“The Left needs a candidate who really believes in its preferred policies and is not just giving lip service in an attempt to gain its votes.”
Vox piece “Joe Biden has a plan for that,” with the subheading “Not a joke, folks: He’s running on a transformative policy agenda” by Matthew Yglesias warrants a rebuttal. Yglesias prefaces his explanation of former Vice President Biden’s policy positions by writing that “[Vice President Biden] is now running on arguably the most progressive policy platform of any Democratic nominee in history,” and the overall, explicit reason for this—according to Yglesias’ article—is that the other, more progressive candidates compelled him to move further to the Left.he recent
This initial statement may be technically true; however it is inaccurate in two ways. First, it posits a linear development of progressivism, as if all the preceding Democratic nominees (and presidents) were all gradual but obligatory steps to help Vice President Biden reach his “progressive” policy agenda. Second, though, this may be the most progressive policy agenda that a Democratic nominee has ever run on, it empirically and unequivocally would not be the most progressive set of policies that a Democratic president has ever enacted. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal—with its strong state interventionist policies, high progressive income tax, elevated corporate tax rates, aggressive government spending, and government jobs programs—made for the most progressive set of policies ever instituted by a President. Then-candidate Roosevelt hardly ran on these policies explicitly, but he did implement them once in office.
However, I do find it unacceptable to present Vice President Biden’s positions in such a deceptive manner. Vice President Biden is a moderate Democrat, who would change little from the Obama era.
I would also like to state here that I have no issue with voters who support and intend to vote for Vice President Biden. Although I do not personally agree with their decision, I do not shame them for how they choose to vote—or for agreeing with Vice President Biden’s policy stances. However, I do find it unacceptable to present Vice President Biden’s positions in such a deceptive manner. Vice President Biden is a moderate Democrat, who would change little from the Obama era. And, as I have previously argued, a President Biden would not end superfluous wars; he would not cease to use remote drone attacks; he refuses to support the legalization of cannabis; and he would leave millions uninsured. If a voter chooses to vote for Vice President Biden because that voter is a moderate Democrat—or because he or she simply believes he is a better alternative to President Trump (both of which are absolutely rational positions)—it is better to just admit that. With that said, Vice President Biden is a poor compromise for the Left.
Admittedly, some of the policies that Yglesias notes are genuinely good for the Left, such as a federal minimum wage increase, a reversal of many of President Trump’s immigration policies, and an agenda for climate change. Yet, this is not enough for a country that needs structural change, particularly concerning wealth inequality—and a lack of financial accessibility to essential services, including healthcare and higher education, for millions of Americans. Furthermore, if a President Biden were to compromise with a Republican-led Senate to have many of these policy objectives passed into law, these victories would likely become even more diluted. For instance, Yglesias’ piece concedes that—though Biden is a proponent of the College for All Act—he would likely have to settle only for more federal funding for community colleges and doubling the dollar amount for Pell Grants.
Yglesias further states that Vice President Biden intends to “Enhanc[e] the Affordable Care Act.” However, all he would do is simply add a public opt-in option to the insurance market place. Before the pandemic, this would have left an estimated 10 million American’s uninsured. Now, with surging unemployment, that 10 million estimate greatly increases, in parallel. Medicare for All, on the other hand, would be the ideal way to provide healthcare for the millions of people left unemployed due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19). Also, such a plan would enable all Americans to have coverage for future pandemics—and for the a range of economic crises that are endemic to a free-market system.
I do not believe that Vice President Biden having policies—as the presumptive Democratic nominee for president of the United States—is something to celebrate or admire…
Next, Yglesias calls Vice President Biden’s climate change agenda “the most ambitious environmental agenda of all time.” Yet any other major Democratic nominee in the 2020 race would have had a more ambitious agenda, and, at this point in time, any Democrat running would have “the most ambitious environmental agenda of all time” because climate change is one of the most important issues to Democratic voters. With that said, Vice President Biden does not support the Green New Deal; and, again, a President Biden would likely compromise and agree to a lesser version of the limited agenda that he is currently proposing.
Yglesias’ piece does perform the explanatory function of Vice President Biden’s policies that it sets out to, but it also implicitly intends to present his agenda as “progressive.” In doing so, Yglesias celebrates the notion that the Biden campaign has plans at all. I do not believe that Vice President Biden having policies—as the presumptive Democratic nominee for president of the United States—is something to celebrate or admire; it is self-evident that he would have policies and ideas. Any serious presidential candidate is, at the very least, expected to have plans. The issue is that Vice President Biden’s plan simply are not very substantive. They are minor reforms within the neoliberal framework, coupled with a few nominal concessions to the Left.
The Left needs a candidate who really believes in its preferred policies and is not just giving lip service in an attempt to gain its votes. Then-candidate Barack Obama portrayed himself in a similar way, with his rhetoric of ending American involvement in the Middle East (he, instead, perpetuated and augmented the wars there) and promising to establish reasonable healthcare for Americans (he, instead, opted for the Affordable Care Act, some of whose provisions originated from a conservative think tank, the Heritage Foundation). Vice President Biden’s voting record in the Senate simply does not gel with his current rhetoric and stated policies. He voted for the Iraq war (a subject notably omitted entirely from Yglesias’ piece), and, according to the BBC: “as a senator in 1981, he voted to support an amendment that would have allowed states to overturn the landmark Supreme Court ruling guaranteeing the US right to abortion.” Not only are Vice President Biden’s policies nominal and not enough for the structural reform needed in the United States, he cannot even be trusted to uphold or authentically believe in even marginally Democratic positions.
Teddy Duncan Jr. is an incoming graduate student at the University of South Florida. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.