When Vt. Senator Bernie Sanders suspended his presidential campaign in April, progressives all over America continued writing the Democratic party’s epitaph.
Sanders was the last of the two genuinely progressive candidates vying for the Democratic nomination, and his withdrawal made former Vice President Joe Biden the presumptive nominee.
As a senator, Biden voted for the invasion of Iraq into which the Bush administration lied the country.
He was given the sobriquet “the senator from MBNA” because of his often uncomfortable coziness with the Delaware-based banking behemoth.
He voted for the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act.
As a Judiciary Committee senior member, he authored a number of “tough on crime” anti-drug bill that made people question if he might have been a closeted Republican.
He also supported welfare reform that then-Rep. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott deemed the “holy grail” of the Republican legislative agenda.
He advocated cutting funding for Social Security.
And he made it impossible for student loan recipients to discharge their debt through bankruptcy.
And of course, there are those sexual misconduct allegations.
His moderate bona fides are well known.
That’s why so many are calling his facing Donald Trump in fall 2016 redux.
So why did Bernie Sanders just assert Biden has the potential to be “the most progressive president since FDR”?
In order to understand that, we need to remember when Franklin Roosevelt assumed the presidency in 1933 he was not some flaming leftie.
He campaigned almost exclusively on rebuilding the economy left in shambles under Herbert Hoover’s failed fiscal policies.
Yet by the time March 1933 came around and he spoke those immortal words, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” he understood the economy needed to be restructured. It could not simply be Rube-Goldberged together with bubble gum and bailing wire, and hoped if he crossed his fingers it would remain intact until he was out of office.
He therefore promised a “New Deal” that revitalized not only the economy, but the very foundations upon which the economy was built.
Arguably, we wouldn’t have been able to win World War II if the country had still been in the shape it was in in 1933.
FDR surrounded himself with brilliant advisers and listened to those who knew more than he in order to usher in the most robust four decades (1940-1980) of prosperity this country has ever known by borrowing money and putting it directly into average Americans’ pockets.
That prosperity would not have been possible without a system in which the economy and society ran democratically to satisfy public needs, not for the purpose of increasing profits for an affluent few.
In other words, FDR relied on what we today call Democratic Socialism.
And if you think he didn’t get criticized for it, there were plenty calling him a “communist,” just as those on the right now shout at anyone who even suggests doing a fraction of what FDR did.
For all his dubious stances on past legislation, Joe Biden 2020 doesn’t appear (at least at the moment) like Joe Biden of 1994 or 2003.
This might ruffle some progressives’ feathers, but the climate and economic plan Biden laid out this week makes him the most progressive Democratic nominee for president in American history.
It even goes further than Sen. Sanders’ or climate-change warrior Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s proposals.
In a New York Times interview, Inslee, the former Democratic presidential candidate who ran exclusively on a climate-change platform, called Biden’s plan “visionary.”
- Place the United States on “an irreversible path” to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
- Create a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035.
- Upgrade four million buildings and weatherize two million homes over four years to improve energy efficiency.
- Shift major cities toward public transportation while “creating millions of good, union jobs rebuilding America’s crumbling infrastructure.”
- Ensure workers are guaranteed the right to unionize in order to collectively bargain labor and health standards for any climate or Green New Deal-related jobs and projects.
- Establish a “Climate Corps” that supports a new generation of young workers through good-paying jobs that adhere to labor standards.
- Set up an Environmental Justice Fund to investment in environmental justice projects such as eliminating legacy pollution from toxic waste sites, removing lead in paint and pipelines, guaranteeing safe wastewater and water systems in low-income communities and communities of color.
- Respect indigenous sovereignty, which means committing to maintaining regulations that strengthen tribal sovereignty and obtain tribal consent on projects on tribal land.
- Hold corporate executives accountable for their workers’ health and safety, and that of impacted communities, including incarceration for intentionally obfuscating or distorting material information.
- Implement a “climate test” on all new infrastructure.
- Plant over 16 billion trees by 2050, prioritizing communities of color and low-income.
- Rebuild regional food infrastructures so family farmers can sell more products to local markets.
- Prohibit new fracking on public lands.
- Offer car owners incentives or rebates for American-made electric vehicles in exchange for older, less fuel-efficient ones, similar to President Obama’s “Cash for Clunkers” program.
Former Obama administration Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Gina McCarthy said the plan was “by a long shot the most ambitious we have ever seen from any president in our nation’s history.”
Biden to call for spending $2 trillion over four years in his new clean energy plan, plus setting the goal of a 100% clean energy standard by 2035. Plus more details. Scoop with @jendlouhyhc and @arinatter. https://t.co/vGqN9Nzk7l
— Jennifer Epstein (@jeneps) July 14, 2020
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) leads the Sanders-Biden Unity Task Force responsible for this ambitious economic plan.
As Prakash wrote in Common Dreams:
“Overall, we moved Biden’s benchmarks around decarbonization to be far more ambitious. Now our metrics will be gauged on timelines of today and tomorrow, of what we will achieve in the next 5, 10, 15 years, not 30 or 50. This is a huge victory.”
Biden goes big, fast on clean energy investments: shifting from $1.7 trillion over 10 yrs, to $2 trillion in 4 yrs.
He commits to 💯% clean electricity by 2035, historic investments in sustainable public housing, public transit & EVs, & more.
Check it: https://t.co/HaTremVvhM
— Sunrise Movement 🌅 (@sunrisemvmt) July 14, 2020
Although the most progressive economic plan we have ever seen from a presidential nominee, some argue it does not go far enough.
Laura Berry, director of research and policy for The Climate Mobilization, argued:
“The last twelve months were the hottest we’ve ever experienced—an average of 1.3ºC above pre-industrial temperatures. Vice President Biden’s plan, while a clear departure from the market-based solutions of the past two decades, ultimately fails to reckon with the massive climate risks we face within the next decade. Eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector would only cut domestic emissions by 27%—but we need to be eliminating emissions across the economy as quickly as possible.”
And then there’s the matter of getting all this passed through Congress, especially since the Senate is in Republican hands.
A senior campaign official said:
“He is confident he will be able to work with Congress to get something constructive done. He is of course at the same time making sure that he is campaigning in every state needed to make sure that we win every Senate seat we possibly can to further that goal.”
There are those who will inevitably ask the question lawmakers and media pundits only seem to mention when referring to social safety nets and climate legislation: “How do we pay for it?”
Another Biden official said the program would be funded through tax increases for corporations and “asking the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share”.
Sound a little like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren?
Joe Biden can be “the most progressive president since FDR”.
As long as we don’t relent in our vociferous demands for a more egalitarian, safer, more Democratic country, we can make former Vice President Biden the progressive bulwark we need to preserve what’s left of our fading republic.