The 8 things President Biden could do to gain the respect of progressives
By Kent R. Kroeger (November 3, 2020)
No más. I can’t take it anymore.
If you thought the 2016 election was unwatchable, welcome to 2020—an election where our main choices for president are two de facto Republicans.
Guess which party will win?
Sure, the “official” Republican Party lost control of the presidency and the U.S. Senate, but at the end of the day, its the Democratic Party that has moved to the right. And it is unlikely, based on the last Democratic presidency, that the new president will ever move credibly back to the left.
I predict more government spending disproportionately benefiting corporate balance sheets over American households, an expansion of U.S. military involvements across the globe, our inefficient health care system will stay inefficient, and our
Through their presidential nominee, Joe Biden, the “official” Democratic Party is the living definition of a status quo political organization. Their candidate defends the interests of health insurance and pharmaceutical companies while economically vulnerable Americans disproportionately die from the coronavirus. As our planet continues to warm at an alarming rate, he plays coy on the issue of fracking — does he support it or not?
He defends the interests of the big tech companies even as they’ve been shown to censor content produced by dissenting voices from the left and right. He defends maintaining current troop levels in Afghanistan despite the 18-year war having done little to bring sustainable democratic institutions or economic prosperity to the country; and, instead, has witnessed the Taliban expand its areas of control. In fact, there is no current U.S. military occupation or attempt at regime change that Joe Biden hasn’t promised to maintain or expand and said he would continue the current military budget levels (Recent Biden statements on U.S. military policies are here, here and here).
Joe Biden isn’t an outlier within the Democratic Party. He is a perfect representation of what that party has become since the rise of Bill Clinton.
The last 12 months of media-fueled propaganda attacking Trump (and indirectly supporting Biden) has worked. Like good propaganda, a lot of it is based on fact. Donald Trump has royally bungled the coronavirus crisis. Yet, at its core is a dishonest project to suggest Trump is the cause of America’s ills, when, in fact, he is merely a symptom.
Unsurprisingly, disaffected Democratic and Republicans are not so easily deceived. They remain as disillusioned as ever about the direction of the country under a Biden administration.
In 2016 they wanted to tear down the status quo and in 2020 they are getting it back in a more arrogant form than ever.
Our political system is broken relative to the average American and the people that helped make it that way are about to return to power.
Yes, the Trump experiment mostly failed. He did fulfill some of his promises: renegotiated bad trade agreements, spurred small business growth and employment on a historical level (particularly in minority communities), funded his wall (thanks to a secretively compliant Nancy Pelosi), tore up the Iran Nuclear Deal (which was actually a good agreement), and rolled back environmental regulations on the coal industry (which won’t change the fact that coal is still a dead man walking).
But when the final numbers are tallied, Donald Trump wasn’t the change-agent many thought he would be. He never ended our endless wars. He didn’t force the pharmaceutical companies to face real price competition. He didn’t even fulfill his 2016 campaign pledge to close the carried interest tax loophole for hedge fund managers.
Trump can blame the Democrats in Congress for some of these failures, but just as I was a harsh critic of Barack Obama and his inability to negotiate with a hostile Congress, I hold Trump to the same standard.
In business it is often said, ‘You have to give something to get something.’ Our current dysfunctional political system is incapable of such reciprocity. We are all to blame for that.
Nonetheless, I sit here today forced to accept the fact that Joe Biden — a self-described ‘deficit hawk’ and proud military ‘interventionist’ —is going to sit in the Oval Office for four years (health willing).
I try to keep my spirits up by believing that Biden will be a better president than he was as a U.S. Senator and vice president. I’d like to believe there are instances in history when a politician’s past performance did not predict his or her performance as president. If you can think of one, please let me know.
The evidence is overwhelming that our next president, in the recent past, willfully turned a blind eye to his own son’s capacious appetite for profiting from his father’s political office. That ain’t Russian propaganda, folks. That is a cold, hard fact.
Still, with my expectations planted in reality, I want to believe there is a sluggers chance that a Biden administration could do some socially progressive things.
Hence, I have come up with 8 policies that, should a Biden administration implement them, would lead me to reconsider my attitude towards him.
For each of these 8 policies, I’ve included my guess as to the probability they could be achieved. Additionally, I’ve tried to include mostly policy ideas that are currently supported by a majority of Americans based on recent opinion survey data (e.g., the 2019 and 2020 Pilot Surveys conducted by the American National Election Studies).
The following are mainstream policy ideas.
Let us get started…
(1) Remove American combat troops from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
It is hard to believe after over a decade of U.S. combat forces in Iraq, Afghanistan (and oil and gas generating portions of Syria) that we are still having this debate. Apart from removing the Saddam Hussein and the Taliban from power, the U.S. and its allies have accomplished little by remaining in these countries.
“The Taliban controls more territory than at any time since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 toppled the fundamentalist group from power,” says Middle East-based journalist Frud Bezhan.
So why are we still there? The cynical answer is: U.S. contractors are enriched by these occupations. The more polite answer is that the costs in keeping of U.S. troops in Afghanistan are not large enough to force a withdrawal.
The Biden campaign’s cryptic statements on Syria are the most chilling of his military policy ideas. According to his campaign website, Biden promises in Syria to stand “with civil society and pro-democracy partners on the ground…and ensure the U.S. is leading the global coalition to defeat ISIS and use what leverage we have in the region to help shape a political settlement to give more Syrians a voice.”
Biden and U.S. military leaders always fail to mention that Iran and Bashar al-Assad’s Syrian forces have killed more ISIS fighters in the world than any other military force. In fact, the rise of ISIS can firmly be laid at the feet of the Obama administration.
According to writer Robert Morris, who has written extensively on U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, one of the most pernicious and widespread myths is that the Obama administration’s reduction of combat troops in Iraq led to the rise of ISIS.
“Those who are trying to keep U.S. troops in Syria rely heavily on this myth,” says Morris. “It is central to the foreign policy ideas of both parties, and the ideology and future plans of the entire U.S. foreign policy establishment.”
The problem is that this myth about ISIS’ rise is “95 to 99 percent bullsh*t,” says Morris. “Obama’s Iraq withdrawal did not create the Islamic State (ISIS), but his intervention in Syria almost certainly did.”
Biden’s infrequent campaign mentions of Syria indicate he’s prepared to reimpose an interventionist, anti-regime policy that failed to overthrow Assad the first time, but successfully destabilized Syria and led to the death of almost 400,000 Syrians.
If establishment Democrats like Biden are consistent on anything, it is in their unwillingness to upset the military-industrial complex and our country’s foreign policy brain trust, even when they are demonstrably incompetent, as they have been with respect to the Middle East.
The chance a Biden administration would end these military adventures in any one of these countries? Close to zero.
(2) End US military involvement in Saudi Arabia/UAE’s war in Yemen
On the surface, this may be the one international conflict in which a Biden administration could do the right thing. The U.S. (and other European allies) supply Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with significant intelligence and logistical support in their nearly six-year effort to remove the Houthis, who are Shia Muslims, from power in northeast Yemen.
To date, according to the Yemen Data Project, Saudi-coalition air raids have killed nearly 9,000 Yemenis and have created one of the world’s most dire humanitarian disasters.
In an apparent response to this crisis, the U.S. House and Senate voted nearly two years ago to condemn and end the Trump administration’s support for the Saudi-coalitions efforts in Yemen (which, in fact, had started under the Obama administration).
Has the issue of Yemen been prominently raised in the 2020 presidential campaign?
Of course not. So don’t expect a Biden administration to do anything to upset the status quo in that region. Saudi Arabia and the UAE are close allies to the U.S. and the Iranian-allied Houthis are not.
The chance a Biden administration ends our support for the Saudi-UAE war on Yemen: 10%.
(3) Rejoin the Iran Nuclear Deal (as negotiated by the Obama administration) and end sanctions immediately.
I have little positive to say about the Obama administration, but when it comes to the Iran Nuclear Deal —known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) which was signed in July, 2015 —the previous administration hit a solid Texas League single. The JCPOA wasn’t perfect, but by bringing the Iranians into the constraints of an international agreement on nuclear weapons development, the Obama administration moved the ball forward on Middle East peace. Something the Clinton and G. W. Bush administrations did not do.
However, Trump’s short-sighted destruction of that deal has achieved nothing, except to move the region closer to a dangerous, full-scale ‘hot war’ —which, though further enriching the U.S. defense contractors, sends shivers down the spine of global trading interests.
A war with Iran would likely be a far bigger foreign policy debacle than G. W. Bush’s unnecessary war with Iraq in 2004.
Thankfully, Biden (the candidate) has made rational statements about Iran during the 2020 campaign. “There’s a smarter way to be tough on Iran,” says candidate Biden. “This past month (August) has proven that Trump’s Iran policy is a dangerous failure. At the United Nations, Trump could not rally a single one of America’s closest allies to extend the UN arms embargo on Iran. Next, Trump tried to unilaterally reimpose UN sanctions on Iran, only to have virtually all the UN security council members unite to reject his gambit. Now there are reports that Iran has stockpiled 10 times as much enriched uranium as it had when President Barack Obama and I left office. We urgently need to change course.”
I don’t know what “reports” Biden is referencing, but I do believe Biden is prepared to reverse the significant damage Trump has done in the international community’s efforts to slow down Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
But not only should Biden recognize the dangers of Trump’s aggressive Iran policies, JCPOA was one of the Obama administration’s genuine foreign policy successes and reviving it would not require any contentious battles with Congress. Bringing the Iran Nuclear Deal back from the dead should be a no-brainer.
The chance the Biden administration rejoins the JCPOA and ends sanctions against Iran: An optimistic 75%.
(4) Pass a student debt relief program that forgives a substantial proportion of debt for the neediest students and reduces interest rates for others.
Forty-four million Americans are directly under the thumb of this debt burden, but all Americans feel the effects of this mess as more and more student debtors are delaying the traditional milestones of adulthood: marriage, children and home ownership.
A 2015 survey by Bankrate.com found that 21 percent of student debtors have delayed marriage, 26 percent have pushed back having children, and 36 percent have put off buying a home.
Those choices have measurable outcomes throughout the economy, and most of them are negative.
Where has candidate Biden stood on the issue of student debt? To my surprise, this is one issue where the Biden campaign has been fairly concrete.
For example, Biden proposes changing the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, where currently the remaining debt is forgiven after 10 years of payments, to a program where $10,000 of federal student loan debt is forgiven each year for up to five years.
Biden has also proposed a income-based loan repayment program that would cut monthly loan payments in half compared to the Pay-As-You-Earn Repayment (PAYE), which was created under the Obama administration program and has the lowest monthly and total payments of any other income-driven repayment plans.
More broadly, Biden has proposed forgiving all tuition-related undergraduate federal student loan debt for borrowers who attended public colleges or Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and who earn less than $125,000 per year. Joe Biden has also said that he supports the $10,000 in federal student loan forgiveness proposal recently introduced by House Democrats.
Finally, Biden wants to restore bankruptcy discharge rights to student loans, which would allows debtors to stop paying their student loans if payments on those loans “impose an undue hardship” on the student and his or her dependents. [I’ll be nice and won’t mention that it was Senator Biden who helped rollback bankruptcy protection for millions of average Americans right before the 2008 recession. I won’t, but here is someone who will.]
All things considered, I believe Biden’s campaign rhetoric on student debt relief has been refreshingly specific and credible.
The chance the Biden administration passes a substantive student debt bill: a hopeful 50 percent.
(5) Decriminalize most drug possession offenses; stop using the justice system to help users and move treatment to the social services and mental health communities
Nowhere is Biden’s congressional record more disconnected from current public sentiment than when it comes to U.S. crime policy. From his first days as a House member through his Senate career, Biden has aggressively positioned himself as a “crime fighter.” In that effort, Biden frequently cites the 1994 “Biden” Crime Bill, as he once called it, as his greatest legislative achievement.
The 1994 Crime Bill, the largest crime bill in U.S. history, provided for 100,000 new police officers, $9.7 billion in funding for prisons and $6.1 billion in funding for prevention programs, which were designed with significant input from experienced police officers. The bill also eliminated Pell Grants for prison inmates, criminalized gang membership, established a three-strikes provision that mandated life sentences for people with two or more violent felony convictions, and gave states incentives to lengthen sentences, including for drug possession offenses.
However, not everyone who has suffered from drug addiction or lives in a minority community shares Biden’s love for the 1994 Crime Bill.
Leading into the 2016 election, activist Jeremy Haile, the federal advocacy counsel at the Sentencing Project, said, “Any Democrat that is interested in gaining support among the current electorate, particularly the progressive civil rights communities, is going to have to say that previous tough-on-crime policies were a mistake.”
The Black Lives Matter movement of 2020 only amplifies Haile’s earlier statement. “Many of us who grew up in the black community in the ’90s,” Patrisse Cullors, a political organizer and co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, told the New York Times. “We witnessed the wave in which the policies that came from both federal government but also local government tore our families apart.”
And what does Biden still say about the 1994 Crime Bill?
To be fair, the most impactful crime bills were passed in the two decades prior to the 1994 Crime Bill (my analysis on that topic can be found here). Nonetheless, at every opportunity, both as a House and Senate member, Biden has proudly voted for tougher crime laws. That position may still serve him well with the majority of Americans, including populists, but to left-leaning progressives, Biden is not on their side of the issue.
And, as president, I think Biden’s legislative record will remain faithful to his ‘tough-on-crime’ past, even if his rhetoric will be all over the map.
The chance the Biden administration pushes for the decriminalization of most drug possession sentences and takes the criminal justice system out of the drug enforcement process: No chance.
(6) Substantive reform of the U.S. health care system, including at least one of the following policies: (a) reducing Medicare eligibility to 55 years of age, (b) extending Medicare to all dependent children, or (c) offering all Americans the option to buy into the Medicare program through “Obamacare” or their employer
Biden has been clear on this. He will work to restore those features of the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) that were rolled back by the Trump administration. Beyond that, he has promised only marginal changes to the U.S. health care system and has rejected any call for universal health care. Biden does not support “Medicare for All” and will oppose any effort coming close to it.
That said, he has coyly suggested “a public option like Medicare” could be added to “Obamacare” (though the details of this public option are thinly described on his campaign website) and he has proposed lowering the Medicare age eligibility to 60 years of age (down from the current 65).
However, the coronavirus has revealed the deep, systemic flaws in the U.S. health care system and the disproportionate burden this pandemic has placed on low- and middle-income households who cannot afford potential out-of-pocket expenses related to coronavirus treatment.
Biden is right when he says Americans are dying because of current U.S. health care policies under Trump. What Biden doesn’t tell you is that most of those policies have been a joint, 70-year project by the Democratic and Republican parties to protect health insurance companies, health care providers, and pharmaceutical companies from universal health care. Tweaking our ailing health care system, as Biden proposes to do, will not significantly improve U.S. health outcomes related to the coronavirus or any other health problem.
In the end, Biden will never support policies moving the U.S. significantly closer to a universal health care.
The chance the Biden administration passes substantive health care legislation: While there is a fair chance (25%) that the Medicare age eligibility standard will be lowered, the offering of a genuine “public option” or universal health care for all child dependents is not going to happen on Biden’s watch.
(7) Give U.S. households a federal tax credit for purchasing an all-electric vehicle; and an additional tax credit or cash incentive for a household to simultaneously trade in an existing combustion engine vehicle
I had to put one easy chip shot for Biden on this list. This is it: Restoring and expanding a federal tax credit for purchasing an all-electric vehicle, as well as reviving the “Cash for Clunkers” program.
Biden has already endorsed these ideas that are aimed at helping move the U.S. towards a green economy and help meet the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s goal of global net human-caused carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions reaching ‘net zero’ by 2050.
Electric cars alone won’t get us to that goal, but with the continued decline of coal-based electricity generation, the increased greening of U.S. corporate energy consumption and recent advancements in carbon-capture and sequestration technologies, the U.S. is going to significantly move the ball forward on combating climate under a Biden administration. [Yes, I know Biden supports fracking, but that is small turnips compared to an all-electric U.S. vehicle fleet.]
The chance these two electric vehicle policies become law in a Biden administration: A strong 90%.
(8) Pardon Wikileaks Founder Julian Assange
Just when it seemed like I was warming up to the incoming Biden administration, the topic of press freedom and the U.S. government’s current effort to prosecute news publisher Julian Assange for publishing classified U.S. documents related to the Iraq War, brings those good feelings to an abrupt halt.
Sadly, I don’t need to single out Joe Biden on this issue. I can’t name a single U.S. politician, apart from Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard, who has stood firmly by our First Amendment and consistently supported the release of Assange. If he is tried and convicted in a U.S. court of crimes under the 1917 Espionage Act, the First Amendment rights of all Americans will be diminished.
What has Biden said about Assange? He called Assange a “high-tech terrorist.”
As is so often the case with Biden, he takes a meager understanding of the facts and exploits our worst instincts and biases to gain cheap political points.
All Americans, not just Biden, would benefit by learning the facts surrounding Assange. [You can find a good, balanced summary of the Assange case here by former New York Times reporter James Risen.]
The facts, as they are known today, show that Assange did not conspire with the Russians to defeat Hillary Clinton in 2016 (which, by the way, has nothing to do with the charges that keeps Assange in a U.K. prison, but does have a lot to do with why establishment Democrats are willing to damage our First Amendment protections for petty political purposes). He did not offer assistance to Chelsea Manning on how to anonymously infiltrate classified U.S. intelligence systems (which is among the charges against him). Finally, Assange and Wikileaks did not expose U.S. intelligence assets in the Middle East (or elsewhere) to harm, as often charged in the mainstream media. To the contrary, the facts consistently show how diligent and thorough Assange and Wikileaks were in redacting the names of intelligence assets from the Wikileaks-released documents.
What Assange did do is publish accurate information that exposed potential U.S. war crimes in Iraq and, most certainly, revealed facts about the U.S. military occupation of Iraq that reflected negatively on the U.S. government. What Assange and Wikileaks did is fundamentally no different than the New York Times and Washington Post publishing The Pentagon Papers almost 50 years ago. How ironic is that those two news organizations have been largely silent on the First Amendment implications of the his case?
The central character in The Pentagon Papers drama, former Pentagon intelligence officer Daniel Ellsberg, offers a biting analysis of the Assange case that you can watch here from The Jimmy Dore Show. [And is there any bigger indictment of today’s mainstream journalism than the fact that you can get better, more accurate information on the Assange case from watching the podcast of a jagoff nightclub comedian?]
The chance the Biden administration will pardon Assange: Negative zero.
One of the most demoralizing features of Joe Biden is how his 2020 campaign rhetoric contradicts much of his legislative record. He voted for harsher drug penalties before he came out against them as a presidential candidate. As a candidate, Biden said he wouldn’t touch Social Security or Medicare, even though as a ‘deficit-hawk’ Senator he spoke repeatedly about his support for putting those programs under the budgetary knife in the name of lowering the national debt. He opposed fracking before he recently came out for it — a stance he then clarified to mean he was always for it even when he was against it.
The national media has pulled double-duty in protecting the American voter from knowledge of these numerous inconsistencies between candidate Biden and his legislative record.
Unfortunately, as president, it will be much harder (though not impossible) for Biden to hide those inconsistencies from the millions of progressives who are rightfully cynical towards him at the start of his new administration.
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