Updated: Apr 30, 2021
Umair Haque sees Biden as a status quo-oriented politician willing to take some incremental steps in the right direction-- which is, to be perfectly fair, exactly how Biden sold himself to the voters. And it's likely what American voters are most comfortable with. Haque sees Biden's governing style as shying "well away from institutional reconstruction. Bidenism doesn’t want to change the structure of American governance. It isn’t proposing, for example, an American Healthcare System, or a NASA for climate change, or an American Childcare System. Bidenism, in other words, isn’t about systemic change." At best, he's going to be a reformer, not a revolutionary. If anyone expected more from him, they're delusional.
Biden's not going to create an American Investment Bank or Basic Income... just try to reform Wall Street around the edges. He's not Bernie or FDR, never said he was and never will be. So far he's better than what I expected.
Haque acknowledges that Biden wants to invest in America but "not nearly on the scale it would take to really give Americans the expansive public goods that Europeans and Canadians enjoy. To get there, America needs to invest half its economy, just like Europe and Canada do, in, for example, healthcare, retirement, transport, childcare, and so on. Let me make that point really clear. Fixing America means tripling levels of public investment. Europe and Canada invest about half their economies in people and society-- America, just 15%. Bidenism wants to up that number-- true. But if we add it all up, to maybe 20 or 25%. Yes, it puts more into people and their potential, which is what all the plans and proposals amount to so far. That will make a difference, to be sure. But it falls far, far short of fixing America, in the sense of giving Americans the lives that people in a modern, functioning society like, say, Canada have. A marginal 20% or 25% is far, far short of the tripling of investment levels America needs to modernise."
Why so limited? Team Biden, down deep-- and in some cases, bot so deep-- believes in Austerity and budgetary constraint. They don't approve of America borrowing-- not even at essentially zero interest!-- for the future. The team is neo-liberal-- with the idea that "markets will fix everything, and so society doesn’t need any new institutions, like, say an American Healthcare System. Or a NASA for climate change-- the market will solve it. They’re well-intentioned folks-- not malicious morons like the Trumpists. And yet they aren’t nearly as ready for revolution and transformation as this moment demands."
NBC News published a piece about the political nature of this kind of Bidenism, Benjy Sarlin's theory that the Democrats will pit the billionaires against even well-off (suburban) professionals by taxing wealthy investors. Politically, they have no intention of affecting "the kind of educated upper middle-class suburban voters who abandoned the Republican Party and helped push Democrats to recent victories. Biden's plans include raising the corporate tax rate to 28 percent, changing how corporate earnings are taxed at home and abroad to boost revenue, requiring heirs to multimillion-dollar fortunes to pay taxes on inherited stocks, and nearly doubling the capital gains tax, but only for high earners, by treating it like regular income. Plus, he wants to boost IRS funding to increase audits of the same groups. Just as notable are those his taxes leave out. Upper middle-class, even elite, professionals who earn their income through salaries are largely untouched. As Biden put it in his speech: 'We’re going to reward work, not just wealth.' These taxpayers showed a willingness to support Democrats in 2018 and 2020 as the party made major gains with college educated voters in metro areas, who also served as a powerful source of donors."
Meanwhile, Haque points out that "Student debt isn’t being cancelled. The minimum wage is rising by a paltry amount over five years. Because the same old American logic prevails. If we give people a break, they’ll become lazy, and besides, we can’t afford it. That logic is foolish and wrong. What happens to people trapped by debt? They turn hard right, over time. The Dems are eroding their own base with these mistakes-- because they don’t understand how transformational they really have to be, beginning with the simple idea that as America’s become a poor rich country, people should just be given money, until they can make ends meet again."
Biden’s team isn’t “conservative”-- that’s fair to say. Or is it? And yet they share the same moral logic that’s made American life fall apart. People shouldn’t be given too much support, or else they’ll grow weak. We can’t afford to keep weak people around. This society’s purpose is only to breed the strong-- and then set them loose on everyone else. If you think I’m overstating it, tell me again why Bidenism doesn’t propose a NASA for climate change, an American Healthcare System, regular cash injections in everyone’s bank accounts...
Biden’s team looks generous and wise next to American conservatives, true-- but that’s like saying you’re a supermodel because you’re posing beside Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees. In global terms, Biden’s team is in fact very conservative. They don’t support nearly the levels of investment that Canadian and European centrist intellectuals and parties do, for example, as we’ve already discussed. In fact, Biden’s team’s thinking is far, far to the right of mainstream Canadian and European political philosophy, which understands that relying on markets to solve everything is a little like asking a gun not to kill someone eventually. If Biden was named, I don’t know, “Morel” or “DeMeester” and he was the PM of a European country, he’d be a very, very conservative one.
...Nobody much is really pointing out simple, obvious facts-- Biden’s plans fall far short of what it’d take to fix America, in objective economic or political terms, because they don’t hit nearly the bar of tripling, or even doubling, investment levels, they don’t build new institutions and systems. But those are just the things a failed state needs. One like America. Or the simplest fact of all: in global terms, Biden would be a conservative, well towards the right-- not some kind of new FDR... America can’t be fixed because Americans don’t want it to be. They’re too busy falling for the idea that you can have change without having to change at all.
Are there any American political leaders who do want to do what it really takes, even if it would be an uphill battle to get it accomplished? Yes, there are... but not if you look to the DNC, the DCCC or the DSCC for candidates. I asked some of the candidates Blue America has endorsed where they stand on the kind of systemic change Haque is advocating. Washington state progressive leader Jason Call was the first to respond:
"I have to admit, there was an incredible sense of emotional relief listening to Biden's speech to the joint session last night. I am no fan of Joe Biden or his legislative history, but anyone who tells you that we're not at least a couple of steps up from a fascist demagogue who openly incites racial violence and insurrection isn't reading the same room. Unfortunately, that's precisely what is also so very dangerous about a Biden administration. 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."
Christine Olivo, the progressive running in South Florida for the seat occupied by Federica Wilson, said that "Joe Biden is not the President for this moment. Americans have been stripped down to their most vulnerable position. Millions have lost their jobs. Millions have lost their insurance. Millions will lose their homes, if they have not already. Millions have incurred more debt during this pandemic than ever before. People are suffering and they are broken. Although this is a very sad time in our country’s history, this is also a time for hope! The opportunity to really 'build back better' is there, but our President is too conservative to meet the demands of the moment. If these past 100 days are a reflection of what is to come, then the Democrat’s will have a serious problem in the 2022 midterms."
Jessica Mason, the progressive congressional candidate in Dallas, told me that "While Biden's efforts are 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." If you'd like to contribute to Jessica, Christine, Jason or Shervin, please click on the 2022 congressional thermometer just below.
"There's a quote," Shervin Aazami told me this evening, "from feminist and civil rights activist Audre Lorde-- 'The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house.' Bidenism attempts to dismantle the master's house with the master's tools. As well intentioned as that may be, 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.
"Racism and classism go hand in glove in America. Our 'system' is not broken-- it is operating as designed. And the truth is, it was never designed to serve people of color. It was never designed to serve the working class. It was designed to maintain white hegemony, and feed the pockets of the financial elite. To tinker around the edges of this intentionally unjust design under the assumption that it can somehow eradicate the inequities it was built to perpetuate is a false narrative. It is a lie.
"Let me clear-- Bidenism hasn't even reversed Trumpism. Biden has maintained Trump's sanctions on Iran and the International Criminal Court (ICC), and his hawkishness towards China. 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."