You could go back to the primary days and read headlines I wrote about then-candidate Joe Biden. They weren’t flattering. You see, he was a dinosaur, he had a history of moderation, he wanted to chase the “bipartisan” pony, he supported George W. Bush’s Iraq War and authored the hated 1994 crime bill; he was an old white guy in a party that is as diverse as America. And his primary campaign reflected that history, arguing that he could bring Republican votes to his agenda, that what America needed was a return to Obama’s America (and nothing more dramatic), and that he wasn’t interested in anything as aggressive as the Green New Deal or other such progressive priorities.
Indeed, wasn’t this a historic opportunity to finally break America’s race and gender glass ceiling, the time to elect a progressive woman, or a woman of color? Donald Trump was historically unpopular, with a campaign that reflected the chaos and incompetence of his presidency. His party had suffered historic defeats in 2017, 2018, and 2019, even losing governorships in blood-red Kentucky and Louisiana—despite Trump’s deep engagement. At long last, this was our chance to elect a true progressive!
And then Black voters in South Carolina took a look at the field, considered America’s relationship with race and gender, and said, “Nope, we ain’t chancing it. Getting rid of Trump is our number one priority, and the old white guy is the safest bet getting there.”
It hurts so much to admit it, because it says things about America that we all wish weren’t true (mainly, that we still have a long way to go on equality), but not only were they right to place all the chips on Biden, but he may very well be the only Democrat who could’ve beaten Trump last year. By virtue of his race, gender, and sexual orientation, Biden avoided the visceral, vitriolic hatred that conservatives muster up for anyone that doesn’t look or love like them. Given the historic progressive turnout and tight margins in key states, would anyone truly want to bet that Sens. Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, or my own political love, Elizabeth Warren, would’ve done just as good or better? It truly was Biden or bust, and South Carolina’s Black community pulled the right lever.
But amazingly, the types of left-on-a-Democratic-president conflict we all expected never materialized. In fact, can anyone argue that Biden’s agenda would look much different from Warren’s, or even Bernie’s? The man with an entire career of staid institutionalist centrism is now forging the most progressive presidency since FDR. And no one saw it coming. Biden didn’t even wink-wink at us during the primary. There were no dog whistles. He hoodwinked all of us progressives … in a great way!
And Republicans are flummoxed, impotent, under this dramatic and sustained effort to redistribute our nation’s wealth. Their media organs can’t muster up anything beyond manufactured outrage over Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potato Head. Knock yourselves out, Fox News! It’s so hard for conservatives to get angry at an old white guy that they are ignoring the substance of his (popular) agenda, and literally inventing nonsense out of thin air, such as “Joe Biden wants to take away your meat.”
Imagine anyone else with the exact same agenda. Imagine it was President Harris, or President Warren, or President Sanders, with the exact same $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, and the same exact multi-trillion dollar infrastructure and child care and healthcare plans. Imagine them mouthing the same words Biden has. Literally, just swap out the president and leave everything else the same. And tell me there wouldn’t be massive nationwide conservative tea party 2.0 protests against them. Yet with Biden, that old, relatively boring white guy? Crickets.
Meanwhile, progressives can’t believe what’s happening. “One thing that I will say is that I do think that the Biden administration and President Biden have exceeded expectations that progressives had,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said. “I’ll be frank, I think a lot of us expected a lot more conservative administration.” Sanders said, “[Biden] was a moderate Democrat throughout his time in the Senate, who had the courage to look at the moment and say, you know what? The future of American democracy is at stake, tens of millions of people are struggling economically. They’re really in pain. Our kids are hurting. Seniors are hurting. I’ve got to act boldly. And Biden deserves credit for that.”
Meanwhile, not only is Biden’s national popularity in positive territory—48-46 in Civiqs, and much higher in some other polls (something Trump never managed to do), but the legislation and policies he’s pursuing poll off the charts. And as Kerry Eleveld pointed out a couple of days ago, there is nary a grassroots oppositional response—no new tea party or Women’s March or any other organized opposition. All we have is a dead-ender Q “movement,” and a seditionist militia movement being systematically dissembled by the FBI and Justice Departments. Mighty convenient of them to out themselves with their failed putsch.
And best of all, no one outside of West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin is playing the “bipartisan” game anymore. Certainly not Biden, who has successfully and accurately redefined “bipartisan” as “supported by most Americans, including Republicans.” Senate ghoul Mitch McConnell no longer gets to unilaterally determine whether something is bipartisan because—spoiler alert—nothing of substance will ever be ‘bipartisan’ on his watch. And Senate Democrats are happily fueling that new narrative.
Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.), a close Biden ally, has little hope that Democrats will reach an agreement with Republicans on the “big, bold” agenda the party is touting. He predicted the likeliest path forward will be one large package, all done through so-called budget reconciliation to work around a Senate filibuster.
Democrats don’t have to “pass something just so we can say ‘Well, that piece over there was bipartisan,’ and wait for the pat on the back,” Casey said. “People want us to get big things done — and if that means we can do it in a bipartisan fashion, that’s great. I just don’t have confidence that that’s going to happen.”
In case you had forgotten, Casey is considered a Senate “moderate.” He’s no Bernie- or Warren-style firebrand. And even he’s given up the “bipartisan” fantasy.
Republicans used that Democratic desperation for bipartisanship to great effect in the past, delaying passage of Obama’s Affordable Care Act by 14 months by pretending to be good-faith negotiators in the process. Biden was right there in the middle of that mess, and he learned from it. He didn’t let us in on it! Not even a hint!
But he learned from it.
And thus, at 100 days, we’re witnessing a transformative presidency, more consequential than anything since forever. (I’ll let historians pin an actual date on that.) And he’s done so despite a 50-50 Senate with zero Republican votes, freakin’ Joe Manchin gumming everything he possibly can, and Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema utterly misreading her state. Imagine what we might be able to do if Democrats can get some breathing room in the Senate next year and hold the House.
So here’s a toast to being wrong, so utterly wrong, so wrong wrong wrong. So were you, even if you supported Biden. You didn’t see this coming. That’s okay! Neither did anyone else. Even if he never let on, it was progressive energy that delivered Biden’s victory, and he is paying that effort back. That doesn’t mean we let our guard down or give Biden a pass when he strays, but wow, it’s nice waking up in the morning to see what good things have been announced, as opposed to dreading the damage the last guy would wreak.
And let’s remember that everything hangs precariously on an edge, with an unfavorable redistricting environment ahead of us. If we want this party to continue for years, get ready to rev up next year. Now we know what we’re fighting for, and it’s damn good.