It turns out the “lesser evil” is still, you know … evil.
As Joe Biden’s presidency passes the 50 day mark he has already made good on his central campaign promise: “Nothing will fundamentally change.” Sure, Biden is taking COVID-19 more seriously than his predecessor (which is to say, he is taking the pandemic seriously at all). But beyond that, “Middle Class Joe” has been as underwhelming and uninspiring as his anemic campaign portended.
Let’s briefly review the Biden/Harris administration’s actions (or, really, lack of actions) thus far:
· Migrant children are still being separated from their parents and thrown into concentration camps, err, I mean “family detention facilities.”
· The next round of COVID-19 stimulus checks will be stingier than originally promised ($1,400 checks rather than $2,000). And they will be means-tested, meaning those desperately needed checks will get into fewer working-class families’ hands.
· Biden’s proposed $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill will not contain a provision to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
· Biden will take no executive action to cancel or alleviate student debt. But then, Biden made it abundantly clear from the beginning that he cares nothing about working-class millennials burdened with thousands of dollars in crippling student debt. Biden’s now infamous response to the plight of those millennials was a contemptuous, “Give me a break!”
· Biden, like Donald Trump and Barack Obama, dropped bombs over Syria.
So much, it seems, for Biden representing the “lesser evil.” … And all those “progressives” who pledged to “push Biden to the left,” once he was in office are … where, exactly…?
Yet, in many ways, this was all predictable.
Biden’s decades-long Senate record of subservience to capital combined with his own forthright campaign pronouncements should have made it crystal clear to anyone paying any amount of attention precisely what we could expect from his presidency. But for liberals, the 2020 election really just boiled down to “Orange Man bad.” Nothing more. The tragic irony is the Democrats’ refusal to address even the bare minimum of working-class people’s material needs may well pave the way for Donald Trump to return to the White House in 2024.
COVID-19 Stimulus Round 2: The Good
President Biden signed the latest COVID-19 economic stimulus plan on Thursday, which passed the House of Representatives the previous day. The $1.9 trillion stimulus package includes $1,400 checks to about 85 percent of the American public. It also extends unemployment benefits to $300 per week and provides $160 billion for COVID-19 vaccine and testing programs. The package will not, however, include a provision to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. (More on that later.) House Democrats passed the bill with zero Republican support and only one Democrat, Maine’s Rep. Jared Golden who represents the rural second district, voting against the measure.
While the “American Rescue Plan” is nowhere near as “progressive” as the corporate media have made it out to be, it does, admittedly, contain some worthwhile aspects. Perhaps most laudable is how the bill tackles childhood poverty. The stimulus includes child tax-credits worth as much as $3,600 per eligible child. Working-class parents could receive as much as $300 per child per month. This would go a long way toward aiding single mothers and women of color who have taken on so much additional domestic labor with assisting their children with remote schooling.
As economist, Stephanie Kelton points out on a recent edition of Democracy Now!, providing such child tax-credits are “something other wealthy countries have done for a very long time.”
“The U.S. has been a laggard in this respect,” Kelton adds. “And so, we’re beginning to catch up with many other wealthy countries around the world. Sending direct payment to families with children allows them to … cover child expenses which, of course, are incredibly high in this country.”
Unfortunately, none of the bill’s provisions are permanent. Thus, they could be easily undone by a Republican president or Congress. The American Rescue Act is, as such, a Band-aid. It does not represent the radical restructuring of the U.S. capitalist economy which working-class people so desperately need.
… And the Bad
Then there is the stimulus bill’s most glaring omission: The lack of a $15 minimum wage, which was long promised by left-wing Democrats like Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Let’s be perfectly clear about who is to blame for why working-class people will not be receiving a (modest) raise: The Democrats. A handful of millionaire Senate Democrats, along with Maine “independent” Angus King, defeated this amendment.
And neither Biden nor Vice President Kamala Harris made any effort to fight for the measure. As soon as the unelected Senate “parliamentarian” — a position which virtually nobody in America was even aware existed until recently — ruled against the $15 minimum wage, Biden and Harris all but threw up their hands in defeat, claiming there was nothing more they could do. But there is nothing binding about the parliamentarian’s advice. It is merely a suggestion — in this case, one influenced by the Democratic Party’s corporate donors. When prior administrations received parliamentarian advice that ran counter to their agendas, they merely fired the parliamentarian and replaced him or her with a more obsequious one.
Furthermore, House Democrats — including the more left-leaning members of “The Squad” — could have held the stimulus up over the lack of the minimum wage provision. They could have collectively voted against the bill to demonstrate their commitment to the issue. The party’s more “progressive” figures could have adopted some of the militant, uncompromising tactics the Republicans routinely use. But they did not.
The point is the Democrats could have easily included the minimum wage provision in the final stimulus bill if they had really wanted to. And while particular “moderate” Democrats like Sen. Joe Manchin and “girl-boss” Sen. Kyrsten Sinema certainly deserve every ounce of condemnation for their votes against raising the minimum wage, it would be a mistake view these more transparently bourgeois Democrats as “outliers” in their party. The problem is not Manchin or Sinema. The problem is the Democratic Party itself.
It is not for nothing that former Republican strategist, Kevin Phillips, once called the Democratic Party “history’s second most enthusiastic capitalist party.” But don’t take my word for it: Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, concedes as much.
And it is worth pointing out: $15 an hour is still not a living wage. It might have constituted a living wage about five years ago — when the $15 Now movement started. But if the minimum wage had kept pace with the cost of inflation since 1968, it would be about $24 an hour, today. In other words, $15 is already a compromise from what the minimum wage should be.
The unfortunate truth is that working-class Americans do not have a political party of their own. The Republicans and the Democrats are both parties of capitalism. If there is a discernible difference between the two it is that the former is now openly flirting with fascism, while the latter now occupies the center-right position once attributed to “moderate Republicans.” And the idea that the left can “take over” or “reclaim” the Democratic Party remains a pipe dream. The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), the largest socialist organization in the country, must recognize the futility of this strategy and make a decisive, complete break (not a “dirty break,”) from the Democratic Party.
At Long Last: A Break from Neoliberalism?
As Socialist Alternative’s Keely Mullen observes, the robust COVID-19 stimulus seems to represent a break from the Democrats’ decades-long orthodoxy of neoliberalism which was characterized by austerity, budget-cuts for social programs, and bail outs for big business.
“At the same time, we must remember that the Democrats voted for every penny of the hundreds of billions shoveled into corporate pockets last year,” he writes, “as well as the vast sums used to backstop financial markets. And when the bill comes due, they will not hesitate to put this on the shoulders of the working class.”
Last year’s economic spending bill basically saved the economy from complete collapse, and the bourgeoisie are intent on forestalling another one. That partly accounts for the ruling class’ shift away from neoliberalism. “Biden’s stimulus measures are so widely supported by the American ruling class because they, alongside the increasing pace of vaccinations, will give a shot in the arm to the economy and could usher in a temporary boom,” Mullen writes.
Yet Republican governors’ gleeful rush to re-open their states could undermine any good the stimulus does. Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott has arbitrarily lifted the state’s mask mandate, proclaiming Texas “Open for business!” And this zeal to basically wish the pandemic away and re-open the economy is not limited to Republicans. Here in Maine, Democratic Gov. Janet Mills has been bending to business interests over protecting lives without any meaningful pressure from Republicans — who are a minority in the Maine Legislature.
Dr. Anthony Fauci has warned that such recklessness could result in a “fourth wave” of coronavirus infections. It is just another stark example of the deranged nihilism inherent in capitalism. Capitalists do not care how many people must die so long as their profits continue to rise. And if capitalism is a death cult then the increasingly fascistic Republican Party is its grim reaper mascot.
Sadly, liberals seem more interested in the shallow aesthetics and identity-oriented characteristics of the Biden administration than any actual policies it pursues. They laud the diversity of Biden’s administration. They dismiss criticism of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s vote to condemn millions of working-class people to poverty wages as “sexism.” And the absurdly superficial tweets gushing over the supposed “competency” and “measured response” of Biden’s bombing campaign of Syria, were beyond repugnant.
All the while the same “back-to-brunch” liberals who revel in how “boring” President Biden is compared to his cartoonish predecessor dismiss critics on the left for “not giving Biden and company enough time.” “Change does not happen overnight,” they lecture us from their comfortable, petty-bourgeois suburban dwellings.
But those of us on the left are not interested in mere cosmetic reforms. We want a working-class revolution.
As Mullen writes of such liberal excuses in his post for Socialist Alternative:
There will always be a reasonable excuse for holding back. “It’s not strategic,” “an easier battle is coming,” “now’s not the time.” But these excuses are almost always, in reality, cover for a lack of political courage and fear of conflict with the establishment. Had the Squad and Bernie coordinated a real struggle to demand $15, there would have been an important section of society prepared to back them up. They could have mobilized their millions of supporters to take action and we could have won.
Our job as socialists is to continue agitating among our working-class friends, neighbors, and co-workers and win them over to our politics. The only way we can expect anything from the Biden (or any presidential) administration is by demanding it. So let’s start demanding.