Editor’s Note: Meg Jacobs teaches history at Princeton University. Follow her on Twitter @MegJacobs100. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers. Read more opinion on CNN.

CNN  — 

The best thing about President Joe Biden is that he’s old. And that means he can remember a time before – and not just before the rightward swing of former President Donald Trump or even the centrism of former Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

He remembers a time before small-government proponent former President Ronald Reagan, when Democrats stood before the country and said unabashedly that a big and bold government was exactly what the country needed.

And that makes Biden an old fashioned New Deal liberal in all of the best ways.

Meg Jacobs

The number of times that Biden said “jobs” on Wednesday night – over 40 – was almost worthy of parody. But in some ways, it was as if he was making up for what’s been missing in government for decades. Americans, particularly in the wake of the pandemic, suffered significant job loss. And Biden fully believes that job creation is one of the most basic functions of government.

He also believe green jobs can be a part of the solution. The Green New Deal has appeal not just because of climate change but because of the potential job opportunities it offers. Biden said as much: “For me, when I think climate change, I think jobs.”

The last president who pushed solar energy, Jimmy Carter, said Americans were being too self-indulgent and needed to move away from fossil fuels. During the energy crisis of the 1970s, when supply shortages led to skyrocketing gas prices, Carter told Americans this directly: “In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption.”

However, instead of pushing alternative fuels as economic stimulus and job creation, Carter, the moralizing Sunday school teacher and centrist Democrat, was shaming Americans for their consumerist ways. That went over like a ton of bricks.

Still, despite Carter’s shortcoming, he and Biden have remained close, and on Thursday, the President even visited him at his home in Georgia. But Biden has also learned from Carter what not to do when selling an idea to the American people.

On Wednesday night, Biden understood that he had to offer – and provide – something more palatable. He reached back to former President Franklin D. Roosevelt because he was the president who, like Biden, was unflinchingly a proponent of the little guy.

With one in four Americans out of work, Roosevelt came into office during an incredibly challenging point in US history. In the days after his election, as he was planning for an unprecedented growth of government to rescue the unemployed and transform the nation, Roosevelt confided to Frances Perkins, the first female secretary of labor, “my hope is that I can accomplish something worthwhile for the man at the foot of the ladder.”

And, in his 1933 inaugural address, Roosevelt asked for “broad executive powers against the emergency, as great as the power that would be given to me if we were invaded by a foreign foe.” The era of big government had arrived.

Fast forward to the 21st century and Obama spent much of his administration talking about growing the country from the “middle out.” But, on Wednesday, Biden went one step further – saying it was not just about helping the middle class, but also about lifting up the poorest. “My fellow Americans, trickle-down economics has never worked. It’s time to grow the economy from the bottom up and from the middle out.”

In a 1932 radio address, Roosevelt invoked “the forgotten man at the bottom of the economic pyramid.” And nearly 90 years later, Biden was reaching for those Americans, too, when he described the over $2 trillion American Jobs Plan as “a blue-collar blueprint to build America.”

He didn’t spend time talking about the value of going to college and getting middle class jobs. Biden spoke about getting good paying blue-collar jobs. “Nearly 90% of the infrastructure jobs created by the American Jobs Plan do not require a college degree.”

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    What’s more, these “good paying jobs” should be protected by the strength of unions. Now there’s a throwback. When’s the last time a president made a full-throated defense of unions in a speech to a joint session of Congress?

    But Biden’s been advocating for the little guy since his first year in government – 1973 – when the years of postwar boom came to a crashing halt and the energy crisis set in.

    Truck drivers, who transported the nation’s fuel and food across America, were struggling to pay the soaring gas prices. When they rose up in protest, Biden was with them. Literally. He hopped on a big rig, traveled some several hundred miles from Delaware to Ohio, and said he knew why they felt “angry and frustrated.” They has been “left out” and mistreated – and politicians has an obligation to help them.

    And that’s what Biden did so brilliantly on Wednesday night. He stood before a hurting nation and said that government has a duty to help. And if Congress – and the American people – support his administration’s initiatives, “There is nothing … nothing we can’t do.”