Like any “good” politician, there is a duality to Joe Biden; a disconnect between what he tells voters, and what he actually does. When he declared during the Democratic primary that he had “the most progressive record” of any of his peers—a group which not only included his own political gadfly, Elizabeth Warren, but also the amendment king himself, Bernie Sanders—his long-running record of racial animus and austerity said otherwise. Fortunately, there is one group to whom Joe Biden, and most of his compatriots Democrat and Republican alike, would not lie: big-ticket donors. Addressing a room of elite donors at the ritzy Carlyle Hotel, then-candidate Biden uttered words which would negate, even more thoroughly than his record, his claim to progressivism: “nothing will fundamentally change.” This admission was largely ignored by mainstream media outlets, many of which have since praised the president for his handling of COVID-19 while hailing cabinet picks like Neera Tanden as gracious gifts to the left. This positive press has not gone unnoticed by the public; Biden currently enjoys 90 percent favorability among Democrats and 53.8 percent favorability among all voters, according to YouGov. This popularity, however, is wholly unearned. In short time, Joe Biden and his Democratic Party have turned their backs on all their promises, and their voters.
Nowhere is this betrayal clearer than in the case of the stimulus checks. Democrats won both Senate seats in the Georgia special election by promising “immediate” $2,000 checks, a material hook which galvanized voters who typically stayed home. Yet, Georgians, and the rest of the country, have been short-changed. Shortly after securing a slight majority in the Senate, Democrats quietly shifted from talk of $2,000 checks to $1,400 checks, taking the convoluted stance that in concert with the earlier $600 payment issued by President Trump, the total would amount to $2,000 (clear and simple, right?). And as for their immediacy I ask, have you received your check yet?
While perhaps the most obvious example, the check debacle is by no means the only, or even worst, abuse of American trust regarding the recently passed stimulus bill. On the rare occasions during the primary that Biden was critiqued for lacking progressive policy measures, he would rebuke citing his support for a fifteen dollar minimum wage, in accordance with Fight for Fifteen, a near-decade old campaign to raise the federal minimum wage from an insulting $7.25 an hour to a still underwhelming $15. Putting aside, for a moment, the fact that the nine years between the start of ‘Fight for Fifteen’ and today means inflation eating into the gains that would be made by its passing, Biden had the golden opportunity to put our wages where his mouth is, and just refused to do so.
Democrats had the chance to pass the minimum wage hike through budget reconciliation, a rare process whereby a measure could pass without the threat of filibuster. Assuming Biden, a creature of the Senate, could twist the arms of right-wing Democrats, Vice President Harris could act as the tie-breaking vote and begin the process of raising wages for millions, without Republican support. Opportunities like this don’t come up often, yet Biden and Harris refused to take it, citing as their excuse objections from the Senate Parliamentarian, an unelected official acting in an advisory capacity who could easily be ignored. Consequently, the wage hike was removed from the omnibus package and introduced in the Senate as a stand-alone bill. Eight Democrats voted it down, despite support for a $15 minimum wage being part of their 2020 party platform. Worse still, Delaware Democrat Chris Coons, considered Biden’s voice in the Senate, sits among the defectors, suggesting Biden refused to appeal to even his closest allies. This is simply unacceptable.
Biden’s alleged desires to be a transformative president and central campaign promise of a “return to normalcy” are at odds. Even at this early date, it is clear the latter has won. But we cannot afford to accept normalcy. Normalcy led to a nation that stockpiles weapons, but refused to do the same for ventilators, despite warnings from virologists. Normalcy meant an inconceivable transfer of wealth from the working people to the ultrawealthy following the ’08 Recession. Normalcy means anywhere from 40,000 to 60,000 Americans dying on a “good year” due to a lack of healthcare. Normalcy has meant the proliferation of never-ending wars for profit. Normalcy has meant a commitment to, at best, tepid environmental reform (with occasional stints of all-out climate change denial) while the planet veers towards ecological collapse. If ever there was a time for a new Franklin D. Roosevelt, it’s now. But that’s not Joe Biden. And for all the credit that FDR deserves, the story of the New Deal lost in a great man approach to US history is that of the laborers and organizers who fought government and Capital, often physically, to form a new, pro-worker consensus. The fight for a better world will not be, and has never been, won at the ballot box. If we truly want to “build back better,” the onus is on us, not politicians. So get out there and make some noise.