by Christopher Gage
Back in February, Barack Obama shared the same conclusion as any sober observer: The Democratic Party was no longer the party of Joe Biden, but of the progressive wing helmed by Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.).
They had it all but sewn up until the Democratic establishment collapsed the field and slow-walked the unlikely Joe Biden to the nomination.
In typical fashion, progressive Democrats capitulated the moment opportunity dressed itself in overalls and looked like work, instead rolling over for a tickle of promises and concessions and Biden’s talk of an “FDR-sized” progressive administration.
The ceasefire lasted all of six months. Over the summer, the progressive wing strained major policy concessions through the establishment limestone via the Biden-Sanders Unity Task Force, crafting the most progressive platform since the party ran George McGovern in 1972.
Progressive Democrats earned a few substantial wins. U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-N.Y.) Green New Deal moderated into the Biden Plan, and progressives won accommodations on their criminal justice, education, immigration, healthcare, and economic proposals.
Yet, the same brahmins who bilked Bernie Sanders in 2016 now revert to their default setting of warmed-over Wall Street-friendly policies and personnel of the sort sympathetic commentators celebrate for its bland surface appeal.
By “bland” they mean the return to the status quo President Trump temporarily upended—a coterie of Obama Administration veterans cryogenically frozen since 2017.
Hillary’s Stillborn Administration
Progressive Democrats have little to shout about, though some commentators varnish Biden’s cabinet appointments with apparent progressive approval.
Biden’s prospective cabinet is Hillary Clinton’s stillborn administration, a reanimation of Obama White House veterans and corporate Democrats. Antony Blinken heads to secretary of State. John Kerry, another Obama veteran, comes in as climate czar.
Biden tapped Janet Yellen, a Federal Reserve chair, as treasury secretary, and Cecilia Rouse to head the Council of Economic Advisers, with Jared Bernstein and Heather Boushey, liberal economists, expected to follow. Biden also named Adewale Adeyemo, an Obama Administration veteran, as deputy treasury secretary.
The legacy media lauds the cabinet’s drowsiness, its return to the “competence” of the “tried and trusted.” They celebrate Jake Sullivan’s nod to head national security, airbrushing Sullivan’s authorship of the Libyan disaster. They laud CIA spy chief Avril Haines’ seat at the head of intelligence, willfully ignorant of Haines’ history blurring CIA torture techniques and penchant for drone strikes.
The status quo strikes back. To progressive dismay, Neera Tanden is Biden’s pick to head the Office of Management and Budget. Tanden, a gleeful anti-Sanders critic, worked behind the scenes to sink his ascendant bid for the 2016 Democratic nomination.
During the primaries last year, Sanders sent a rollicking letter to the Center for American Progress which Tanden heads, accusing her of “maligning” his staff and supporters, “belittling” his cause. Prominent progressives like Matt Taibbi and David Sirota don’t think her appointment is coincidental, more a “slap in the face” for the vanquished progressive wing.
Despite Biden’s economic brains presenting a progressive hue, most return from an Obama era in which those they champion got little more than lip service. Under Obama, wages for ordinary Americans rose by just $11 a month. Under President Trump’s economic nationalism, the average worker saw an extra $161 every month, and for the first time in decades, wages at the bottom rose faster than those at the top.
President Trump might invite the ire of the “woke,” but he achieved more for the working- and middle-classes than Democrats would like to admit. The modern Democratic Party cares more for soundbites than substance. Kamala Harris is emblematic of this new party, a “progressive” whose very political existence owes itself to “Billionaire’s Row” the Bay Area neighborhood reputed to be the world’s wealthiest stretch of tarmac.
In Biden’s cabinet, there is little to detect in the way of the Democratic progressive wing. No Elizabeth Warren. No Bernie Sanders. No Sherrod Brown. No signs of an “FDR-sized presidency.”
This should not surprise. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris enjoyed immense support from America’s billionaire class. Kamala’s campaign attracted 47 billionaires in its first two months of existence. Two-thirds of Kamala’s donors came from California’s ritziest ZIP codes, home to tech titans and Hollywood moguls. One-third of Kamala’s cash came from finance giants, and another quarter from Silicon Valley.
In May 2019, San Francisco oil billionaires Gordon and Ann Getty held a fundraiser at their Billionaire’s Row mansion at $28,000 a head.
When Kamala flamed out, the billionaires migrated to Biden. By January this year, 66 of America’s richest elites backed Biden—10 times the rest of the Democratic field. The party for the little guy the Democrats are not.
Since the mid-2000s, blue-collar workers have migrated to the Republican Party, while the college-educated head toward the Democrats. President Trump won in 2016 with promises to address the modern malaise—the hollowing of the middle class.
Before the genesis of corporate capitalism in the 1980s, American workers could expect their wages to rise with productivity—an American notion if ever there was one—the harder one worked, the further one got.
If American wages today matched 1975 norms, the average American worker would make $92,000 a year, not $50,000.
Under President Trump’s tightened borders and refashioned trade deals, American workers started to redress the imbalance between their work and their pay packets, a problem to which President Obama surrendered.
Democrats used to talk about these issues. Now they’re dominated by woke corporations and virtue-signaling billionaires using Gilded Age employment practices beneath the progressive veneer they present for marketing purposes.
Uber’s linguistic gymnastics pretends its drivers aren’t really employees, and not entitled to standards like sick leave, or healthcare, yet pledges $1 million to “social justice” causes to “support the black community and help fight racial injustice.”
During last summer’s George Floyd protests, Uber said it, “stands in solidarity with the Black community during these difficult times.” The same company fights legal battles to insist two plus two equals six and that Uber drivers aren’t worthy of basic employment standards.
The same spiritual disconnect animates the modern Democratic Party. Biden’s cabinet keenly celebrates its slew of “firsts,” that is, “historic” appointments of those born with particular melanin counts or genitalia.
For most Americans, such concerns are moot intellectual luxuries of American elites.
Kamala Harris might be “For The People” but those people live on Billionaire’s Row. Joe Biden might be “Lunch Bucket Joe,” yet he won the richest counties in America.
Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren look on, helpless.
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Christopher Gage is a British political journalist.
Photo “Joe Biden” by Gage Skidmore. CC BY-SA 2.0.