Yesterday, a new poll from AP-NORC shows what all the other credible polls show: Biden with an overall approval rating that Trump never got near (63%) buoyed by a pandemic-handling approval of 71% (including by 47% of admitted Republican voters). Over the last 2-3 weeks, the Reuters/Ipsos> poll shows Biden approval/disapproval numbers up by 17 points, his Hill/Harris X poll numbers up by 20 points, the Politico/Morning Consult poll up by 19, the International Business Daily/TPP poll up by 20 and the Harvard/Harris poll up 21 points. Even the Republican Party polling firm Rasmussen shows Biden up, albeit just a bit.
It was never going to be hard for Biden-- or anyone else-- to be better than Trump. That bar of course, is too low. And being sane and competent regarding the pandemic is too low too, appreciated, of course, but not enough to expect from a president. Now that he's getting into the nitty-gritty of governing beyond the pandemic mess Trump left, we're starting to see the life-long conservative in Biden sticking out from under the "next FDR" cloak Ron Klain has deftly clothed him in. This morning the White House announced the nomination of Rahm Emanuel-- one of the most corrupt, incompetent and despised Democraps in the country who hates progressive values more than he hates fascism and fanously referred to progressives as "retards"-- as ambassador to Japan... as though he had to have something.
And this whole quest for meaningless "bipartisanship," is just plain stupid. Like Bernie said a few days ago, the America people want results, not DC game-playing. Republicans in Congress want Biden to fail so they can win the elections in 2022 by campaigning against his record. Unless he "negotiates" with them with that firmly in his mind, we're going to wind up with a far worse and far less effective infrastructure bill than the already too modest, pre-compromised one he originally proposed.
Erica Smith is the progressive candidate for the open North Carolina Senate seat. "Where Biden has succeeded," she told me this morning, "it's been because he's listened to the progressive wing of the party and met the moment, refusing to sell out people for the sake of 'bipartisanship'. We need this to continue to be a White House where Congresswoman Jayapal has more sway than Susan Collins or Jamie Dimon. We've already seen with the American Rescue Plan that the government acting boldly and in the best interests of working people, not Republicans or CEO's, is widely popular and results in good policy. We need to build on that by continuing to elevate the progressive voices in Congress and the Whitehouse and push President Biden to act swiftly on the multiple crises America's still facing."
Yesterday, Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon published a piece at Common Dreams, It Is Not Time for Progressives to Be Giving Joe Biden an 'A' Grade. The two grassroots activists wrote that "It's the job of progressive advocates and activists to tell inconvenient truths, without sugarcoating or cheerleading. To effectively confront the enormous problems facing our country and world, progressives need to soberly assess everything-- good, bad and mixed. Yet last week, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Pramila Jayapal, made headlines when she graded President Biden's job performance. 'I give him an A so far,' Jayapal said in an otherwise well-grounded interview with the Washington Post. She conferred the top grade on Biden even though, as she noted, 'that doesn't mean that I agree with him on every single thing.' Overall, the policies of the Biden administration have not come close to being consistently outstanding. Awarding an A to Biden is flatly unwarranted. It's also strategically wrongheaded. If we're going to get maximum reforms in this crucial period, President Biden needs focused pressure-- not the highest rating-- from progressives." I agree with Cohen and Solomon. Biden's more grounded in reality B or C leaves plenty of room for striving-- and for hard work for activists.
In school, an "A" grade commonly means "excellent performance" or "outstanding achievement." Rendering such a verdict on Biden's presidency so far promotes a huge misconception and lowers the progressive bar.
Biden does deserve credit for some strong high-level appointments (Deb Haaland as Interior Secretary jumps to mind), a number of important executive orders (many simply undoing four years of horrific Trumpism), and one crucial legislative achievement-- the American Rescue Act. The proposed American Jobs Act (a small step toward a Green New Deal) and American Families Act (education/anti-poverty) are also quite progressive.
But Biden has made several major appointments that overtly kowtowed to corporate America-- for example, "Mr. Monsanto" Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture and former venture capitalist Gina Raimondo as Commerce Secretary. To mark Biden's first 100 days, the Revolving Door Project issued an overall grade of B- in its report card on how Biden had done in preventing "corporate capture" of the executive branch by industries such as fossil fuels, Big Pharma and Big Tech. [They left out Mayo Pete, one of Biden's worst appointments and then, this morning we got Rahm.]
In an improvement over the Obama era, the Biden administration earned a B/B+ in keeping Wall Streeters from dominating its economic and financial teams. On the other hand, as graded by the Revolving Door Project, Biden got a D- on limiting the power of the military-industrial complex over U.S. foreign policy: "We are particularly alarmed by Biden's hiring of several alumni of the Center for a New American Security, a hawkish think tank funded by weapons manufacturers like Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman."
Much as "personnel is policy" in the executive branch, the federal budget indicates actual priorities. Biden's budget reflects his continuing embrace of the military-industrial complex, a tight grip that squeezes many billions needed for vital social, economic and environmental programs. The administration recently disclosed its plan to increase the basic military budget to $753 billion, a $13 billion boost above the last bloated Trump budget. (All told, the annual total of U.S. military-related spending has been way above $1 trillion for years.) And Biden continues to ramp up spending for nuclear weapons, including ICBMs-- which former Defense Secretary William Perry aptly says are "some of the most dangerous weapons in the world."
Meanwhile, Biden is heightening the dangers of an unimaginably catastrophic war with Russia or China. In sharp contrast to his assertion on Feb. 4 that "diplomacy is back at the center of our foreign policy," Biden proceeded to undermine diplomacy with reckless rhetoric toward Russia and a confrontational approach to China. The effects have included blocking diplomatic channels and signaling military brinkmanship.
Biden won praise when he announced plans for a not-quite-total U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, but he has not committed to ending the U.S. air war there-- and some forms of on-the-ground military involvement are open-ended.
Unfortunately, little attention has gone to the alarming realities of Biden's foreign policy and inflated budget for militarism. Domestic matters are in the spotlight, where-- contrary to overblown praise-- the overall picture is very mixed.
While Biden has issued some executive orders improving social and regulatory policies, he has refused to issue many much-needed executive orders. Give him an "I" for incomplete, including on the issue of $1.7 trillion in student loan debt that undermines the economy and burdens 45 million debtors, especially people of color. Biden has not budged, even after non-progressive Democrats like Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer have pressed him to use his executive authority under existing legislation to excuse up to $50,000 in college debt per person.
On the subject of healthcare reform, Biden has long been held back by his allegiance to corporate power-- as Rep. Jayapal knows well, since she has tenaciously led the Medicare for All battle in the House. Biden has never disavowed his appalling comment in March 2020 that he might veto Medicare for All if it somehow passed both houses of Congress. During the traumatic 14 months of the pandemic since then, while millions have lost coverage because insurance is tied to employment, Biden's stance hardly improved. Candidate Biden had promised to lower the age of Medicare eligibility from 65 to 60, but even that meager promise has disappeared.
With wealth and income having gushed to the top in recent decades, and especially during COVID, Biden is proposing some tax increases on corporations and the very wealthy-- quite popular with voters-- to pay for infrastructure and social programs. For example, Biden proposes returning the top marginal tax bracket on the richest individuals from 37 percent to merely 39.6 percent, where it was in 2017 before Trump lowered it. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders campaigned on raising the top tax bracket to 52 percent, while AOC called for raising it to 70 percent, a popular approach according to polls. To put this all in perspective: When the U.S. economy and middle class boomed during the 1950s, the top tax bracket was over 90 percent under Republican President Eisenhower.
We have no quarrel with those who seek to inspire optimism among progressives by pointing out that their activism has already achieved some great things. But activism should be grounded in candor and realism about where we are now-- and how far we still need to go.
Marianne Williamson, who got to know Joe Biden a little when they were both campaigning for president last year, told me this morning that "Progressives shouldn’t be criticized as ‘unsupportive of the president’ when we point out the failure of a public policy to address the deeper needs of the American people. We’re being supportive to the men, women and children who desperately need the changes we’re pushing for. That’s not 'negative;' it’s how democracy works."
"It's quite a phenomenon," said Jason Call this morning, "the glowing reaction to Biden's achievements thus far, and something we on the left fully anticipated. It dovetails with the 'brunch lib' mentality that the single most important thing ever was simply to get Trump out, while the subsequent policy is unimportant. Democracy has been saved! But the stark reality is that we need so much more out of the Biden administration right now, in terms of wage increases, healthcare expansion, education supports, reduction of the war machine, housing supports... and we know we're not going to get it because conservative Democrats (and Biden is one of them) simply don't believe in it. I also don't believe that Biden or his corporate-laden administration have any connection whatsoever with the daily struggles of over half the country. A hundred million people in America are in survival mode with no idea whether they're going to be helped by their government in the long run. For most, the stimulus has already been used and forgotten, and we're back to the long winter of paycheck to paycheck, and hoping we don't hit that $400 emergency that breaks us. A study showed recently that millenials (now in their 30s) have a quarter of the wealth that boomers had at the same age, but this economic disparity simply isn't being recognized by many moderate politicians or boomer voters who are secure in their housing, healthcare, and retirement. There is a real danger in being overly congratulatory of Biden's 'achievements' thus far. It muddies the waters on critical work that still needs to be done. It also greenlights corporate Democrat scoundrels like WA-02 incumbent Rick Larsen to cast every minor improvement as 'boldly progressive and FDR inspired', where most legislation being passed at this point is anything but progressive, it is perhaps just not as conservative. Real progressives must not fall into this PR trap. Our mission is to always speak truth to power, on behalf of the people."