The New York Mag piece on Joe Biden understanding the need to embrace an FDR size government made headlines. The overture to the progressive base of the party was clear as day. However, it’s not right, even for progressives, to dismiss the piece outright. There is a need to genuinely give Biden the benefit of the doubt and go through the piece. You can read the Biden and FDR piece here.
The piece starts out explaining how Joe understands the need for public spending to emerge from this crisis. Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Biden planned to get the country back into the Paris Climate Deal, getting through executive orders on ethics, and an equality act guaranteeing LGBTQ rights on his first few days in office. However, Biden now feels the country would need more from a president in January 2021.
Biden feels he could be facing a crisis like FDR did when he took office in 1932. A Democrat as well, FDR became president after the country had been through the Great Depression. After coming to power, FDR passed various public welfare and jobs programs that helped the country rise to its feet after a depression. It is natural for Biden to feel he will be in a similar position as FDR was. Thus, following FDR looks like a good idea on paper.
The piece goes on to explain how Biden plans to fund green enterprises and start a Pandemic Testing Board to expedite the production of a vaccine.
As for the Tara Reade allegations, Biden believes he will emerge from them even though the going could get tough.
All in all, the piece does well to present not just Biden’s state of mind, but also how he is feeling about the race.
Examining Biden’s FDR Angle
The throwback to FDR is an interesting choice from Biden. Many progressives would dismiss the claims made in the piece outright. For a minute, let’s give the former vice president the benefit of the doubt. Let’s say he genuinely thinks he needs to plan for an FDR-style presidency.
If he is, why isn’t he talking about it?
Presidential candidates tend to promise more than they deliver. Obama promised to end the wars, he only made the situation worse. Even Trump failed on his beloved promise of building a ‘huge’ wall and we all know how much he wants to do it. If Biden was promising FDR-like measures in his policy platform, perhaps one can hope that a few of them would see the light of day.
The problem is this – Biden hasn’t promised anything.
How can the people reading the piece know Biden is not lying? Are we supposed to take Biden on his word?
The simple way to know if a politician is serious is to check his or her track record on the same. Since the coronavirus pandemic crisis is upon the country, Biden has not alluded to any major progressive position. He has not come out and talked about a big jobs program or a medicare program the country is crying out for. Instead, Biden only sticks to vague platitudes.
As vice president, Biden was part of the administration that bailed out the banks and got the country into more wars. His record as a senator doesn’t suggest any FDR-like qualities either. In fact, Biden is part of the rut responsible for killing the New Deal Coalition FDR created. If anything, Biden is responsible, along with other corporatist Democrats like him, in destroying the soul of the Democratic party FDR created.
If Biden were to take a drastic step and think about doing things the way FDR did, wouldn’t he want to make it grand? Wouldn’t he rather ask a friendly news host to give him half an hour and explain his FDR-style vision to the people?
The fact that Biden is not talking about FDR in a big interview or a live stream from his basement suggests one simple thing. The piece in NYMag is an experiment.
Why is Biden suddenly Talking About FDR?
The NYMag piece is not entirely surprising if you were expecting something from the Biden campaign. In order to win in November, Biden needs the progressive base or at least some part of it. Many progressives trace their roots to FDR (and not Stalin as most Republicans believe).
Progressives want the Democratic party to return to its FDR roots. AOC said as much last year in September. Since Biden wants the progressives on his side, it is logical for him to use FDR as a firecracker to attract progressives.
Since becoming the presumptive nominee, Biden has not come out and made any attempt to get progressives on his side. In fact, Biden has not really proposed any big solution the American public is immediately impressed with.
The FDR piece is an attempt by the Biden campaign to accomplish two things. First, attract progressives with big hopes but no real commitment. Second, make a splash in the media that is slowly getting bored with him.
Don’t believe us?
Here’s a clip of the founder of CNBC saying Biden is not ready for primetime.
(Video belongs to MSNBC)
What if Biden has Changed?
Those who are thinking about voting for Biden only after the NYMag piece, don’t be hasty. It is highly likely that this piece gets buried in an avalanche of other news stories and Biden is never asked about this again.
The former vice president went on record to state he would veto Medicare for All as president.
Maybe his thoughts have changed after seeing the carnage of COVID-19.
Maybe Biden finally learned why Bernie Sanders is always railing for progressive reforms. It is theoretically possible Biden now truly believes an FDR style presidency is the call of the hour.
However, if Biden indeed is thinking about FDR style governance, why are we not seeing the same in his actions? Why doesn’t his VP pick show a sudden shift to progressive policies? Instead of thinking of naming neo-liberals like Senator Harris, Senator Klobuchar, and Stacey Abrams, why doesn’t Biden consider a progressive like Nina Turner or even Warren (she is still way more progressive than Harris or Klobuchar)? How about doing the unthinkable and naming Sanders VP? A large progressive faction would then back Biden as he would have a VP who brings the young vote. Bernie is an effective campaigner and the kind of man ready to go to war with Congress to get Biden’s FDR vision enacted. In many ways, naming Bernie VP is the most natural thing for Biden to do if he wishes to bring FDR style governance.
Biden should be judged on his actions. Recently, it came to light that Biden is talking to Larry Summers these days. We can only assume both of them are not talking about the third season of Westworld. Is Larry Summers giving Biden economic advice? Summers is the man who opposed Wall Street regulation, large public welfare spending and pushes for more income equality. A person like Larry Summers would be an anathema to an FDR style administration. In fact, Larry Summers would be too economically extreme for the Republican in 1932.
Why Did Bernie Miss the FDR Train?
Biden using FDR as a dangling sweet to attract progressives confirms one thing – FDR still has political relevance.
This makes it all the more confusing to understand why Sanders’ campaign didn’t use the FDR parallel effectively.
If Biden is only faking FDR credentials to attract progressives, Sanders would have been the real deal. Most policies Sanders pushes for are in line with what FDR stood for. If there is an American politician who can lean into FDR’s legacy with a straight face, it’s Bernie Sanders.
Instead of calling himself a New Deal Democrat or an FDR-style politician, Sanders called himself a democratic socialist. This phrasing ended up defining both his 2016 and 2020 campaigns. Any time Bernie proposed anything, mainstream media stuck a red socialist sticker on it. Instead of trying to look edgy to college students who think capitalism is a sin, Bernie could have simply said he is a New Deal politician closer to Ralph Nader or FDR than Stalin or Castro.
It is all in vain now. Biden has the license to make overtures towards progressives by bringing up FDR in long op-eds. All Bernie can do now is nod and help his best friend.
(Image Credit – Wikimedia Commons+Gage Skidmore)