It's hardly news that Biden's speech was praised by Democrats and panned by Republicans. That's what political parties do. Even Trump-hating Republican Mitt Romney commented snidely to reporters, "I’m sure Bernie was happy." Was Bernie happy? Ro Khanna sure was-- and he said Bernie was too. Newsweek called Khanna's praise "an important signal that the left wing of the Democratic Party has warmed to the commander in chief. The progressive California Democrat said Biden's speech was a 'home run' and applauded him for doing 'better' than either he or Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) believed he would during last year's Democratic primary campaign. He also told MeidasTouch that he believed the president had rejected 'the frame of Reaganism' and championed government intervention in the economy and other areas of policy... 'I don't think Bernie will mind my saying this... he said: Well, he's doing better than we thought he would, isn't he Ro? The truth is he really rejected the framework of Reaganism, and he's making a bold, affirmative case for government as necessary. I loved the speech. He's got his own way of relating and earning trust of people; I think he's off to a fabulous start.'"
Khanna backed Biden's speech as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (D-NY), another key member of the progressive caucus, tweeted that activists were not getting enough credit for their "relentless work" in pushing the movement's key causes.
Posting on social media after the president's address, the congresswoman said activists could not stop until their goals were met, and urged them to "keep going" with their activism.
Ilhan-- God bless her-- was more pointed: "If you say you believe health care is a right and not a privilege, then support Medicare 4 All."
In their coverage, The Guardian noted that "Senator Bernie Sanders, sitting on the House floor, and Senator Elizabeth Warren, up in the balcony, visibly lapped it up. Both were forced to endure four years of Trump blasphemies in this very room. Their time has come and Biden is the unlikely vessel." Bernie didn't do a formal response to Biden's speech, as he had done after every Trump SOTU address. But Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) did:
Bowman didn't utter a negative word about the popular Biden, his popular agenda or his speech. He just went further... a lot further, noting that "We are capable of big, powerful, transformative change... We have taken steps to abate the immediate crises of Covid-19 and the economic shutdown it caused. But we, as the governing party, have to go beyond putting a band-aid on the virus. We need to rebuild our nation with a new foundation. A foundation rooted in love, and care, and equality. Where justice is truly real for all of us, regardless of race, class, gender, orientation, or religion. I fully believe we can. And the moment is now because this moment is historic... We need a Green New Deal for Public Housing, as my colleague and friend Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez has proposed. We need a Green New Deal for Cities, as my friend Cori Bush has proposed. And we need a Green New Deal for Public Schools. Every part of our society must become part of the answer because this crisis is urgent. We can create those new, green jobs, and we must make the jobs people already have better. That’s what the Thrive Act is all about, which would create 15 million green union jobs."
One top House Democratic staffer told me "progressives would have really loved it if he came out for Medicare for All or the Green New Deal etc-- but I think the mood is cautious optimism with the Biden Administration thus far. No one really had any issues with the speech, but of course actions speak louder than words and progressives on the Hill are ready to keep pushing Biden to the left (publicly and behind the scenes). Many progressive staffers and staffers for progressive Members have told me over the past several weeks that they have been pleasantly surprised with the first 100 days. No one is enamored of course, but they're not apoplectic either. Everyone should be aware that to the extent Biden has been solid on some of our priorities didn't happen by accident either-- there has been a lot of lobbying and strategizing by the progressives in Congress every day. I'm on the phone with our White House liaison often multiple times each day. It's the battle in the trenches over every yard-- but at least we have a seat at the table. With a Republican in office we are completely ignored. That is why it was so important to get Biden elected even if he wasn't anyone's dream candidate."
Progressive Democrats in Congress have been more subdued in their critiques of Biden than some of the cutting edge candidates running for Congress, especially the ones running in primaries for seats held by status quo-supporting establishment Democrats. Yesterday we looked at some of those critiques.
Jason Call, running for a seat held by right-of-center corporate whore Rick Larsen in the northwest corner of Washington state spoke from the heart, admitting that he's no fan of Biden's but that "there was an incredible sense of emotional relief listening to Biden's speech... The moderates are already lulled into their self-prescribed fantasy that all will be well-- if not immediately, then on a not-too-distant horizon-- because a Democrat is at the helm. We have already seen the limited willingness to take action against institutions that are part of 'the problem.' A bigger than ever war budget is already on the table, ensuring massive profits for weapons manufacturers and continued global tensions, not to mention the impact of the military on the climate emergency. The rhetoric of Biden's address, leaning on aggression towards China and winding the clock back nearly twenty years I could clearly hear GW Bush's 'terr'ists' stroking the fears of middle America. I was listening to Brie Joy this morning on her Bad Faith podcast, and she struck the chord that progressives-- especially the ones in Congress-- have to start pushing: time is running out. Even in this presidential term, as some celebrate that Biden isn't the open authoritarian anti-progressive that we expected, we simply can't wait on transformative policies, because time is running out. We are still in the very anticipated position that not enough is being done to assist the poor, working poor, and dwindling middle class out of despair. This will likely lead to substantial Democratic losses in both chambers of Congress. Obama didn't take that urgency seriously, and the American people paid for it through the rest of his term, with the top 10% earning more than 100% of their wealth back in recovery from the Great Recession, while the bottom 90% lost wealth. That led to the eventual rejection of typical austerity minded Democratic Party politics in 2016 in favor of someone who simply said 'I'll bring your jobs back.' I don't expect necessary transformative systemic changes from Biden. He simply doesn't have the history to back up any such expectations. We can't pass the PRO Act unless we abolish the filibuster, so saying to Congress 'bring me the bill' is just words. Same goes for $15-- he can say it, but what good does saying it do if you're not using your position to make it happen. With a Democrat controlled Congress that would rather demand a full repeal of the SALT taxes, which benefits millionaires not the working class, the realpolitik analysis of where we are right now is that we'd better figure out a way to motivate the Democratic Party to stand up for working people or brace for a repeat of the 2010 elections."
The other candidates we spoke with had similar perspectives. Dallas progressive Jessica Mason, while calling Biden's efforts "a start, we need to think bigger. Too many Americans are struggling to get by, despite our country having more than enough wealth and technology to provide a basic standard of living. For America to remain competitive in the 21st-century economy, we need to invest in more public goods and free Americans from the burden of debt, namely student and medical debt. When we allow Americans the opportunity to no longer worry about the cost of necessities or crippling debt, we give them the chance to dream and innovate."
Shervin Aazami, a San Fernando Valley advocate and candidate for the seat help by Brad Sherman quoted civil rights activist Audre Lorde-- "The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house." Aazami told me that Biden has made it clear that he's using those tools in his attempt to dismantle the key problems facing America. "As well intentioned as that may be," said Aazami, "it is equally ill-informed. The foundational reforms real progressives are fighting for-- a single-payer healthcare system, housing as a human right, reparations, a 100% renewable energy economy, tuition-free college, divestment from policing and our military-industrial complex, and so forth-- represent a dismantling of the current status quo. It's a dismantling of the systems of injustice and policy-based violence that have perpetuated racial, social, economic, and gender-based inequities throughout America. What does that policy violence look like? Our for-profit healthcare system that commodifies people's bodies. Our for-profit prison system that monetizes incarceration. Our prioritization of Wall Street profit over the livelihoods of the bottom 97% of Americans. Our militarized immigration system that weaponizes fear of migrants to justify its presence. Our decades of divestment from public housing, public health, public education, critical infrastructure, and environmental protection... Bidenism hasn't even reversed Trumpism... Biden negotiated against the American people when he dropped the fight for a $15 minimum wage-- which was already a compromise-- and $2,000 stimulus checks to negotiate with Republicans that didn't end up voting for his stimulus package anyway. Biden's moratorium on ICE deportations was proven to be a farce, and he's reopened the same heinous detention centers that ignited public vitriol about kids in cages under Trump. He has refused to cancel student debt, and has refused to exercise EXISTING powers under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) to provide healthcare coverage to all Americans during the course of the pandemic."