January 19, 2021

Disappointing the Progressives

By Stephen Tuttle | Dec. 5, 2020

President-elect Joe Biden is likely to disappoint the more progressive folks in the Democratic Party. Some are already complaining.  

The Sanders/Warren/Ocasio Cortez wing of the party has an agenda: the Green New Deal, single-payer “Medicare for All,” reduced federal funding to local law enforcement, forgiveness of all student debt, free tuition at state universities and community colleges, free pre-K daycare — that was never fully supported by Biden or the majority of Americans. The cost for all of it, which would literally run into the tens of trillions, could only be paid for with significant tax increases on everybody from the middle class up.

Biden can partially appease environmentalists by signing back onto the Paris Climate Accords and making promises about carbon neutrality goals and all the rest. How we'll accomplish any of it is a little trickier. He can undo most of President Trump's executive orders relaxing clean air and clean water standards, but he’ll need Congressional help passing any legislation moving us away from fossil fuels. 

He openly opposed Medicare for All in both the primary and general election, proposing instead an expansion of the Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare”), which he helped usher through Congress during the Obama presidency. Expanding Medicaid coverage would be popular in many states and even among some Republicans. But there will not be a single-payer system any time in the near future.  

The president-elect not only opposes defunding the police but also proposed a significant increase in federal funds dedicated to local law enforcement agencies. He wants part of that funding increase dedicated to anti-bias and de-escalation training.

He has endorsed a partial debt forgiveness plan for students with federally backed loans and additional scholarship money available for students; but not free tuition.

Biden, like every Democrat who has ever run for federal office, wants to close tax loopholes that benefit corporations and the wealthy. He'll be the first to succeed at that if he does. And he proposed higher income taxes for those making more than $400,000 annually, a figure too low to generate Republican support. 

More than anything, Biden is a veteran of the numbers game in Congress. The zeal of any group supporting any agenda is irrelevant unless they can generate 219 votes in the U.S. House and 60 votes in the U.S. Senate. And Biden knows that with a thin working majority in the House and likely none in the Senate, he'll be lucky just to nibble away at his own agenda. 

The progressives, who make up a minority of the Democratic caucus but have the loudest voices, won't much like any of it. But emerging exit polling and voter interviews tell us how Biden won and down-ballot Democrats did not: Biden's platform played a limited role in the former, but some of the progressive's rhetoric a significant role in the latter.

The presidential election had very little to do with ideology and almost everything to do with Donald Trump. Enough Republicans and independents simply became exhausted by Trump's anger, negativity, and flights from reality, so they voted for Biden.

Those feelings did not translate to down-ballot races, as many Democrats believed they would. The blue wave they were hoping for became more like waves of the blues as they lost seats in the House and likely failed to regain the Senate. (Democrats would have to win both seats in the Georgia run-offs in January. They have a good chance of winning one of those seats but not the other.) 

Republicans and Republican-leaning independents did not cross over when voting for anyone but the president. When interviewed post-election, many referenced efforts to defund the police or anything identified with “socialism” or “socialist.” Even some Democrat candidates who ran in opposition to the entire progressive agenda were successfully branded with those labels.

The Democrat's national Senate and House campaign committees were of little help, focusing solely on defeating Trump at the expense of local economic and social issues. Candidates who tried running campaigns that avoided piggybacking on the presidential race found their districts overwhelmed with third-party mailing and advertising that focused nowhere else.

This would be a good time for the far left to stop complaining Biden isn't far enough left, temporarily set aside their agenda and calm their rhetoric, and focus on very real short-term issues that need immediate attention and should supersede ideology. For example, how the feds are going to distribute the COVID-19 vaccines and how the states can store and administer those vaccines. And how they’re going to help revive local small businesses, 100,000 of which have closed in communities across the country. 

The president-elect will work with most anyone, including willing Republicans; he is not immune to compromise. We'll see if the same can be said for some members of his own party. 


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