The Left Must Prevent Liberals From Going Back To Sleep If Biden Wins

The Biden campaign has so far made one thing perfectly clear: if Biden wins the election in November, as he is poised to do according to the latest polls, his approach American policy will be safe, compliant with business interests, and take a largely Obama-era approach to dealings with Republican obstructionists in Congress. In other words, Biden will most likely attempt to re-instill the culture of compromise and technocratic stability that makes business leaders and the professional-managerial classes feel comfortable doing business in America. He may at best concede some ground to the Left on issues like climate change, but he does not support AOC’s Green New Deal, and on other Leftist policy positions that have wide support among the American electorate, like Medicare For All, Biden will continue to expand the mediocre half measures of the Affordable Care Act, leaving millions of Americans uninsured and without adequate medical care. 

The problem that Biden poses for the Left is an old one. Liberals tend to be content with the status quo under a generally free-market economic system because they are, despite their protestations to the contrary, fundamentally pro-business and anti-labor. If the status quo is threatened by a right-wing upstart, Liberals may briefly flirt with true reforms proposed by progressives, but history shows that liberals tend to abandon their leftist allies as soon as they gain enough power to quash the right and return to the sorts of inadequate politics that created the problems which create right-wing revolutionary movements in the first place. The Biden campaign is promising to essentially do this as well. Biden’s promise to the Democratic Party is that he will make Democrats feel better about themselves by going back to Obama-era politics, pre-Trump, when everything felt nice for professional-managerial classes and upper-middle classes, and politics was in general a sideshow that most liberals could ignore so long as poor people weren’t causing too much of a fuss about police oppression in Ferguson, or the neo-colonialist penal colonies and gulags that is the corporatized private prison industrial complex, or the foreign imperial wars, or the humanitarian crisis along the Southern border. As long as liberals don’t have to really do anything about these issues - as long as retail politicians like Biden or Obama or Pelosi say they are “doing their best” to bring hope and change - many liberals will be content to sit back, tune out, and go back into their hidey holes. 

The question for the Left is this: how will the Left keep Liberals engaged under a comfortable Biden presidency long enough to make the sorts of substantive changes that this country desperately needs? The urge to go back to sleep under a soft and cushy Biden presidency will be hard to resist after 4 years of Trump-induced terror. Far from being ready to fight for change that will prevent a resurgence of right-wing fascism in a post-Trump America, Liberals are by-and-large exhausted by Trump and ready for a break from politics in general. Unlike Bernie Sanders, who promised to continue the fight for social democracy and deliver policies that everyday Americans say they want, policies that would also prevent the rise of another fascist movement in the next election cycle - such as a $15 minimum wage, Medicare for all, a shift to renewable energy - Biden is promising half measures and incrementalism that will satisfy no one except the ruling classes.

Make no mistake: Biden is a fantastic retail politician and very business-friendly. There is a reason, for instance, that he doesn’t support a ban on fracking. There is a reason that he does not support curbing the monopolistic tendencies of the Big 5 tech companies. There is a reason he does not even support taking on big banks or true police and prison reform. The reason is simple: Biden and Harris are both bought and paid for by the ruling class of America. Biden has made no attempt to hide his deep ties to Wall Street and Silicon Valley. He and Kamala Harris have received millions of dollars from the 1% ruling class. Unlike their progressive counterparts on during the Democratic primaries, Biden and Harris made almost no attempt to reach out to common people to build a mass movement that is truly representative of the electorate, instead preferring to rely on institutional powers and entrenched high-level political networks in black communities and the donor class to bring home a win for the DNC nomination over the summer. For anyone who went to debate watch parties or participated in the unprecedented levels of grassroots organizing during the Democratic primaries, the lack of Biden supporters on the ground contrasted starkly with the tsunami of supporters from other campaigns in states like Iowa and New Hampshire. In Philadelphia, a key battleground state for November and the location of Biden’s campaign headquarters, there were almost no Biden campaign events for regular people to attend, and there were only a handful of Biden-sponsored debate watch parties. Biden clearly took the state for granted, and he clearly took his nomination victory as a foregone conclusion - and he was correct because he knew he had the machine of the Democratic National Committee and affiliated groups behind him. There was no need to run a grassroots campaign for working-class people because he had already secured the allegiance of Democratic leaders behind the scenes in states like South Carolina and a slew of Super Tuesday States.

For the Left, the threat of a Biden presidency is real. The current socio-economic and political system strongly favors the ruling class’s interests over the working class’s and poor’s interests. This control extends throughout the media and almost all sectors of the economy and capitalist society. Within the limits imposed by the two ruling parties - the hard right-wing Republican Party and the center-right Democratic Party - the pendulum swing of American politics rarely travels far enough to the Left for actual progress to be made for working-class interests. The most conservative version of Left-wing politics is some form of social democracy, which is after all the mainstream politics of the left in Europe. If the American Democratic Party were transplanted into European politics, the Party would most closely align with the Christian Democratic Parties (CDU) of Germany and other Western European nations. It is no wonder, for instance, that Obama and Merkel were such good friends. A leftist looking at the Democratic party will recognize that the fact that the range of the pendulum swing that causes the alternating Republican-to-Democrat-to-Republic cycles in presidential politics is limited to exclusively right-wing politics (and that the farthest left that the pendulum swings is a center-right Democratic politician like Biden) means that there is a very real chance that, if Biden wins the election, and if he, therefore, represents the apex of the leftward swing of the current cycle, the next rightward swing will take us right back into Trumpian, fascistic, far right-wing territory in 4 to 8 years. That is the risk of letting liberals go back to sleep if Biden wins: if liberals decide the Biden presidency represents the end of the Trumpian threat, they will most likely set America up for more fascism as the lower classes react to the toothlessness that characterizes liberal policy positions.

The task of the Left, therefore, will be to pull Biden’s administration as far to the left as possible so that, when the pendulum does swing back to the right, it does not travel deep into right-wing ideologies, and instead remains reasonably close to standard Bloomberg-esque right-wing politics. That sort of lighter right-wing swing will allow the Left to remain apolitical force without radicalizing the Left to the point where they lose public sympathy, as happened in the 70s under Nixon when Nixon’s right-wing politics radicalized the left to the point where groups like the Weather Underground and the Black Liberation Army launched years-long bombing campaigns in an attempt to jumpstart a revolution. That is not the sort of Leftism that will win the hearts and minds of the American people, but it is the sort of Leftism that could develop if the Leftists fail to move Biden far enough to the left that his politics lay the foundation for the next cycle of right-wing fascism. A milk toast Biden presidency may temporarily forestall the fascist threat that would be posed by a second-term President Trump, but unless Biden moves to the Left and brings true, substantive, progressive change to America, none of the underlying causes of which Trump is just a symptom will be addressed, and Biden will give the right-wingers exactly the foil they need to bring about the next wave of rightwing populism 4 to 8 years from now.

Of course, if Biden wins and the Left is successful at pulling him to the left, there is no guarantee that social democratic policies that are (or at least until recently, were) largely taken for granted in almost every other western Democratic nation will not simply add momentum to the pendulum swing back to the right. The threat of right-wing reactionary populism is real and leftist politics tends to accelerate its development, but for the most part, reactionaries gain prominence when leftist policies are implemented only halfway or are in some way undercut by business interests. Therefore, the key to preventing that rightwing acceleration is for Leftist policy positions to be implemented effectively and for people to have enough time to feel the benefits of leftist policies so that they do not vote for right-wing politicians who would undo the progress made. Unfortunately, there is no evidence that Biden would be able to effectively implement progressive policy positions even if he moved to the left, and even if the Democrats win a majority in the Senate and maintain their majority in the House. How well Biden would be able to represent leftist politics he has so far rejected even if he has a change of heart is an open question. And poorly implemented leftist policies could potentially be as damaging as no attempt to implement leftist policies if it contributes to the rise of new reactionary rightwing movements. 

At the same time, Leftists have an obligation to at least try to keep liberals active and engaged under a Biden presidency and to at least try to push and pull Biden to the left. If Biden wins, most of the country will no doubt sigh in relief that we would no longer have to deal with the current madman in the White House. But if there is a silver lining regarding the Trump administration, it remains to be seen whether he is savvy enough to fully transform America into the revolutionary utopian rightwing Christian police state. He may not be. And if he loses in November and if power is transferred successfully to Biden, he will have proven as much. But that would by no means indicate that Trumpian politics would be a thing of the past. On the contrary, a Biden presidency would in all likelihood push rightwing populists to find a more savvy figurehead to throw their weight behind in 2024 or 2028. A more polished, less chaotic, far-right politician could be much more dangerous than Trump, and Biden could lay the groundwork for the rise of just such a politician if he fails to move to the left and fails to then implement leftist policies effectively. 

That is what is at stake here for the Left: with liberals ready to go home after the current battle, leftists must find a way to prevent them from retreating so much that they fail to defend against the inevitable rightwing backlash. The left must convince liberals to stay active, stay engaged, and continue to struggle for substantive reforms for the working class and poor despite the sweet nothings that Biden will whisper in their ears if he wins in November. Biden is soothing singing lullabies that liberals want to hear, but leftists must find a way to keep them from following Biden back into Democratic Party la la land, where the points don’t matter because the ruling class controls everything anyway and the game remains the same. Like Odysseus’ shipmates who put wax in their ears to avoid hearing the siren’s songs, the Left must tie the liberals to the mast and not let them dash America against the rocks of rightwing politics just because Biden sounds so good. If Biden wins, preventing Liberals from quitting the fight for progress will be a tall order, but everything will depend on it. If the Left fails in this quest, and the pendulum swings back to the right without having ever truly swung into leftist political territory, the next far-right politician could be even more dangerous than Trump. 

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