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Biden Must Listen to the Demands of the Left

The Democratic nominee needs to embrace progressive policies, or risk losing to Trump in November.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, the former vice president, arrives for a rally at Tougaloo College in Tougaloo, Mississippi on March 8, 2020. (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, the former vice president, arrives for a rally at Tougaloo College in Tougaloo, Mississippi on March 8, 2020. (Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential campaign, while unsuccessful in electing the Senator to the White House, undoubtedly secured a greater political victory: a left electoral movement that’s seen wins across the nation. 

It is now clear that those pundits did not understand what was happening on the ground. To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the death of Sanders’s policies were greatly exaggerated.

From 2016 on, the progressive movement in America has scored one political victory after another, taking down previously untouchable members of the establishment. 

On August 9, Cori Bush, a nurse and Black Lives Matter activist, defeated a ten-term incumbent who had represented St. Louis, Missouri, for more than fifty years. In mid-July, Jamaal Bowman, a former middle school principal, ousted a high-ranking committee chairman and sixteen-term incumbent in Yonkers, New York. Both Bush and Bowman, along with dozens of other insurgent progressive candidates, are threatening the once-safe Democratic leadership that has controlled the direction of the party for decades.  

Earlier this year, when Sanders halted his second run for the Democratic nomination for President, pundits predicted an end to the progressive movement. They claimed his ideas had been rejected in favor of the moderate alternative represented by former Vice President Joe Biden. But it is now clear that those pundits did not understand what was happening on the ground. To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the death of Sanders’s policies were greatly exaggerated. 

Despite failing to pick up the necessary number of delegates during his 2020 run, Sanders’s policy ideas attracted significant support among the electorate, a trend that was reflected in a Kaiser Family Foundation poll that found that 77 percent of Democrat voters support Medicare for All. 

And while voters in the presidential primary took the cautious approach, hoping a moderate would be a better choice to take on President Donald Trump, they were more than willing to push for progressive platforms at a local level, where they perhaps believed there was a greater chance of those ideas being taken forward. 

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Bowman, who worked in a public school, and Bush, who worked as a nurse, found popular support in their districts. 

They know what life is like for ordinary Americans because they’ve worked among them. That’s also why they are fighting for progressive policies on issues such as education and health care.

The triumph of  these progressive challengers reflects the long-held trend of D.C. pols becoming too comfortable in halls of power, and too willing to cater to the demands of lobbyists or special interest groups over the needs of their electorate. 

If Biden doesn’t recognize how his position as a party insider could work against him, he may soon find himself coming up short in November. 

The disconnect between the Democratic Party and its rank-and-file has been cited as one of the main reasons that establishment candidates have been taking a beating lately. If Biden doesn’t recognize how his position as a party insider could work against him (and if he continues to take cues from Hillary Clinton’s campaign playbook—i.e., not aggressively campaigning in battleground states), he may soon find himself coming up short in November. 

But given that Democrats are intent on stopping Trump at all costs, there are those who believe that most voters (including progressives) will begrudgingly accept a party that’s controlled by yet another centrist, at least for the next four years. The problem with this view is that it doesn’t take into account just how far the power dynamic between the center-left and the actual left has shifted in recent years, especially since 2018. 

A handful of outsider Democrats in the House hold a significant amount of leverage for the precise reason that they aren’t establishment figures; if push came to shove, they could be willing to go against their own party. For evidence of how an intra-party political shift can occur, consider what happened to the Republican Party: the Freedom Caucus, a group of about forty ultra-conservative House Republicans who banded together in 2015, have since become the driving force behind the GOP’s agenda in Congress. 

There is no reason those in the progressive wing of the Democratic Party cannot act in a similar manner to shape their party’s platform. In fact, it’s already started to happen. 

Due to pressure from the Sunrise Movement and other activists, Biden’s campaign unveiled a significant climate plan that seeks to end carbon emissions from power plants by 2035, increase public investment in green infrastructure, and includes $2 trillion for clean energy projects. 

While it was previously held by conservatives and liberals alike that the Green New Deal, or elements of it, would not be adopted by a moderate presidential candidate, Biden wants to make it clear that he is willing to make the necessary steps to bridge the divide between the establishment and the progressive factions within his party. 

This wouldn’t have occurred without the work of activists, making it clear how much influence those on the left of the party now have. But there are still important areas, such as healthcare, where progressives will face a difficult uphill battle to secure similar victories. 

The vice presidential spot on the Democratic ticket was seen as one of the ways that Biden could reach out to progressives, not just in word, but in deed. While Senator Kamala Harris has been widely criticized for her work as a prosecutor, Harris’s largely progressive record in the Senate indicates that Biden may be willing to make concessions to the left. 

With record turnout even amid a global pandemic, and the ongoing demonstrations for racial justice that have swept across America, voters are sending a message to a Congress that has repeatedly failed to listen to their demands for change.

Last year, Harris had one of the most liberal voting records of any current U.S. Senator. During the primaries, she initially backed Medicare for All and the elimination of private health insurance before releasing her own healthcare plan. Harris was also an early supporter of the Green New Deal and has worked with Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on environmental legislation. 

Biden might not have picked an obviously progressive candidate, but he has picked a running mate who shares his approach of bridging the divide between both wings of the Democratic Party, fighting for policies that her party, her supporters, and the public at large are calling for.

As progressives continue to bolster their ranks, they are only going to gain more influence. We have already seen that “the Squad”—Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib—has the ability to effect change from within. Having voices that are willing to break with the Democratic machine will be instrumental in shaping legislation under a Biden Administration. 

With record turnout even amid a global pandemic, and the ongoing demonstrations for racial justice that have swept across America, voters are sending a message to a Congress that has repeatedly failed to listen to their demands for change.

The lesson is clear for those in Washington, D.C., from the White House to Congress: Ignore the rising tide of progressivism at your peril. 

Edward Hardy

Edward Hardy is a US and UK political commentator and the host of The Hardy Report, a weekly current affairs podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @EdwardTHardy.

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