Despite a concerted right-wing attempt to smear her and make her a symbol of "otherness," Ilhan Omar (D-MN) has emerged as a something of a hero for millions of Americans. Her district-- basically the city of Minneapolis and some of its suburbs-- backs her gigantically, as they did when she was a trusted state legislator. Her district is the bluest in the state, but when she was elected in 2018 she significantly out-performed the big wins the district gave Hillary Clinton (73%-- sane as Obama in 2012) and out-going congressman Keith Ellison (69.1%). 267,703 Minnesotans voted for her (78.0%). 2020 votes are still being tallied.
Over the weekend, Ilhan penned a foreign policy-oriented OpEd for The Nation, I Hope President Biden Seizes This Opportunity. For some reason she foresees "a new presidency based on peace and cooperation," ending a Trumpist era of taunting, mocking and burning bridges with our allies, "while simultaneously cozying up to some of the most brutal dictatorial regimes around the world—especially those in the oil-rich Middle East. The damage done by the Trump administration runs deep, and it will take hard work and a clear understanding of the extent of the damage to fix it. With foreign policy primarily driven by the Executive Branch, President Biden has a tremendous opportunity to reorient our foreign policy in the region."
When Biden campaigned on a kind of status quo ante, he didn't have anything like what Ilhan wrote about in mind. In foreign policy-- and domestic policy-- Biden simply wants to bring the U.S. back to a kind of "normalcy" that is based on
maintaining the status quo
allowed for the rise of Trumpism
She wrote that Biden has a tremendous opportunity to reverse Trump's foreign policy. She's right; he does. But what comes after "reversing" Trump? Based on the names of people being tossed around as likely top aides to run his administration, enlightened, progressives approaches are not what anyone has in mind. "Instead of siding with one group of dictators over another," Ilhan wrote, "we should position ourselves at an equal distance from both, allowing ourselves to be honest brokers, protecting our national security and interests while promoting human rights and democracy. We can hold Iran accountable for its human rights violations while also holding Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and the UAE accountable. This applies to the occupation as well. Ignoring the suffering of the Palestinians runs counter to our most basic values. Moreover, it threatens our national security. No less a figure than Trump’s former defense secretary said that the United States pays “a military price every day” for our role in perpetuating the occupation. As I have said before, we must reinsert the call for a two-state solution with full human rights and self-determination for both Israelis and Palestinians back into the public debate with urgency. More broadly, we must recognize that keeping tens of thousands of troops in the region is a failed endeavor. When people’s only interaction with the United States is through weapons sales and our military presence, they see us as an imperialist occupying force. It also sends a signal to the rest of the world that we care more about material interests like oil than we do about democracy or human rights. We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reorient our foreign policy away from shortsighted military alliances and toward justice. We can create an America that means what it says when we claim to stand for human rights and democracy. An end to arms sales to dictators. An end to collective punishment of innocent civilians. And renewed support for multilateralism and accountability. I hope President Biden seizes this opportunity."
Everyone has high hopes for a Biden administration that will move American policy forward. My best guess is that an awful lot of people are going to be very disappointed when he moves it backward instead. Better than Trump? Of course. But unless you considered the Obama administration Heaven-- and Obama picked Biden to be the Democratic nominee because he did feel that way and knew Biden will aim for a kind of political restorationism akin to what Charles II attempted in the U.K. 1660 and what Bourbons Louis XVIII and Charles X tried doing after the fall of Napoleon.
Progressives imagines Biden enacting their agenda-- an agenda he has spent a whole life in politics being hostile to-- and establishment Democrats see him restoring the pointless cronyism, careerism and institutional corruption that is what the post-Great Society Democratic Party has increasingly come to stand for. for example, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) have pushed for Biden to use his powers under the Higher Education Act to cancel up to $50,000 in debt to federal student loan borrowers. Biden has been on the wrong side of student debt for his whole career.
Yesterday, NBC's Sahil Kapur reported that Democrats, who have failed to take back the Senate, want Biden to use "executive power" to enact the policies they would have been able to had they nominated and elected reasonable candidates instead of uninspiring mush like Cal Cunningham (NC), Amy McGrath (KY), Sara Gideon (ME), MJ Heger (TX), Barbara Bollier (KS), Theresa Greenfield (IA) and Jaime Harrison (SC), having set on fire over $750 million in the process.
Cunningham (46.9%)- $161.6 million
McGrath (38.2%)- $104.2 million
Gideon (42.7%)- $129.6 million
Heger (43.9%)- $51.3 million
Bollier (41.6%)- $39.4 million
Greenfield (45.2%)- $143.7 million
Harrison (44.2%)- 124.4%
Kapur wrote that "The calls from senators reflect a recognition that Democratic lawmakers may not be able to pass a transformative legislative agenda after under-performing in congressional races. And unless Democrats win two Georgia Senate runoffs on Jan. 5, Biden will be the first president since 1989 to enter office without his party controlling both chambers of Congress."
Progressive Democrat Ed Markey: "The president-elect, beginning on January 20, should act as aggressively as possible to reverse the effects of the four years of Donald Trump, and to advance a more positive and effective agenda to make the United States the leader in fighting the climate crisis." He wants Biden to "test the outer limits of his powers" through administrative action.
Another progressive senator, Mazie Hirono (HI) wants Biden to look "at extreme actions. He's not gonna let the Senate and Mitch McConnell-- if he still is holding forth-- to stop what we need to be doing for our country... We've watched Mitch. He's ruthless. And he apparently doesn't care about the impact of his blocking everything on the country. He's done it before."
Jeff Hauser, a progressive strategist who runs the Revolving Door Project that vets Cabinet appointees, said Biden should not wait for Congress to pass new laws but to look for existing laws to advance his agenda. He said climate regulations can be beefed up through the 1963 Clean Air Act and corporate excesses can be curtailed using the 1890 Sherman Antitrust Act.
"You don't necessarily need to pass new laws to solve problems. You can implement old laws," Hauser said. "Our basic message is that each agency and department should utilize the statutory tools at their disposal to make positive change, rather than waiting for some complicated sequential game developed by the White House and Congress."
The courts could be a hurdle for Biden. The Supreme Court's new 6-3 conservative majority may have a more limited view of the extent of Biden's executive authority after Republicans replaced the late liberal icon Ruth Bader Ginsburg with conservative Amy Coney Barrett one week before the election.
Hauser urged Biden not to be "intimidated" by potential court defeats, arguing that a judicial blockade of popular policies could be useful as a campaign issue in the 2022 midterm elections.
"Biden's going to need to be willing to lose on occasion to clarify the stakes, rather than avoiding potential defeat at all costs, which at times was a guiding mentality in the Obama years," he said.
I wonder if they grasp who Joe Biden actually is. Or if they're just letting their own hopes and dreams run away from them. Better than Trump is the low bar which Biden has set for himself. Expecting anything more is, at best, unrealistic and probably delusional.