Why Joe Biden isn’t the answer for progressives

Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren

Ashley Howlett

Ash Howlett is a recent graduate of the University of Leicester where he studied Politics and International Relations, achieving First Class Honours. During his time at University he worked for Labour MP’s Liz Kendall and Fiona Onyasanya. However, US politics is what really interests him, particularly the rise of nationalism in America.

7th February 2021

John Minchillo/AP Photo

Despite Donald Trump’s manic attempts to retain office, the USA has elected Joe Biden as their 46th President. While many have breathed a deep sigh of relief, dreaming of a progressive utopia with Biden at the helm, it is important to hold him just as accountable as Trump for his past. It feels as though the American people, more divided than ever, battered by civil unrest, police brutality, white supremacy, gun violence and a global pandemic (just to name a few) have not voted for Biden based on who he is, but instead on who he is not. Standing next to a man who believes transgender individuals should not serve in the army, wants further scale back of environmental regulations on oil and gas industries and has a multitude of sexual misconduct claims against him, it is easy to see Biden, an established statesman, as an attractive Presidential prospect. However, it is imperative to hold him to account. 


On social issues, Biden has a chequered past. His support for the Hyde Amendment, which prohibited women from using Medicaid dollars to exercise their reproductive rights and get an abortion has lasted throughout his political career. It is important to note, however, that he did rescind his support in 2019, but this was only after it was clear that no other Democrat in the 2020 field supported the controversial amendment. Moreover, in 1986 Biden voted for an amendment which would have overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade Supreme court ruling, snatching the rights of millions of American women to choose their own destiny. This gives us a glimpse into the natural conservative tendencies of the current President, raising questions as to how he will deal with other social issues when they inevitably arise.  


Another significant issue that Biden is behind the times on is healthcare. A Kaiser Family Foundation poll found that 89% of Americans believed that the most important feature of any national health plan is universal coverage. Biden’s verdict? Opposition. The reason? Cost. Therefore, Biden has decided to not push for a universal health care system. Not only does this bear potentially tragic consequence for many every-day American’s who cannot afford insurance, it also provides, for me, an insight into Biden’s worldview: life is a commodity, and we must pay for the right to live it without ailment. Perhaps this is harsh. Biden, as Vice-President, did help secure one of the most significant changes to American healthcare in recent history, forcing through the Affordable Care Act (2010), or Obamacare as it became known. This was undoubtedly a step in the right direction for many Americans, increasing the number of citizens with insurance by 20 million. But was it enough? 30.4 million were still left uninsured and more people struggled to gain healthcare due to costs that were in place before its implementation. In reality, Obamacare was a compromise bill, plucked from Republican Mitt Romney. Its primary objective was to pass through congress, not implement radical change. It is my opinion that this new administration will give more of the same, symbolic legislation which brings about minimal change. Thus, for me, Biden’s previous foray into healthcare is grim reading for his healthcare legacy and potentially a glimpse into the future.  


Big money talks, and Joe Biden has been listening. While he and his campaign proudly trumpeted record amounts raised via smaller donations, the main donors were, like always, big business and the uber-rich. In fact, the vast majority – 61.9% – of Biden’s campaign contributions came from “large donations”. However, the pessimists out there are right to point out, money is the great leveller on the political stage – no president has ever been elected by spare-change and well wishes, and to expect the Democratic Party to refuse significant donations while the GOP lines its pockets would be foolish.  But it doesn’t have to be like this. Look at individuals like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who have rejected the status quo and have been brave enough to create grass-roots campaigns funded by the people, for the people. As stated, I’m not expecting the Democratic Party to cut all ties with large cooperation’s and run itself like a quasi-student activists’ group, this would be suicide. But this doesn’t mean a shift in attention isn’t needed. The US political office will always be a private members club for those with the richest friends. Unfortunately for everyday Americans, it doesn’t look like Biden will be challenging these long-established relationships, or the influence big money has any time soon.  


Many big promises have been made by the incoming administration regarding climate change, and a potential green new deal. But are they to be believed? Biden has pledged to reach net-zero greenhouse emissions by 2050, with proposals of $2tn worth of investments in clean energy. All very promising indeed. However, he does not intend to eradicate fracking, the process which, according to the Wilderness Society, can poison groundwater, pollute surface water, impair natural landscapes and threaten wildlife. This is a spectacular turnaround from the man who claimed in 2019 he would “make sure it’s eliminated”. This brings into question how much we can really believe of his proposals. Hardly painting the picture of an ardent environmentalist hellbent on ecological survival. Are these merely empty promises ? Only time will tell. While the resumption of membership in the Paris Climate Accords is a positive early step, symbolic association will not be enough, real action is needed, and needed fast.


Perhaps most importantly, if we are to ignore rhetoric, ideology and opinions, any individual seeking to assume the most influential office in the world (or any office for that matter) should at the very least be guided by morality. A great deal has been made of Donald Trump’s sexual exploits; it’s only fair to examine Biden’s. In total, eight women have accused Biden of sexual misconduct. The new       commander-in-chief’s propensity to inappropriately touch women is outlined by Tara Reade, a former senate aide. Reade contends his behaviour towards her was “blatantly inappropriate and unnerving”.  Maybe it could be argued that the allegations against Trump are “worse” or “more serious”, but even if this is the case, does this mean Biden should get off the hook? I don’t think so. Sexual misconduct cannot become commonplace anywhere, let alone the White House, so it is important that the victim’s stories are heard, so an accurate assessment can be made on the character of the most powerful man on the planet. For now, it is my worry that the US is potentially swapping one predator for another.


Biden has wasted little time in his start to life in the White House and it must be said, despite my continuous pessimism, there are reasons for optimism. The aforementioned re-joining of the Paris Accords is a movement      in the right direction and Bernie Sanders recent elevation to Chairman of the Senate Budget committee has the potential to influence Biden onto a progressive path. Even so, it is early days. While I am sure Biden will not incite insurrection, and in comparison, to Trump will behave in a much calmer, kinder, more rational and generally statesman-like manner, I’m not so sure he’s the answer.  In my opinion, the best we can hope for is a return to “normal” and an easing of the tensions which currently afflict the US, enabling a stable platform for progressive’s to be heard, whether he will listen is another matter. Maybe this is enough, but I’m not so sure.

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