COLUMN: Biden will not be an agent of change unless you make him one
America is celebrating.
While MAGA supporters might still be grappling with, even denying, President Donald Trump’s defeat, Joe Biden will be our next president. This is undoubtedly the better outcome.
However, while I, like many of you, am relieved that Trump lost, I cannot celebrate knowing what comes next. People should not gain a false sense of security. Defeating Trump was important, but Biden and centrist Democrats are not the answer to America’s problems.
If we want any form of meaningful change, activists and young people need to fight harder than ever to enact that change.
Based on everything we have seen with Trump’s handling of the coronavirus and the economy, there is no doubt Biden will handle this pandemic better than Trump ever could. The possibility of the Iran Deal returning, the U.S. being a part of the Paris Agreement, revoking Trump’s Muslim ban, rolling back the transgender military ban and protecting DREAMERS are other important policies that could realistically be enacted by Biden.
However, progressives did not win this election. On Nov. 3, Americans chose between two versions of conservatism: Republican-lite in Biden and fascism in Trump. Democrats likely will not gain control of the U.S. Senate and lost U.S. House seats. Biden won by the skin of his teeth in many of the key swing states, including Pennsylvania by about 50,000 votes, Wisconsin by 20,000 votes according to the Associated Press. He also lost key swing states like Ohio and Florida.
The party’s underperformance should be an indicator of two things. First, people should be terrified that almost half the country was willing to vote for Trump after his pandemic mismanagement and five years of racial dog-whistling. Second, leaders in the Democratic party should be ashamed they almost lost to that monster. It shows a clear need for a new direction that appeals to younger, progressive voters.
Biden also did not help the party by being a terrible candidate. He focused more on being anti-Trump than appealing to voters with popular, progressive policies.
Looking at Biden's record and some of his current stances on issues shows a concerning four years ahead. Biden’s record on race is unacceptable. His enthusiastic support of the 1994 Crime Bill exacerbated a rise in mass incarceration of minorities, according to a factcheck.org article. The many gaffes he made during his campaign – including his infamous line “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t Black" – underscores this weakness.
Most egregious of all was his push against bus desegregation as a U.S. Senator. In the 1970s, he sponsored a bill that would have limited the power of courts to order school desegregation with busing, according to an article from PolitiFact. Biden's call for an “orderly integration of society” included this quote from him on mandatory bus desegregation: "Unless we do something about this, my children are going to grow up in a jungle, the jungle being a racial jungle with tensions having built so high that it is going to explode at some point. We have got to make some move on this."
While it would be inaccurate to say that Biden would reimplement these policies in today, it certainly says a lot about his attitudes towards race-related issues. After many activists called for some diversion of police funding, he stated multiple times he wants to increase funding for police to “fund reform efforts,” according to an article from Newsweek.
So when it comes to civil rights or police reform, people should remain skeptical if anything will be done.
On foreign policy, Biden said in an interview with Stars and Stripes that he has no plans to reduce the already over-bloated U.S. military budget. In fact, he may increase spending, despite the military budget already swallowing about half of U.S. discretionary spending. He also wants to keep a military presence in Afghanistan and voted for the Iraq War, a war that killed between 184,382 - 207,156 civilians, according to a study from Brown University.
When it comes to immigration, Biden voted for George H. W. Bush’s border fence in 2006 and the Obama-Biden administration deported a record 3 million people from 2009 to 2016, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Biden said he would veto Medicare for All, a policy favored by about 88 percent of Democrats and 69 percent of all registered voters, according to a Hill/Harris X poll.
These are only a handful of examples of him falling short on progressive issues. Biden clearly does not have his Democratic base in mind when he appeals to centrist positions. While his message of bipartisan unity is important, will come at the cost of incremental-to-zero change on a national level.
Biden also indicated that the status quo will not change. In an article from Bloomberg News about a speech Biden gave to rich donors, he said, “no one’s standard of living will change, nothing would fundamentally change.”
When the climate catastrophe is looming in front of us, when unarmed Black people are repeatedly killed by police officers, when the U.S. has been at war in Afghanistan for almost 20 years, this quote is unacceptable.
It is not just me who disapproves of Biden. While a Harvard Kennedy School Institute of Politics poll gave him a 56 percent approval rating with young people on Oct. 26. It increased from just 34 percent in the spring poll. While not concluded in the study, this seems to indicate his favorability was based more on being anti-Trump rather than being excited for Biden.
It is safe to say he and other Democratic leaders are out of touch. They do not really care about young people.
We need to make them care.
While his record, campaign and policy stances should make any reasonable person skeptical, progressives can push for change if they are loud enough. Despite the tremendous uphill battle activists will face, meaningful change under Biden will be easier to achieve than under Trump.
Young people surged to the ballot boxes in record numbers this year, with 50-52 percent of eligible voters between the ages of 18-29 turning out to vote, according to a study from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. But, mobilizing activism should only start with voting.
The Black Lives Matter movement was louder than ever this year, even during a global pandemic. While Biden has been critical of defunding the police, it is fair to conclude that he and other Democrats will listen to activists more on police reform than Trump. The groundswell of protests like what Central Michigan University saw with the "Legalize Being Black: Our Lives Matter Too" march this semester showed passion that cannot be left behind.
There are historical examples of complacent Democratic presidents being pushed to the left. John F. Kennedy was hesitant to make any real change on Civil Rights so he would not lose the southern “Dixiecrat” vote, as explained in an article from TIME magazine. It was not until images of violence from civil rights protests in Birmingham and appeals from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that finally pushed Kennedy over the edge to enact change.
Young, college activists have brought about real change in the past as well, with several examples highlighted in an article from the New York Times. It was four Black college students that conducted a sit-in inside a Greensboro, N.C diner that paved the way for more sit-ins and desegregated lunch counters across the country.
Even Biden backtracked on some of his past mistakes. He recently said that the 1994 crime was a "mistake" in an ABC Town Hall, along with his and Obama's record on immigration. While this is probably political pandering, it shows it is possible to push him in a positive direction.
I know what neo-liberals will say: “Actually, it was far-left rhetoric like defunding the police and the Green New Deal that that led to Democrats’ underperformances.” Wrong. Polls for many progressive policies show they are at least slightly favorable to voters. According to polls from Data For Progress, the Green New Deal not only has a 59 percent approval rating nationwide, it even has a 49 percent approval rating in key swing states compared to 36 percent who oppose it.
A YouGov poll shows that U.S. voters are more likely to oppose fracking (44 percent) than support it (35%). Another YouGov poll shows Americans are far more likely to support a full troop withdrawal from Afghanistan (61 percent) rather than oppose it (21 percent).
An NPR/Marist poll found that 77 percent of Americans want the Supreme Court to uphold Roe vs. Wade in some degree.
Biden and Democrats embracing progressive policies would not just please their base, it would give them a stronger path to victory in general. The long-term goal for progressives should be to elect progressive representatives in their state and U.S. districts who will push for progressive policies and eventually replace centrist party leaders.
Do not get deterred by Biden winning the primary. Do not get comfortable with Biden in office. America needs more than a reversal of Trump’s policies. It looks like it is our responsibility to push for it.