by Thomas Neuburger
I've been hammering on Biden lately, and therefore bucking a trend. The latest in post-Trump hagiography is to compare Joe Biden to FDR — seriously. For example, in a truly horrid piece for the New York Times (headlined "Four Ways of Looking at the Radicalism of Joe Biden"), Ezra Klein wrote:
Biden was rarely, if ever, the voice calling for transformational change or go-it-alone ambition.
But you’d never know it from his presidency. The standard explanation for all this is the advent of the coronavirus. The country is in crisis, and Biden is rising to meet the moment. But I don’t buy it. That may explain the American Rescue Plan. But the American Jobs Plan, and the forthcoming American Family Plan, go far beyond the virus. Put together, they are a sweeping indictment of the prepandemic status quo as a disaster for both people and the planet — a status quo that in many cases Biden helped build and certainly never seemed eager to upend.
Over the past few months, I’ve been talking to White House staff members, to congressional Democrats, to policy experts and to the Biden administration’s critics to better understand why President Biden is making such a sharp break with Joe Biden. Here are a few of them, though this is by no means a complete list.
Shades of Wallace Stevens' "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird":
I was of three minds, Like a tree In which there are three blackbirds.
Except Ezra Klein is looking at a tree with no blackbird in it at all. President Biden isn't making a "sharp break" with Senator Biden, but continuing down the Senator's well-worn path. He doesn't, as Klein asserts, see his role "as sensing what the country wants, intuiting what people will and won’t accept, and then working within those boundaries." Biden has rarely been about "what the country wants." He's usually about what his donors want, and still is.
Let me offer just one example, from a pay-walled Matt Taibbi piece, "The Two Faces of Joe Biden." Taibbi offers many examples of the "high school" hagiography of Biden in the press — with a nice sideways look at the process: "Biden’s people [had been] whispering F.D.R. comparisons in the ears of reporters for weeks" — but this one stands out.
Biden Blackmails Mexico for Better Immigration News
As we've discussed several times, the worldwide need for Covid vaccine doses conflicts with the need for Pharma industry profits. Oxford and AstraZeneca, for example, once planned to sell their vaccine at cost and license its manufacturing for free — until Bill Gates stepped in and talked them out of it.
This dynamic — profit before people — is playing out broadly in the industry today, with second- and third-world nations asking vaccine patent holders to relax their intellectual property rights so that they can more easily manufacture vaccines locally, and Big Pharma saying, in effect, "No. If we can't make money, you won't get the next vaccine you'll need against the variants."
Here's how Taibbi put it:
A hundred countries have formally asked the World Trade Organization to waive intellectual property laws that only allow companies like Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca to make Covid-19 vaccines. Favoring the waiver: Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and hundreds of millions of poor and mostly nonwhite folks in other countries who are nervous about the whole dying thing.
Opposing (drumroll, please): that same PhRMA lobbying group, which says such waivers would “undermine the global response to the pandemic, including ongoing effort to tackle new variants.” Meaning, industry will stop developing vaccines now, and certainly won’t develop any the next time, if you don’t let it cash in.
Where does Joe Biden fit it? He's using Mexico's need for vaccine "handouts" from the U.S. — because the need for profit prevents them from manufacturing there own — to force them to fix the immigration news on our border:
Without the ability to make generics, countries like Mexico have to be grateful for handouts of some of the tens of millions of excess vaccine doses we have sitting in storage. In fact, in what the New York Times called a “notable step into vaccine diplomacy,” Biden agreed to send 2.5 million doses to Mexico in return for Mexico promising to increase patrols on its southern border with Guatemala.
To recap: while waffling on patent waivers, Biden traded 2.5 million doses of vaccine to Mexico for a promise to crack down on the Central American migrants who have become a pain in this administration’s public relations tuchus. Perhaps Biden eventually will push for the patent waivers, but for now, does anyone even have to ask what the headlines describing that kind of lives-for-fewer-immigrants deal would have looked like if Trump brokered it? [emphasis added]
He could have just given them the doses. Instead, he "traded" them, leveraged their need for personal political gain.
This story certainly exemplifies Biden's craven manipulation of second- and third-world desperation, but notice the praise-singing spin given this "negotiation" in the press: "a notable step into vaccine diplomacy." As Taibbi asks, how would the press have presented a "lives-for-fewer-immigrants deal" were Trump still president?
Perhaps by describing it as exactly what it is: blackmail.
(I've launched a Substack site to greet the post-Trump era, the age in which the aggregated Democratic Party will show what it's made of. You can get more information here and here. If you decide to sign up — it's free — my thanks to you!)