When Joe Biden locked up the Democratic nomination, hopes for meaningful change in America effectively died.
In addition to a deeply ingrained aversion to “socialism” (despite most Americans being unable to define the term without reference to Venezuela), the urgency of ousting Donald Trump meant voters were arguably less inclined to go out on a limb with Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren for fear of accidentally contributing to Trump’s reelection.
The idea was (and still is) that Biden is eminently electable, and has the best chance of convincing disaffected Trump voters to jump ship. Everyone knows Biden will not push an aggressively progressive agenda — he’s said as much on too many occasions to count, including during the Democratic debates. That should be a liability in a nation that desperately needs a savior, but at the current juncture, it’s an asset.
Read the point/counterpoint:
The sad irony is that the developments of the past four months (the pandemic, the fiscal response which entailed a partnership between the Fed and Congress to deliver trillions in stimulus, and widespread social unrest across nearly every major metropolitan area in the country) clearly made the case for Sanders.
As The New Yorker put it in late March, during the depths of the crisis, “reality has endorsed Bernie”. Below are some excerpts from that linked piece which, like almost all articles in The New Yorker, is near flawless in its execution.
When Bernie Sanders’s critics mocked his platform as just a bunch of “free stuff,” they were drawing on the past forty years of bipartisan consensus about social-welfare benefits and entitlements. They have argued, instead, that competition organized through the market insures more choices and better quality. In fact, the surreality of market logic was on clear display when, on March 13th, Donald Trump held a press conference to discuss the COVID-19 crisis with executives from Walgreens, Target, Walmart, and CVS, and a host of laboratory, research, and medical-device corporations. There were no social-service providers or educators there to discuss the immediate, overwhelming needs of the public.
The crisis is laying bare the brutality of an economy organized around production for the sake of profit and not human need. The logic that the free market knows best can be seen in the prioritization of affordability in health care as millions careen toward economic ruin. It is seen in the ways that states have been thrown into frantic competition with one another for personal protective equipment and ventilators—the equipment goes to whichever state can pay the most. It can be seen in the still criminally slow and inefficient and inconsistent testing for the virus. It is found in the multi-billion-dollar bailout of the airline industry, alongside nickel-and-dime means tests to determine which people might be eligible to receive ridiculously inadequate public assistance.
The Sanders campaign was an entry point to this discussion. It has shown public appetite, even desire, for vast spending and new programs. These desires did not translate into votes because they seemed like a risky endeavor when the consequence was four more years of Trump. But the mushrooming crisis of COVID-19 is changing the calculus. As federal officials announce new trillion-dollar aid packages daily, we can never go back to banal discussions of “How will we pay for it?” How can we not? Now is a moment to remake our society anew.
Alas, it was too late to turn back. Biden is the nominee. And no matter how many times he pays lip service to the ideals espoused by Sanders’s supporters, he will not push for meaningful change. Biden is a Beltway stalwart. A card-carrying member of America’s political establishment if ever there was one.
He may believe, deep down, that Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and other progressive firebrands have it mostly right (at least when it comes to the absolute necessity of overhauling American-style capitalism before it collapses under its own weight), but his job isn’t to spearhead any revolutions. In fact, his job is the opposite of that. Biden is supposed to beat Trump, thereby rescuing American democracy, but not in heroic fashion. Rather by giving voters an easy out — a safe choice to end the madness — a chance to install a risk-free placeholder until the country can regroup and decide collectively on a path forward.
This was underscored on Wednesday evening in a Bloomberg article detailing what Biden will say in an economic speech to be delivered Thursday in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
The former vice president “will call for a moderate approach toward reviving the US economy if elected that includes spurring manufacturing and encouraging innovation, shelving for now the more ambitious proposals pushed by progressive Democrats”, Jennifer Epstein writes, citing people familiar with his plans including Jared Bernstein, who served as Biden’s chief economic adviser when he was vice president.
Ultimately, Joe “wants to get to the same place that many to his left want to get to”, Bernstein insisted. Standing in his way is his own experience with the same Washington gridlock that everyone in America despises. “Biden firmly believes that it will take an incremental path to get there and that you can’t leapfrog the political reality that he has come to know in many decades in politics”, Bernstein explained.
Only you can — leapfrog the old way of doing things, that is. We just proved it with the CARES Act, something Biden himself is acutely aware of. “The blinders have been taken off”, he told a fundraiser in April. “Because of this COVID crisis, I think people are realizing: ‘My Lord, look at what is possible'”.
Indeed. And yet, that realization isn’t expected to translate into policy prescriptions. Here’s Bloomberg with a bit more:
But most of the more progressive ideas, like the Green New Deal and other large jobs programs that also harken back to the Franklin Roosevelt policies of the Great Depression, will likely be left behind at the beginning in favor of a more step-by-step approach, the Biden campaign says.
With the moderate steps, Biden is betting that he’ll attract Republicans weary of the Trump administration along with independents, while retaining progressive support even without adopting some key plans.
There it is — the sense of entitlement again. Biden figures progressives will back him even if he presents an economic agenda that doesn’t reflect their priorities, despite having admitted, in public, that the past four months have taught us that pretty much anything is possible.
Of course, none of this is going to matter until the current occupant of the Oval Office relinquishes the keys to the castle.
There’s an argument to be made that a part of the president realizes it’s over. But individuals who display autocratic tendencies don’t generally do well with defeat.
That’s not to suggest that Trump will stage some kind of dramatic standoff at the White House if he were to lose. It’s simply to say that he is notoriously litigious, and to this day claims massive voter fraud took place in an election that he won. Viewed through that lens (which I think is an entirely realistic way to frame things), the country could be in for a rough couple of weeks in November.
“The current VIX curve has a monster kink that corresponds with the US election”, Kevin Muir, formerly head of equity derivatives at RBC Dominion, and better known for his exploits as “The Macro Tourist” notes.
“For those hedging the election, be aware – you aren’t alone. This is not a novel idea”, Kevin went on to remark, in a Wednesday letter. “Will it prove worth it? Who knows? But I hate paying up for protection”.
“It’s not difficult to envision a world in which the outcome of the election is unknown several days after the voting has been completed – this is more likely if the race is closer than it presently appears”, BMO said Wednesday, in an afternoon note. “An extended period of leadership limbo would be a bigger hit to [market] sentiment than an outright Democratic victory”.
It would also be a hit to the public’s perception of the viability of the country’s democratic process. One imagines an already agitated nation would make their frustrations known.