Biden and a progressive future

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Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Embassy, Bern, Switzerland

Hope just means another world is possible, not promised, not guaranteed. Hope calls for action; action is impossible without hope. — Rebecca Solnit

For many decades now, disappointment and despair are persistent companions for progressives. Cynicism and nihilism are temptations. On Facebook, it seems that The Who’s song “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is the anthem of many of my leftie friends.

It is possible that this November will be what political scientists call a “re-aligning election” with a landslide victory for Joe Biden and the Democrats. It is possible that progressives will push the country leftward pressuring President Biden with grassroots “street heat” and battles within the Democratic Party.

That possible future is implicit in a August 2 Washington Post column by E.J. Dionne, which argues that Trump and the Republicans are making a “New New Deal” necessary.

He says that “a more vocal left” is winning victories by raising fundamental questions about wealth inequality, health care, housing costs and unaffordable college education. He agrees with intellectuals who say that “ideas have consequences.” However, he says it is also true that “events have consequences for ideas.”

From a pragmatic point of view, people will be open to different perspectives when it becomes obvious that the conventional ways of doing things don’t work.

Trump and the GOP demanded that the economy “open up” and we got the world’s worst COVID-19 catastrophe. His refusal to use the federal government to fight the pandemic has resulted in an economic and public health disaster.

“Meanwhile,” Dionne writes, “Biden and his advisers are busy studying up on the New Deal not because they are, as Trump would have it, ‘puppets’ of the left, but because our circumstances echo Roosevelt’s time. Getting out of the mess we’re in requires more government action than conservative ideology admits.”

Back in April, New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg suggested that Biden might be quite a progressive president. She interviewed Lawrence Mishel, a labor economist who is the former president of the Economic Policy Institute, a progressive think tank. He voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary and supported Elizabeth Warren this year. 

He has been a critic of centrist Democrats for decades. He told Goldberg that, “My adult lifetime has covered the Carter, Clinton and Obama years, and labor policy has never been a priority.”

When Mishel examined Biden’s labor policy, he discovered there wasn’t any Democratic nominee in his lifetime who proposed “as robust and fleshed out a policy suite on labor standards and unions.”

Biden supports a $15 federal minimum wage, establishing collective bargaining rights for public-sector employees everywhere and giving federal labor protections to farmworkers and domestic workers. He would crack down on companies like Uber, which misclassify full-time employees as independent contractors to avoid paying mandatory benefits. The National Labor Relations Board would be able to impose punitive fines against employers who violate labor laws. The agency today is only permitted to collect back pay.

In July, Amy Harder wrote on Axios that Biden aims to bring unions into clean energy. Jobs in wind and solar are between 4% and 6% unionized. That is much lower than the share of union jobs in other energy sectors.

Not surprisingly, solar and wind jobs have lower average salaries compared to similar jobs in oil and gas and nuclear plants, according to Labor Department statistics.

Jason Walsh, executive director of BlueGreen Alliance (a group backed by unions and environmentalists) says, “There’s a halo effect that pertains to the clean energy industry with respect to how those industries treat workers.”

That is an illusion. Walsh says solar and wind are like other industries where “under our prevailing labor law regime, companies are actively discouraging and in some cases actively blocking the ability of their workers to organize, which includes firing them.”

Biden says workers building clean-energy infrastructure “must have the choice to join a union and collectively bargain.” As with other workers, he supports legislation to make it easier for workers to collectively bargain. His plan would hold executives “personally liable” if they interfere.

There are different views of Biden’s climate plan. Julian Brave Noisecat, energy expert at Data for Progress, a progressive thinktank, says it is “a Green New Deal in our view, substantively.”  The Sunrise Movement gave Biden’s primary-season plan an F but now says he’s “talking the talk.” After he becomes president, they will make sure he’ll “walk the walk.”

While the GOP has functionally become a personality cult around a far-right buffoonish wannabe dictator, the Democratic Party has factions with different perspectives and interests. There will be a fight at the Democratic National Convention over the lack of support for Medicare for All in the party platform. Biden won’t support Medicare for All but his health care platform would be a big improvement over the status quo if it was implemented.

You may say that talk is cheap. But in 2012, political scientist Jonathan Bernstein examined the research on campaign promises and concluded that presidents “usually try to enact the policies they advocate during the campaign.”  

This opinion does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.