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Joe Biden Is Aided by “Policy Indifference Syndrome”

(Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Let’s leave aside the fact that Joe Biden has been publicly inactive since leaving office as Vice President in January, 2017, except for making over $15 million in speaking fees and publishing royalties.

It is undeniable that the American electorate has experienced severe emotional turmoil over the past 17 years, since the invasion of Iraq—and, specifically, in the past three years since President Donald Trump’s inauguration. The shock-and-awe factor that the electorate experiences every election cycle—and the accompanying media fanfare—is emotionally jarring to say the least. It is a true challenge for many Americans, particularly those who are working, to follow the actual legislative record of our elected officials amid so much drama. This drama is ever heightened by the corporate media, whose record profits over the past three years should indicate two things: Americans do watch the circus and that corporate media has a vested interest that the circus continues.   

For the past three years, we have heard the Democratic Establishment and their media extensions obsess over President Trump’s every move. They work together to create a mass hysteria, where it becomes impossible to discern the gravity of the various blunders. All blunders are equally disastrous. “We have the most dangerous person in the history of our country sitting in the White House,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told Variety last month. That has been the official siren song of the Democratic Party since President Trump’s inauguration. 

This constant state of agitation, one would think, would encourage the Democratic electorate to truly engage in in-depth analysis of policy, as well as the voting history of Democratic candidates. One would hope that—if the crises are as severe and as deep as most working Americans understand—Democratic voters would meticulously study the details. One would imagine that voters would seek to understand how a Democratic presidential nominee would address and heal the wounds of our society, based on that candidate’s legislative history. Hélas, non

It seems that the sheer emotional turmoil that has taken place since President Trump’s inauguration (or election, for that matter)  has driven most Democratic voters into a state of what I call “policy indifference syndrome” (PIS). This is driven by an overwhelming fear of President Trump’s re-election in November, and this fear prevents so many Democratic voters from thinking rationally, from criticizing their own party’s lacking components, and from acknowledging why then-candidate Trump was able to galvanize the fervent base that he did in the first place. Most importantly, this fear keeps many Democrats from pursuing ambitious yet critical legislative possibilities. PIS is not just disappointing at this stage; it threatens our collective progress, as former Vice President Joe Biden emerges as the presumptive Democratic nominee. 

Senator Bernie Sanders said in his interview with The Los Angeles Times’ editorial board this past December, “If you are, if you’re a Donald Trump and you got Biden having voted for the war in Iraq, Biden having voted for these terrible, in my view, trade agreements, Biden having voted for the bankruptcy bill. Trump will eat his lunch.” That was not an ad hominem attack coming from Senator Sanders; it was a distinct ringing of the alarm bell. Senator Sanders was drawing attention to what Vice President Biden had championed (and voted for while in the Senate), as opposed to what President Trump had campaigned on in 2016 and what the President will likely emphasize looking towards November.  

Voters can expect to hear a variety of terms: “NAFTA JOE,” “Bankruptcy Bill Biden,” or “Iraq War Imbecile Biden.” In addition, Tara Reade may well be seated in the front row at the debate for additional fireworks. 

To this point, President Trump just released a negative ad against Vice President Biden that focuses heavily on nepotism and his son’s relationship with China. The underlying message of the ad centers on Vice President Biden’s affinity for trade deals, like PNTR (permanent normal trade relations) with China, which have resulted in countless jobs lost in the Heartland. Senator Sanders’ comment was the rallying cry of a man clearly in touch with the issues that matter to the working and poorer classes—whom President Trump calls “the forgotten men and women.” The point Senator Sanders was aiming to make was that Biden would be a sitting duck for President Trump based on policy. Voters can expect to hear a variety of terms: “NAFTA JOE,” “Bankruptcy Bill Biden,” or “Iraq War Imbecile Biden.” In addition, Tara Reade may well be seated in the front row at the debate for additional fireworks. 

Let’s leave aside the fact that Joe Biden has been publicly inactive since leaving office as Vice President in January, 2017, except for making over $15 million in speaking fees and publishing royalties. He has not stood with striking hotel workers, Amazon or Disney workers, or teachers. He has not advocated for criminal justice reform or major climate legislation; he has not fervently cultivated a grassroots following based on robust policy proposals. He has not—nor has he ever been—a part of the social, economic, or racial justice crusade. It’s important to note this reality and recognize that Vice President Biden was the ideal candidate for the Democratic Party bosses. No Democrats I know defend Joe Biden based on his policy positions; instead, they emphasize other things—whether it be his “electability” or the fact that he is someone other than President Trump. This begs the question: Are the majority of Democrats willfully this ignorant and apathetic—or are they just simply burnt out?

For an election this important, this life-threatening, according to so many Democrats, one would think that they’d have at least a few key policy goals of Vice President Biden’s in mind, or a real understanding of how his years in Congress have shaped the political landscape today. Voters ought to take notice of the former Vice President’s years of advocating for disastrous trade deals, his long-standing support of the fossil fuel industry, his support for cutting Social Security and Veteran’s benefits, his spearheading of efforts for foreign regime change wars, and deregulating Wall Street. He has come a long way from Scranton, Pennsylvania indeed. 

What the Democrat voter with PIS wants more than anything is to coast again, like they could with President Obama, one of the most eloquent orators we’ve had in the White House in decades. More than anything—more than a policy litmus test—these voters want the “Orange Menace” gone. These Democrats have been inconvenienced for far too long now with the political spectacle that has forced them to emote and “get involved.” For them, getting involved often amounts to sharing anti-Trump memes and assuming the role of moral superiors, while their own party leaders pass—with nary a trade off—much of President Trump’s agenda, from defense spending to re-upping the PATRIOT Act. Yet, so many Democratic voters continue to fail to do the homework and see how the elected officials of their party are actually voting. 

These are the Democratic voters who, with zero policy literacy, are fervently advocating for the proven liar, plagiarist, and corporatist Joe Biden, while shaming Progressives for their hesitancy to support him too. I recall Malcom X’s words at the Oxford Union Debate in 1964:

“I don’t believe in any form of unjustified extremism! But when a man is exercising extremism—a human being is exercising extremism—in defense of liberty for human beings it’s no vice, and when one is moderate in the pursuit of justice for human beings I say he is a sinner.” 

We currently are experiencing a global pandemic that is exposing our almost non-existent social safety net and the overwhelming unpreparedness of our public health systems following decades of strategic budget cuts. While millions go without paid leave, a record 22 million have just filed for unemployment. “Reality keeps endorsing Bernie Sanders,” Naomi Klein tweeted last month. Despite the unmistakable relevance of Senator Sanders’ platform today, Vice President Biden is the presumptive nominee, and we have to believe him when he says that he’d veto a “Medicare For All” bill—and that he would consider running with a Republican. However, this hardly comes as a shock to Progressives who have been clear-eyed about his record. 

To heal the growing chasm in the Democratic Party’s electorate, we first have to have an unabashed reckoning on policy.

For those of us who are policy and issue-literate voters, President Trump and Vice President Biden are kindred spirits. Both love military budget increases and handouts for Wall Street. They are both friendly with the fossil fuel industry and big Pharma. Both support ICE and private prisons. Neither one has substantive plans to relieve burgeoning medical, education, and living expenses that do not involve tax incentives to the very institutions who have created said disparities. With a Biden administration, nothing would fundamentally change for the working class, as he himself told donors. Working Americans deserve better. We ought to have the audacity and courage to demand robust measures that would meet the demands of the multiple crises our society faces. This is where the movement must continue where Senator Sanders left off. But, how do we bridge the ideological divide in the electorate? 

What “brunch voter,” PIS-stricken Democrats do not understand is that Progressives are not operating anymore out of fear. We have done our homework, and we know why President Trump is in office—and why he had such a fervent base. We understand why Hillary Clinton was so despised, and we sense why Vice President Biden is an equally weak candidate. To heal the growing chasm in the Democratic Party’s electorate, we first have to have an unabashed reckoning on policy. That introspective autopsy that has not been done and will continue to be our undoing as a party—and as Americans. Yes, Democrats passed trade deals that decimated the middle of the country, and they did this along with Republicans. Yes, Democrats approved the PATRIOT Act. Yes, Democrats support ICE. Yes, Democrats, overwhelmingly, write blank checks for our endless regime change operations abroad. Yes, Democrats have continued to deregulate Wall Street.  Yes, Democrats made the Bush tax cuts permanent. Yes, the Democrats have largely been fine with accepting fossil fuel donations.  

The next several months promise to be lucrative for the media and evermore disheartening for many working Americans navigating the current Coronavirus reality in a climate of such fear and uncertainty. Confinement gives us all the opportunity to do our homework and read up on policy, and Democratic voters need to start now. For those of us concerned with actual policy and legislative records, we will eagerly be waiting for the former Vice President to extend a substantial policy olive branch—or ten—to the Progressive base of the Democratic party. Not just with rhetoric, but with cabinet members who will inspire trust.    

Alicia Wolf is an American-born actress living in France. She was an organizer for France for Bernie 2020.

6 thoughts on “Joe Biden Is Aided by “Policy Indifference Syndrome”

  1. There’s so much wrong with this essay, it’s hard to know where to start. Firstly, the tone of elitism running through this entire essay is breathtaking. The presumption that moderate Democratic Party voters are tired, or they’re not policy or issue-literate, or they simply haven’t studied the issues carefully is condescending and insulting. And many of the authors assumptions are simply wrong.
    The base voters of the Democratic Party are far more moderate than leftist, progressive activists who have platforms. And contrary to what the author believes, democratic primary voters are policy and issue-literate. Furthermore, these voters are not fooled; they know exactly who Joe Biden is: an establishment centrist, which is what many voters want. Why can’t the woke left see this?
    I would ask the writer what happened to the wave of progressive support for Mr. Sanders? What accounts for the move to the center evidenced by the primaries so far?
    And this nonsense of painting Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump (and of Ms. Clinton and Mr. Trump in 2016) with same brush rings false. I hear the same sort of party line story-telling from the Bernie bros in Seattle where I live.
    A note to the author: whenever I hear, or read, something from left wing elitists carrying on about their concern for the working classes, my B.S. detector buzzes at level 10.

    1. Douglas, thank you for a great comment. I largely agree with you. What is obvious is that most American voters are center-right to center-left and do not want what the “progressive left” does. I’d just add that in some minds—including mine and many of the people I know—either Trump or Biden are fine because I think they are both fairly moderate. For instance, Trump supports this huge infrastructure bill that would be more than most Democrats would. I, for one, think the infrastructure bill is a pretty good idea. Even if it costs a lot, it might increase productivity through ease of transportation etc. I’m all for center-left politics. But I agree with you and most Americans: this Bernie stuff is just way too far left.

      1. Biden is a walking senile skeleton. Hell no am I voting for that guy for anything other than floor president at the Alzheimer’s hospital

    2. Exactly, it’s not that people don’t understand what Bernie wants etc. It’s precisely that they do, and most of us, particularly African-Americans like myself, think it’s just too radical. America is, all things considered, a pretty great country. There’s no reason to tamper too much with. Improve it, of course. Radically change, get out of town

    3. Nah I’m not falling for this twice. I’m a Bernie person and went with Hillary last time around. Not doing it again. Trump is closer aligned to Bernie on trade and foreign policy. Not sure why Bernie is constantly hating on Trump so much and cozzying up to Biden, who wants to push through TPP and more foreign wars. Last time Hillary … this time Trump. I’m not getting bamboozled into voting establishment dem twice in a row. Not in this life

  2. I completely agree with every word. Of course the response will be that you’re a racist, and we certainly can’t listen to racists now can we?

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