Joe Biden has caught a ton of flak, with no shortage of it from yours truly, for being something of a relic of yesterday’s Democratic Party. Today, McClatchy asked Biden’s detractors to the left: Have you considered his Plans?
McClatchy took a hard look at Biden’s stated agenda if he were to become president, and came to the conclusion that not only are Biden’s plans more progressive than his two previous campaigns for president, but they’re more ambitious than Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign. Per McClatchy, just a few of the areas where Biden 2020 is more ambitious than Clinton 2016:
On health care, Clinton proposed offering a public insurance plan for Americans enrolled in the health care exchanges established by the Affordable Care Act. She also wanted to let adults older than 55 buy into Medicare.
Biden’s plan goes much further: He wants to allow all Americans — including those receiving insurance through their employer — to buy into a government-backed insurance plan, a shift some progressives have said would represent an enormous change to Obamacare. (Biden also proposed significantly increasing the subsidies available to those who enroll in the public option.)
There’s also a wide disparity between Biden and Clinton’s climate change plans. Clinton proposed spending $60 billion on clean-energy fund as part of an attempt to make the U.S. 80% carbon-free by 2050; Biden wants to spend $1.7 trillion in federal money to make the country emit a net of zero carbon emissions by 2050.
That climate change plan earned a minor endorsement from an unlikely source. “Joe Biden’s climate plan—I’m going to get canceled for this—is quite ambitious,” Data for Progress founder Sean McElwee told McClatchy. (McElwee also told McClatchy that such an ambitious plan would go exactly nowhere if Biden didn’t push for a number of structural reforms, like making Puerto Rico a state and packing the Supreme Court.)
If you’re on the left and view electoral politics as a way to enact some degree of social change, there are two ways to view this. One is the optimistic view, which is that the center of gravity in the Democratic Party has moved so far to the left since Bernie Sanders’ run in 2016 that it’s pulled not just other progressives (Elizabeth Warren) and mainstream liberals (Kamala Harris) along with it, but Joe Biden—the current frontrunner, and the portrait of American centrism for the past half-century—to the left as well.
Even the left’s opponents admit this is the case, to some extent. “There’s no doubt people like Joe Biden are moving with the times in our party, and our party has moved to the left,” Third Way co-founder Matt Bennett told McClatchy. “You’d have to be insane to deny it.”
It’s certainly nice to hear someone from Third Way admit this in between preparing PowerPoint presentations titled “Medicare for None: In Sickness and in Death,” but there are very good reasons to be skeptical of Biden’s leftward lurch.
To start, this is a man who was in federal elected office continually from 1973 to 2016. The bulk of those years came as a prominent United States senator, and the final eight came as the vice president. Therefore, we have a very detailed record of what Joe Biden does when Joe Biden is given the keys to power. It doesn’t really look like anything that appears on his website.
You could argue—as some did in defense of Hillary Clinton in 2016—that Biden was a product of the times, that he isn’t just evolving but showing his true colors as a progressive who was stifled by the Democratic Party’s decades-long lurch to the right. That argument might have some play if it wasn’t Biden himself who played a significant role in moving the party away from its New Deal roots and towards the kind of tough-on-crime “new kind of liberal” (there’s a word for that, I think) that was his stated goal going back to his first term in the Senate. It might have more play if there wasn’t another equally old white guy in the race, who’s been in politics for roughly the same amount of time, who represents everything Biden has fought against for his entire career.
But you don’t even have to rifle back through four decades of newspaper articles and the Congressional Record to show that Biden on paper is different from Biden in person. Does anyone think that a guy who’s vocally relying on the scenario in which Republicans are so soundly defeated in 2020 that they become a de facto junior partner in Biden’s coalition is actually prepared to deal with the reality that they will absolutely not do that, and obstruct Biden (or any Democrat’s) climate change plan with every fiber of their being?
Joe Biden—or more accurately, Joe Biden’s campaign—is scared of the possibility that his personal touch and high name-recognition isn’t going to be enough to put him over the top in the Democratic primary. That explains the liberal bent of his plans, even if Biden himself is not a Plans Guy.
But while plans are a useful component of a candidate’s platform, they are far from the only component of that platform, especially when you’ve been a visible face in American public life in six different decades. So, sure: Joe Biden could evolve into the kind of politician that makes him something completely different from the Joe Biden we’ve always known him to be. I’ll believe it when I see it.