As a democratic socialist, voting for Joe Biden come November will not be one of my brightest moments. He is emblematic of a broader neoliberal consensus within the Democratic Party, and has contributed to the growth of mass incarceration, the subprime mortgage crisis, and the rejuvenation of the Libyan slave trade over the course of his 48 years in elected office.
Nonetheless, within the painfully dichotomous structure of American electoral politics, we have been provided a painful ultimatum, one that former Bernie Sanders campaign co-chair Nina Turner described as, “having to eat half a bowl of s*** instead of the whole thing.”
While I caution voters to avoid complacency, a Joe Biden administration seems all but likely at this point in time. Every day that Trump leans further into Republican orthodoxy and inconceivable hyperbole marks an additional day of descent in the polls. While the prospective ouster of Trump is to be celebrated, it should be conducted with a grain of salt, and with a consideration of his opponent’s uninspiring, lengthy, and often destructive record of public service. Nonetheless, this piece is not an analysis of the former Vice President’s past, so much as it is of his potential future, and whether or not his stated policy goals will adequately address the bevvy of crises we are being forced to confront.
A Mixed Bag of Mediocrity
Although Joe Biden’s claims of being the most progressive candidate in a general election since FDR are laughable upon first glance, he might not be wrong. That’s the sad part. Over the course of 40 years, the American Overton Window has shifted so drastically towards the right that Joe Biden’s incrementalistic approach to policy can be deemed relatively, “progressive.”
With regards to Biden’s climate policy, its one of his more ambitious domestic policy objectives. It calls for the US to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, a benchmark in lockstep with the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It also proposes a $400 billion investment in green energy over the span of 10 years, with the hopes of spurring the development of green technologies. Along with re-entering and strengthening The Paris Agreement, Biden’s climate plan shows promise, but focuses primarily on incentivisation and partnerships with the private sector, as opposed to sweeping governmental action that reflects the calamitous consequences of climate change.
One of the Biden campaign’s recent policy proposals is the alliterative, “Build Back Better,” plan. Brought to you by the man that voted for NAFTA, the plan broadly expands upon a White House, “Buy American,” plan championed by Trump senior advisor Peter Navarro. The plan has been locked in a bureaucratic standstill due to objections by other members of the administration, providing the Biden campaign an opportunity to outflank President Trump on an issue core to his electoral victory.
This plan is good. While abstaining from raising the minimum wage or providing a federal jobs guarantee, it reaffirms the federal government’s regulatory power in an effort to prevent outsourcing and support workers. It marks a distinct deviation from the laissez faire free trade philosophies of the Clinton and Obama administrations, and shields Biden from many of the attacks the Trump campaign could have levied against him regarding his record on trade. One can only hope that Biden maintains this stance on trade, and won’t be coerced by a Cabinet likely to be comprised of financial industry veterans.
While the two aforementioned plans are some of Biden’s more ambitious, politically suave proposals, he still remains painfully out-of-touch in one policy area: healthcare. Healthcare is an area of no compromise, especially within the only developed nation without some form of a single-payer healthcare system. An incrementalistic approach directly damages the lives of thousands of Americans each year, and can leave them saddled in debt, or even worse, dead. This is why Biden’s plan for healthcare is frankly, terrible.
Biden is a proponent of a public health insurance option. While markedly better than the individual mandate system established with Obamacare, a public option is susceptible to sabotage from the private market, and fails to provide universal coverage. Biden’s campaign admits this, touting, “a plan to insure more than an estimated 97% of Americans,” whilst failing to acknowledge that 10 million Americans would lack insurance in this idealized scenario. Furthermore, Biden’s plan maintains – and reaffirms – the existence of a for-profit American healthcare system. Despite the fact that a public option represents tangible progress, private health insurance companies can offload high-risk patients, forcing them to make use of public insurance, all in an attempt to overburden the public system and reinforce the, “need,” for private insurers.
There is no reason not to support Medicare for All, especially amidst a pandemic. According to a HarrisX/Hill poll, 69% of Americans support Medicare for All, including 88% of Democrats. Additionally, COVID-19 has revealed the dangers of tying one’s health insurance to their occupation status, and any healthcare system short of a single payer system does not ensure that healthcare is a right for all Americans, despite the adoption of this rhetoric from the Biden campaign. Frankly though, upon looking at how much money the health sector has donated to the Biden campaign, I think I found 13,433,886 reasons why Biden won’t budge on healthcare.
The final policy area of note – and arguably the most consequential – is foreign policy. I was planning to profile Biden’s plan for racial equity in this section, but upon discovering that reparations were not a part of his platform, recalling that he single-handedly got more black and brown people locked up for non-violent drug offenses, and remembering that he told the same group of people that won him the primary that they, “ain’t black,” if they don’t vote for him in the general, I decided that calling him a racist in denial would suffice.
Tangent aside, Biden’s platform on foreign policy hinges on the same, “soft power,” tactics of the Obama administration. This approach can lead to extremely mixed results, as evident by the the Obama administration’s failures in Libya, but successes in Cuba and Iran. Nonetheless, Biden’s platform fundamentally commits to the sustenance of overwhelming American military power, evident by his website, which states:
We have the strongest military in the world—and as president, Biden will ensure it stays that way. The Biden administration will make the investments necessary to equip our troops for the challenges of the next century, not the last one.
– Biden for President, American Leadership
There is no commitment to a cut in defense funding, no mention of conditioning Israeli aid, and no indication of a rudimentary reevaluation of our relationship with Saudi Arabia, a kingdom guilty of some of the world’s worst human rights abuses, and one of our closest allies. To be fair, the platform does commit to ending support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, but congratulating Biden for wanting to exit a conflict that effectively equates to a genocide reveals how low the bar is with regards to American foreign policy expectations.
Expect More of the Same
All in all, a Biden administration will look like an Obama 2.0 administration, minus the charm and political suave of former President Obama. Some good things will happen, but no systematic change will arise, and we will be stuck in a situation akin to that of West Germany in the 1970’s, a broad neoliberal consensus amongst those in power that necessitates an extra-legislative resistance that reflects the popular will of the people at large.