President Biden, Pleading is Not Politics.
I should begin by saying there are pieces of Biden’s recently proposed legislation that I wholeheartedly support, some of which I would even argue do not go far enough. For instance, given the resources this nation has there is no reason why Biden’s proposal for free community college should not be expanded to free college across the board for everyone who chooses to go. Still, when those of on this left bring this up, loyal Democratic voters tend to bring up the fact that in this political climate that’s just not realistic.
But then, shouldn’t we ask ourselves why that is?
Democrats have control of the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the White House, so why is it not realistic to expect a little more? Why, for instance, has Biden not used his executive authority to cancel student loan debt, or legalize marijuana and expunge the records of anyone who has been convicted of possession? Why haven’t Senate Democrats nuked the filibuster in order to get the policies through that Biden has put forward and claims to be in favor of? Why aren’t they using budget reconciliation as an option for the infrastructure bill since it directly impacts the budget? The list, of course, could go on and on of things that Democrats could and should do right now in order to take advantage of their position, and leave a lasting, positive impact on lives all across the country.
Biden might have some good ideas, but simply calling on and pleading with congress in order to get them done is not politics.
The New York Times seems to love comparing Biden to F.D.R. almost as much as he loved the comparisons themselves. But would the New Deal have been passed if F.D.R. had merely made speeches “calling upon Congress” to get it done? Would the Civil Rights Act have been passed if Lyndon Johnson had just hoped Congress would work with him? Don’t we owe it to ourselves to reflect upon the fact that none of that would be able to be passed today with our current Democratic Party, and ask ourselves why?
Politics is pressure.
Politics is wielding the power at your disposal in order to get what you want. There is absolutely nothing stopping Joe Biden from calling Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, Mark Warner, and the rest of the blue dog Democrats who refuse to nuke the filibuster and telling them that if they don’t reconsider their position, he will make it his mission to see that they are challenged in a primary and do whatever he can to make sure that opponent is elected. Politics is also reminding them that in return for their votes and nuking the filibuster, they will get redone bridges, roadways, and sound construction and energy jobs in their state as a result of the infrastructure bill that they can proudly tell their constituents they helped pass. Politics is when the progressive caucus withholds their votes as a bloc on must-pass legislation like the infrastructure bill unless it includes a $15 minimum wage, ensuring they have a real seat at the table during negotiations and the attention of the Biden administration.
The Democratic Party as a whole seems to have forgotten how it’s done. Unless of course, when it comes to conservative Democrats suddenly using these exact types of tactics in order to ensure their rich donors get what they want.
Lip service to popular bills and policy goals is not enough. As glad as I am that Biden has “called for” universal pre-kindergarten and a multi-trillion dollar infrastructure bill, shouldn’t the praise be reserved for after he actually fights to get these things passed? Unfortunately, money in politics is a powerful incentive to let these ideas fail.
All that being said, we cannot depend on congress to do these things by themselves, either. How could we expect Biden or other lawmakers to inflict pressure if they themselves are not feeling the pressure to do so? As fundamentally important as electoral politics is, we also have to be conscious of the need for organized labor to act as pressure on the ground as well. Without that sustained, organic effort at home, lawmakers clearly do not see the need to follow through on their proposals.
Politics is a fight to be waged on multiple fronts, and we have no choice but to keep fighting.