Did anyone else notice that in his address to Congress Joe Biden said an awful lot of things he has never said before. In his 40 years in politics he has certainly had ample opportunity to say things like “health care is a human right” or “it’s time to ask the billionaires to pay their fair share,” but instead he has been saying “we have to make health care affordable” and as recently as last June he was assuring a roomful of billionaires that if he were elected president “nothing would fundamentally change.”
So it struck me as odd that here was Joe “I beat the socialist” Biden sounding, well, exactly like the socialist that he beat. Down to his very punctuation, he was channeling the world’s most famous Democratic Socialist to the point of championing trickle UP economics as if he were reciting any of Bernie Sanders’ dankest memes. The same guy who was reassuring us during his presidential campaign “I’m not Bernie Sanders” suddenly sounds…well, just like Bernie Sanders. About half the time that is.
While Biden’s history as a rudderless politician has always been cause for concern, his sudden lack of concern that Fox News and Republicans will call him dirty names (like “socialist” or “radical”) is a good indicator that the Democratic Party finally understands that Bernie Sanders has been right all along when he said “I have zero doubt that unless we significantly improve the lives of the American people this year, Democrats will get wiped out in the 2022 midterm elections.”
So when it comes to paying for major expansions in public education and child care by taxing millionaires and billionaires, we have President Biden Sanders to thank. When it comes to prioritizing infrastructure and rejecting the the offshoring of jobs and and profits by free trade deals, thank you President Biden Sanders. When it comes to rejecting neoliberal trickle-down economics and declaring “It’s time to grow the economy from the bottom up and middle out,” that’s something only President Biden SANDERS would do. And we can be sure that while Joe Biden had never uttered “health care is a human right,” President Biden Sanders most certainly would.
It took a Trump presidency, a pandemic and nationwide civil unrest for the Democrats to figure it out. Bernie Sanders publicly warned Democrats, “Given all that we face, now is not the time to think small. It is time to think big, very big.” And the vision of economic equality Biden outlined was transformative indeed, much moreso than one would expect from a president who was promising stability for the billionaires.
But President Biden Sanders still has Biden in the name, so American Empire remains the game. Being a proponent of reversing austerity politics at home does not mean altering our interference with politics abroad, nor does it mean any introspection of how our aggression towards other sovereign nations might be reflected in “aggression” from China, Russia, Iran or any of the other countries that Biden presented as economic and/or terrorist threats. Thus neoliberalism rears its ugly head in a president who takes his black female vice-president to Georgia to show solidarity with Asian victims of hate crimes, but then starting with his presidential campaign straight through to his first address to Congress demonizes China as America’s primary national security concern. What is the objective of Biden or someone from his administration ranting every day to the media about the threat that China poses to the US? Talk about a disconnect.
Biden’s pledge to end US participation in Saudi Arabia’s genocide and starvation of the impoverished people of Yemen, phrased in true neoliberal doublespeak as ending “offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arms sales,” has not yet resulted in any detectable change in policy. We are still assisting the Saudis in blockading Yemen’s ports and starving its people. It is promising to hear of a withdrawal from Afghanistan, but what about the six other wars the US remains engaged in, or the 800 military bases the US maintains around the world so that those countries will in turn purchase our weapons of war? And rest assured while the “troops” might leave Afghanistan, we will keep plenty of military contractors, special-ops and intelligence agents there who don’t qualify as “troops.” Such is the Jekyll and Hyde nature of a President Biden Sanders.
And when it comes to health care Biden proves himself to be a president speaking the words they would have him say, proving that he either does not believe or fully comprehend what he is saying. In his address, Biden equated the expansion of the Affordable Care Act to the tune $50 billion in subsidies to the health insurance industry as evidence that he believes “heath care is a human right.” But his undying support for Obama’s signature legislation, one that is transforming health are into a private equity racket, shows a lack of understanding that under the ACA the inevitable pre-existing condition is the health of your bank account. If you really believe health care is a human right, you wouldn’t back public policy that leaves 100 million unable or struggling to access it.
I know tribal Democrats are rolling their eyes at my “purity test” and reporting me to Medium as a Russian bot. But acquiescing to public policy half-measures because of how much better Biden is than Trump leaves a whole lot of Americans in the dust. And opens the door for another Trump. President Biden tells us how concerned he is about our health, endlessly urging us to wear a mask and get a vaccination. Yet all he is doing about our health care crisis is giving $50 billion in subsidies to the for-profit health insurance industry. President Sanders would be using the pandemic to stump for some form of national health care system, and he would be doing it every single day. Even President Biden Sanders can’t lead himself to challenge the health care conglomerates. President Biden Sanders sets “aggressive” goals for vaccinations in the United States, but shows no signs of forcing pharmaceutical companies to license their vaccine formulas to manufacturers in poor countries around the world. So what is his objective in playing the vaccine hero? To get votes for Democrats of course. If his interest was truly in helping humanity and ending the pandemic, he would already have implemented a public vaccine. A president Sanders would have done so on day one. Thus having a president fighting for humane public policy versus one fighting to win elections can be the difference in saving millions of lives.
As for Biden’s stand on racial justice in policing, to see the author of legislation that incarcerated millions of black and brown people championing the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act shows how the transparency afforded by cell phones and the threat posed by civil unrest has gotten to a point that everyone apart from the most devout Confederates understand that something has got to change. But Biden still finds it necessary to say in the same breath in which he mentions George Floyd that “the vast majority of police” are good people who “serve their communities honorably,” when the mounting evidence of pervasive dehumanization of black and brown and poor people by law enforcement across the country seems to cumulatively be suggesting the opposite. In response to a question about how to balance allowing police to do their jobs with racial disparities in the justice system, Biden responded “By number one, not defunding the police,” which shows not only his allegiance to the Democratic Party messaging machine but how he is unconcerned about trivializing the demands of those who are brutalized by police on a daily basis. And while President Biden can’t stop admonishing against “rioting and looting” every time he tells us how inspired he has been by racial justice protests, a President Sanders would turn that racist emphasis around to “The looting of America has been going on for over 40 years — and the culprits are the ultra-rich.”
President Biden Sanders perpetuates the damage done by his own “Tough on Crime” legislation through his extension of Trump’s mandatory minimum sentences for possession of fentanyl containing substances, when over 75% of those convicted for such violations are black. This not only serves as more evidence of the public stand for justice in the interest of political gain and praise from NPR and MSNBC but that his contrition about writing the 1995 “Tough on Crime” bill is purely cosmetic as the mandatory minimum sentences he wrote into that bill were the main driver of the record mass incarceration of black and brown people that remains today. Unlike Bernie Sanders, Biden appears not to learn from history but instead to ride the popular liberal cause du jour in the interest of political expediency. Which is totally fine if his Attorney General Merrick Garland continues to investigate the harm done by rogue police departments across the country. A good start, but at this pace he still has about 17, 998 to go.
Whatever Biden’s motivation for being almost 50% Bernie may be, whether it’s the fact that considering how low our country has sunk he has absolutely no choice but to champion transformational economic change, or that he has the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee not exactly whispering in his ear, or that polling shows time and time again shows that Sanders’ policies are overwhelmingly popular with the American people, that progressive momentum could easily regress if a few downballot elections are lost.
Yet a mere year since Democrats and the media teamed up against “the socialist,” that dreaded “Big Government” is spending like a drunken socialist, paying for trillions in social programs by taxing those who have been hoarding wealth by buying back their stocks and stashing trillions in overseas tax havens. President Biden Sanders is proposing legislation that would reduce child poverty, end qualified immunity for the police, expand public education, create a paid family and medical leave program and end tax breaks for capital gains, just to name a few of the things Sanders has been pushing for over the past forty years that are suddenly on the legislative docket.
So forgive me if my blood pressure goes up every time I hear NPR avoid saying Bernie Sanders name when they marvel at how progressive Joe Biden has suddenly become while praising him for adopting Elizabeth Warren’s tax plan. But knowing that the guy whose agenda has been lifted is not looking for credit, I will join him in jumping to my feet when Biden announces he is getting combat troops out of Afghanistan or is proposing half a trillion in spending to alleviate child poverty. These are all BFDs (Bernie’s Friggin’ Deals). The pandemic exposed the fact that everything Bernie Sanders was campaigning on, from the need for a national health care system to the dire consequences of massive wealth inequality to the expansion public education, was the truth, which leaves Democrats with very few choices. At this point, it’s do what is right for the people or face being in the minority in Congress under a President Tom Cotton.
It is painful for me to watch Joe Biden giving one of his teleprompter speeches sounding like Bernie Sanders playing the part of The Ghost of Christmas Past. The living definition of an Establishment Politician, a fossil from a time when we were legislated and deregulated into today’s abyss, there is nothing left of Biden but the evanescent soul of American Empire, resigned to the fact that the socialist he beat has the right policies for our time and he doesn’t. But if he puts up less of a fight for a $15 minimum wage than he does to appoint toxic Wall Street sycophant Neera Tanden to head of the Office of Budget Management, will he really fight for a transformational economic agenda that he doesn’t even believe in? And when the urgency of the pandemic dies down, will he still champion an anti-poverty racial justice agenda? Will the Dr Jekyll of progressivism have sufficient influence to suppress the neoliberalism Mr Hyde?
Mother Jones summed it up well with an e-mail today sporting the headline “Americans like a boring president, it turns out.” It’s a message I hear every day on Democratic Party media. Isn’t it great not to have a president using his Twitter account to take advantage of a corporate media that is as easily distracted as a cat? Do we lionize a president for doing what he is supposed to do during a public health emergency just because the one before did the opposite? Isn’t it a relief to have a president who doesn’t suggest injecting bleach in your veins? Well yes, but just because the last president was straight out of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari doesn’t mean I want a president who gives speeches as if he’s already a part of Disney’s Hall of Presidents. I would prefer a leader who spoke forcefully and convincingly because he wants to do what is right. It would make all the difference right now if we had a president who had the courage to stand up for a national health care system, a public vaccine, humane treatment of refugees, police and military accountability, and government transparency.
But as it is, we have President Biden Sanders. I’m just not sure if it’s glass-half empty or glass half-full, but for now half will have to do.