decisive event of Ronald Reagan's first three months in office in 1981 was his own injury in an assassination attempt, a development which came very close to killing him but which ultimately boosted both his popularity and his presidency.
Most of these things are not discussed in Build Back Better which simply attempts to assess how well the current US President Joe Biden did during his first one hundred days in office, a period which lasted from January 20th until the end of April. The text is unlikely to age well. It is already slightly out of date and only takes about half an hour to read: only the most dedicated readers will want to study the nitty gritty of the complex list of acts and bills detailed at the end. Author Kelly Hyman, a one time child actor who has become a journalist, TV personality and a lifelong Democrat also makes no attempt to be neutral whatsoever. She is unashamedly pro-Biden.
Despite this, a portrait does emerge of a young administration actively engaged in tackling the economic and public health crises Biden inherited from his now disgraced predecessor.  With the sole exception of the US-Mexican border issue where the Biden tram seem to have been caught on the hop and which now falls under the purview of Vice President Kathleen Harris, the record of the Biden administration thus far seems to have been very good indeed. Their success is testament to the power of a president content to busily and quietly get on with the business of governing as opposed to his predecessor's tactic of endlessly provoking unnecessary public rows, and  then making absurdly grandiose claims about his ultimately dismal record in office. In particular, Trump's appalling record during the COVID-19 pandemic (publicly playing down its existence for as long as possible and even today undermining public health initiatives by fuelling anti-vaccine conspiracy theories while hypocritically taking the vaccine himself) is unlikely to be forgotten by American voters in a hurry.
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An interesting brief insight into the first 100 days of the Biden administration. 

Kelly Hyman is a former actress and attorney who is often seen in American media in the role of political commentator and strategist. 

The books starts with a short summary of Hyman's background to set the scene for the information and political outlook presented in the book. 

The next 40 pages include a short summary of promises made by the Biden team on the campaign trail. This is followed by Hyman's narrative around a selected number of policy areas, including Covid-19, infrastructure and the economy, healthcare, environment, foreign policy, immigration, gun safety, equity for everyone, democracy, liberty and justice. Each section is divided into the promises made for that policy area, followed by the accomplishments and next steps.

After these dives into the various key policy areas, we find 50 pages of a selection of abbreviated records of President Biden’s activities during his first one hundred days in office. We find summaries of executive orders, cabinet confirmation, proclamations, and memorandum listed for each relevant day. 

All in all, a short book with a summary, from a Democratic, although fairly balanced, viewpoint of the start to Biden's presidency.
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With a long-held interest in American politics dating back to watching the Nixon resignation on television, Build Back Better was a most anticipated study. Kelly Hyman is an attorney, television commentator, legal analyst and Democratic strategist. Subtitled, ‘the first one hundred days of the Biden administration and beyond’, her book contrasts various policy issues and the President’s implementation thereof. Given the deep bipartisan divide in the United States, many will react to the content from their preconceived perspective. Hyman acknowledges her personal circumstances and attempts to provide a balanced interpretation from an everyday American mindset. A most readable account, with generally reasoned and balanced assessment of the policy machinations. An engaging and informative book with a four-star rating. With thanks to Amplify Publishing and the author for a copy for review purposes.
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