Now that Senator Bernie Sanders has officially left the primary race, Joe Biden is the presumptive nominee. For progressives, it is a sad day but one we have seen coming for a while. It is still depressing, though, to see ourselves in the same (arguably, a worse) situation as 2016.
However, progressives are not the ones with an issue in Senator Sanders leaving the race. We are used to elections going to politicians and administrations that forego progressive politics in favor of neoliberalism. The dismissal and outright hostility toward Sanders’ movement from the media and Democratic establishment is nothing new to us. It is politics as usual.
It is the Democratic Party — and Joe Biden himself — who now have a serious issue.
With the nomination all but secured, and the hostile bad faith attacks that got him there, how can he possibly unify the Democratic party — particularly progressives — and turn them out to defeat Donald Trump in November?
The short answer? He can’t.
At least, not in the way he wants to unite them. The campaign is rife with ideas of returning to normalcy, and surrogates regurgitate lesser evil politics tropes to coerce progressives into falling in line. It’s the same tactic the Clinton campaign ran in 2016, and it’s the same one that will lose Joe Biden the election.
It is often used as an attack to say Bernie hurt Hillary’s chances of winning the presidency by attacking her too boldly. It is by and large a bad faith criticism that is used to shift blame and touches on Hillary’s own condescending views of voters.
Yet, there is some truth in it. Bernie’s campaign in 2016 taught us that we didn’t have to accept politics as usual. That there are genuine, caring, and pro-active politicians who want to fundamentally address the issues of our nation, not just tweak it on the edges.
If Joe Biden wants a successful campaign — one that leads him to the White House and ends the terror that is Donald Trump — he needs progressives and the movement behind Bernie Sanders.
But, he has to earn it. And he should have to earn it.
With that, here are four questions that I — a progressive — have for Joe Biden. If he can answer even one of them with actions — not platitudes — that express a desire for genuine progress, I might vote for him.
If he doesn’t, I will not.
Joe, in 2016 Trump ran to Hillary’s left on NAFTA and free trade. This resonated with a lot of working class voters, particularly those whose jobs were lost to those deals. You voted for NAFTA and was Obama’s VP as he pushed the TPP, another disastrous trade deal. What specific policies are you putting forward to undo the damage of NAFTA and other trade deals to restore high-paying jobs to American workers and how are they better than Donald Trump’s?
Like most of the questions on this list, Joe Biden’s website somewhat addresses this question. And like virtually every candidate besides Bernie, the answers are mostly platitudes and relatively vague language. He even supports some important bills like the Protecting the Right to Organize Act (H.R. 2474) and raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour (at least according to his website).
This question, though, specifically challenges his views on trade and the negative impact it has had on American jobs. Unions and high wages mean nothing if employers can ship those jobs overseas or replace them with AI technology in the near future.
Joe Biden voted for NAFTA during his tenure in the senate, a trade deal that was disastrous for workers. Part of Donald Trump’s appeal was the way he clobbered Hillary Clinton over NAFTA and aligned her with corporations and other countries over American workers.
Joe Biden will face a similar problem, as he often praises free trade on the campaign trail. Trade is by and large not seen as a good thing to voters, and after years of suppressed wages and deindustrialization, Americans are looking for a candidate that is going to revitalize the working class, not protect the profits of companies shipping jobs overseas.
In 1994, you were the author of a crime bill that led the way for mass incarceration and harsher prison sentences, particularly for black and brown men. Meanwhile, Donald Trump recently signed the FIRST STEP Act, a watered down attempt at addressing some of the damage you caused with that 1994 bill. How do you convince the American people that you have changed on your view of crime, and what specific aspects of the prison system are you going to dismantle or reform to address it?
This is a big one that Joe Biden will have a hard time getting around, and one that I suspect Donald Trump is ready to leap at.
Why was the crime bill so bad? Well, the “tough on crime” bill was a major crack down on crime across the board, but was really a response to an increasing focus on crime from Republicans, particularly around drug use.
Nixon was the first president to call for a sort of drug war, declaring drugs “public enemy number one.” In 1982, Reagan followed up that call by initiating the War on Drugs. Two years later, the crack epidemic would ravage inner city communities and thus justify an explosion of funding to support the drug war.
After facing criticism that Democrats weren’t tough on crime, Joe Biden introduced the crime bill that Bill Clinton would later sign into law.
While the effects of the bill are still largely debated, the overall message was clear. Democrats — and Joe Biden, in particular — wanted to be tough on crime.
The problem? The drug war, by design, was created to suppress black and brown communities and engage in a new form of social control to replace Jim Crow laws. You can read all about it (and much more) in Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow.
So, while the 1994 bill was disastrous, it is far more about the message it sent. How can Joe Biden reconcile his efforts to perpetuate fundamentally racist system with his already lukewarm approach to addressing the issues within the black community.
You are an opponent to Medicare For All, even as the corona virus has shown the flimsy reliability of a for-profit model backed by employer health insurance. A public option may alleviate some issues about health coverage, but many fear it will be abused by the private sector to cut their own costs and saddle taxpayers with high medical costs. If you believe a public option is the way forward, how do you propose holding health insurance providers accountable and reducing overall cost? What specific policies will you pursue to ensure these propositions are met?
The COVID-19 crisis has shown the fundamental flaws in a health insurance system supporters by employers, and support for Medicare For All is on the rise. Even with that, Joe Biden is still against the policy.
While M4A wouldn’t necessarily address the issues of resources in hospitals and available beds, it would address the main concern for voters: free testing and at least affordable treatments for the disease (among everything else).
Joe Biden still favors a system that leaves healthcare in the control of private companies seeking to nickel and dime customers, and a public option is likely to overburden taxpayers without reducing cost.
Not only that, but Joe Biden has a history of offering federal programs like Social Security and Medicare for the chopping block. What is to say his public option is any different?
In short, how does Joe Biden’s market-friendly approach to healthcare really make anything better?
You were one of the first congressmen to address climate change, proposing legislation as far back as 1986. Yet many activists say your current climate plan isn’t enough. Due to global inaction on the issue, reaching carbon neutral emissions is not enough. How do you plan on making your climate goals more aggressive? And what specific policies would you implement to reach a carbon negative result?
Joe Biden was one of the first members of federal government to address climate change. He also worked with Obama to get through some of the most significant climate change initiatives of our life times. However, many of them were incremental in nature or baby steps toward the goals we needed to reach. However, the time for half-measures and incremental progress on the issue are over.
According to Biden’s website, he wants to reach carbon-neutral emissions by 2050. Yet, according to the latest studies on climate change, we have to meet “peak emissions” by 2030, and that’s at the global level. 2050 is too little too late to avoid the most disastrous effects of climate change.
All research also indicates that carbon-neutral goals are not enough. Even if we reach carbon-neutral emissions by 2030, the planet will continue to warm. That’s because we have to remove carbon from the air, or reach carbon-negative goals. That will require sweeping legislation and government action that will reform entire industries, and we cannot wait any more on those issues.
If Joe Biden wants to be taken seriously on climate change, he has to back something like the Green New Deal, and in more than lip service.
However, based on the way he and his campaign operate with fossil fuel backed fundraisers and SuperPACS, that doesn’t seem likely.
I raise these questions because they are important to me, and it is important to me that I vote for someone who shares my worldview — even if partially. Behind the scenes, it seems he is trying to appeal to progressives. He also wants to appeal to Republicans and swing voters (a demographic that by and large does not exist).
See the problem?
If you think my questions are tough and unfair, what do you think will happen in November? He will face far more severe questions from Republicans and Donald Trump in the general, and I didn’t even touch on Hunter Biden, Joe’s struggles with public speaking, and his credible rape allegation.
These questions are also less directed at Joe himself, and more towards his surrogates and apologists. How do you reconcile some of Joe’s biggest weaknesses? How do you reconcile his lying on issues and constant shifting of blame? If you want a coalition with progressives, we deserve answers to them.
The Democratic Party thinks progressives need them, that they are the lesser evil for idealists when compared to Republicans. But maybe — just maybe — if they want to maintain power (or ever see the White House again) we should remind the DNC that they need us, not the other way around.
Originally published at http://midwestprogressive.blog on April 10, 2020.