Ari Paul Essay

The More Biden Shuns Progressives, the More Media Loves Him

Corporate media showers the presidential candidate with praise for his "centrist coalition" and for steering clear of "progressive demands."
Joe Biden. [Phil Roeder / CC BY 2.0]

By Ari Paul / FAIR

“Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others.”

That’s the line that an alien imposter who comes to America to run for president on The Simpsons (10/27/96) came up with after realizing any firm position on reproductive rights would draw some opposition, but a lukewarm compromise coupled with a sentimental devotion to the flag would get people cheering. Corporate media seem to be having a reaction similar to the cartoon alien as they opine on the nomination of former Vice President Joe Biden as the Democratic presidential candidate, with Sen. Kamala Harris as his running mate.Daily Beast: Joe Biden’s Brand of Patriotism Is Just What We Need

The Daily Beast‘s Jack Schwartz (3/18/20) touts “Normal Joe” as an alternative to both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders.

The Daily Beast (3/18/20) heralded Biden’s liberal “patriotism” as an antidote to “uber-nationalist” Trump and “uber-internationalist” Sen. Bernie Sanders. At the Washington Post (8/21/20), columnist Michael Gerson praised Biden for trying to “build a centrist coalition in favor of political sanity.” Also at the Post (8/16/20), Jennifer Rubin hailed the Biden/Harris ticket’s centrism because it has “deprived Trump of the ‘socialist’ target Republicans yearned to confront”—as though Trump’s attacks were wedded to reality and facts.

The Los Angeles Times (8/12/20) shared that optimism, with political reporter Janet Hook reporting that the Biden/Harris ticket has “a center-left brand that steers clear of the most far-reaching progressive demands,” which “has complicated the Trump White House’s efforts to portray the ticket as ‘dangerous radicals’”:

Harris, like Biden…has rebuffed some demands of the party’s rising progressive wing. That’s a profile that could help Biden appeal to moderate swing voters he needs to win in states like Michigan and Wisconsin.

(As an example of how clear of progressivism the Biden team intends to steer, see Biden’s transition director’s promise of economic austerity if elected, telling the Wall Street Journal8/19/20—“We’re going to be limited.”)

Markos Moulitsas of Daily Kos (Twitter8/20/20) cheered that the Democrats were “now objectively the party of faith, family values and national defense,” while the Intercept’s Lee Fang (Twitter8/20/20) praised “Biden’s plainspoken patriotism” (along with a supposed “embrace of popular social democratic reform”).

Prominent Republicans spoke repeatedly at the Democratic National Convention, signaling that Biden was firmly committed to the political center; some of his GOP backers wrote a piece for Foreign Policy (8/20/20) declaring that “Biden has far more in common with the other Republican presidents we worked for than Trump does.”Vox: Joe Biden’s DNC speech made patriotism liberal again

Four years ago, Vox (7/27/16) praised Joe Biden’s DNC speech at the Democratic Convention for making “patriotism liberal again.”

This might all sound familiar. Vox’s Zach Beauchamp (7/27/16) heralded Biden’s  speech in support of Hillary Clinton at the DNC four years ago under the headline, “Joe Biden’s DNC Speech Made Patriotism Liberal Again.” “For once, the liberals are the ones casting themselves as the ‘real Americans,’” Beauchamp wrote, outlining the often-mocked “American is already great” response to Trump’s “Make America great again.” Such a response not only didn’t work, it allowed Trump to set the terms of the discussion.

And there have long been calls by various liberal writers for a kind of liberal patriotism as the answer to right-wing nationalism, pivoting away from multiculturalism and cosmopolitanism (Politico9/5/18CNN7/2/17).

At first glance, this is a victory lap for the corporate press and the Democratic establishment against the party’s left flank. For all the work of Sanders and the left-wing “Squad” in Congress, the Overton Window has barely budged at the presidential level. As Newsweek (8/4/20) pointed out, Biden is going against 87% of his  party’s members by opposing Medicare for All.

Branko Marcetic, author of Yesterday’s Man: The Case Against Joe Biden, told FAIR:

By and large, most of the unity task force recommendations were things Biden already supported in his primary platform, such as abolishing private prisons, or much, if not all, of the immigration policy in the platform. It seems like they successfully resisted getting too many other Sanders planks into the platform: They reportedly whittled down a demand for a federal jobs guarantee to a mention of New Deal-style jobs programs in the task force recommendations, and then even that didn’t make it into the platform. And Medicare for All and a host of planks introduced by Palestinian activists were famously defeated.

Coverage of Biden’s patriotism tends to center on non-issues: Saying someone loves their country doesn’t outline a real policy proposal, or provide a plan to improve conditions for the average voter. Vague gestures toward loving American greatness can sound nice in a speech, but are substance-free, and media that focus on such overtures are moving the conversation away from real issues.

Perhaps the worst iteration of this issue-free theme came from Vox (8/21/20), with its convention takeaway that “Joe Biden likes you if you’re a Democrat or a Republican….  He likes you even if you don’t like him.” How do we know this about Biden, who regularly insulted skeptical voters and told them to vote for someone else on the primary trail? Because he said so at the convention, and that’s good enough for Vox.

Part of that discoursal discontent is the fault of the Democratic Party’s confused convention rhetoric, which can steer the media narrative. Marcetic, again:

The Democrats’ incoherent strategy was best displayed on the first night [of the convention]. First you had John Kasich telling conservative voters Biden wouldn’t actually turn left, as he’s been hinting he would the past few months; then the night ended with Michelle Obama admonishing voters to feel the same enthusiasm for Biden as they did about Obama in 2008 and 2012, and to get ready to stand in line for hours and hours in November. A similar dynamic played out the other three nights.

And there’s no mystery about what the issues are to the hoi polloi. Before the pandemic, Gallup (1/13/20) said “healthcare, national security, gun policy, education and the economy” polled as major issues for presidential voters, while Pew Research (8/13/20) showed that more recently the economy, healthcare and the Covid-19 crisis dominate voters’ minds. Unemployment, the stress of school reopening plans and fears of new coronavirus spikes are the issues facing the people.

Media must concentrate on describing how candidates are going to tackle these issues. And if the candidates don’t want to talk about issues, and instead wax about generalities, media have to redirect the discussion back to the genuine calamities facing the nation.

Air Paul
Air Paul

Ari Paul has reported for the Nation, the Guardian, the Forward, the Brooklyn RailVice NewsIn These TimesJacobin and many other outlets.


  1. “The More Biden Shuns Progressives, the More Media Loves Him, the More the Polls Tighten”

    There I fixed your headline for you. 😉

  2. liberals have long been more fascist/racist than conservatives in USA—trump is despised because he is less fascist and racist than sanders/biden/obama—something apparent to anyone familiar w marxism-Leninism

      1. obvious! sanders fully supported 12 regime changes, including Iraq—described a real socialist, Chavez as “a dead dictator”, McCain “a hero”—voted for all military appropriations—fascist cretin…Trump is the 1st president sims WWII that has not attacked another nation, unlike the racist/Fascist obama: illegally bombed 8 Muslim nations 100,000 + times, employed the espionage act to silence whistleblowers/journalists more than all president combined—such a racist he deported more latinos in his 1st term than bush did in 2, earning him the tile amongst latino activists “the deporter in chief”
        when I lived in USA I was acquainted w a black amateur golfer who caddied in NY—trump was so appreciative of his advice that he provided him an apt for 1/3 the rent, paid his dental bills….it is ordinary amerikans that r racist—projecting their racism on trump

  3. It is appalling how far the Democratic party has come. They are more interested in reaching out to Republicans than in listening to their loyal base.

    I have an idea – be different – offer the 99% the things that will benefit them. You want to bring Trump supporters who hated Hillary for the “Free” trade agreements her husband concocted with the multinationals over to your side? Show that you give a care about their jobs and their retirement. As much as I hate their rhetoric, Trump supporters are hardworking people who just want to have a decent life for themselves and their families. If the Democratic party would actually stand for something other than “We are not nutcase Trump” maybe they would actually offer the 99% and alternative. Quit trying to be the guy that lulls the swing voters over. Be the guy that actually stands for the people. Trump won the (albeit misplaced) trust of the working class over to his side by actually showing he understood that they had been shafted by the Free Trade agreements – incidentally sold to America by Clinton – a slick Democrat. Maybe the Democrats should show that they are not only patsies for the rich but actually care about the welfare of the working class.

  4. It seems to me that progressives (and I am one) are not grasping the true gravity of what is happening in this country, much less the reasons Biden is not going to speak to progressive issues until after the election. Extreme stealth is required when you are dealing with a fascist coup and if you guys don’t show up for Biden on November 3rd you will be, by default, ensuring the completion of this coup, (which has been in the making since the early part of the 20th century and went into overdrive in the Reagan years and then into hyperdrive with Bush I and II.)

    What’s going on today will look like a stroll in the park if Trump wins again. (He wasn’t kidding when he said this will be the last election.) Voting for Biden is to buy time and continue voting progressives into congress.

    Being a radical leftist for several decade, I am aligned with your values and goals but please see the urgency of the situation and take the long view. Be patient. Big changes come incrementally, over time. Have faith in the power of the movement – it is only going to grow stronger, now that the middle class has been effectively wiped out – and in a little while we will reach the critical mass necessary to flip things over.

    At this most critical time, Biden is going to do, has to do, whatever it takes just to get in, even if that means giving the appearance that he does not support the progressive agenda in order to do it – because right now there is no other concern that matters more than the survival our democracy, itself.

    American democracy has a knife to it’s throat and this could very well turn out to be the last election if Biden gives Trump & Co. anything to brand him as a radical leftist. So please vote for Biden. It’s not hypocritical or a violation of our values to do so. It is a wise strategy to save what is left of our crumbling democracy and live to fight another day. Strategy and timing are everything right now. Think Sun Tzu’s Art of War!

    1. I don not need to be a marxist-lenisnist to comprehend you fake liberals r the most fascist immoral cretins in the USA

      1. I agree that both parties are elitist fascist, and Trump is right there with them not to mention a snake oil salesmen

  5. amerikan stupity is farcical—they actually vote
    military dictatorship (c wright mills_
    spend more each year than the next 14 largest military nations combined—Juan Cole
    ultimate trickster’s paradise–S Bercovitch
    most corrupt nation—J Cole
    police state worse than East German Stasi–Thmoas Drake
    inverted totalitarianism—S Wolin
    created income/Wealth disparities excepting a few African-2 S amerikan nations (gini-coefficint)…I ignore CIA sources such as wikipedia
    an oligarchy—Gilens/Page, Shapiro, Lessig
    a procedural republic worse than DPRK—Michael Sandel
    a nation where election laws only exist in dictatorships like azerbijian—Seth Ackerman
    “there is no functioning democracy in amerika—it is really just an oligarchy where political bribery determines the nominations and selections of all presidents, governors, senators, congress members”. Jimmy Carter

  6. Biden’s record on fascism (such as his original Patriot Act and the 1994 Crime Bill) and his habit of always being on “the wrong side of history since 1973” when he entered the US Senate, is much worse than Trump, who is a boorish clown. Possibly Trump just hasn’t had the time to dedicate himself to building a police state, and narco states in Latin America, and setting up a NAZI regimes in Ukraine, and ISIS in the MidEast, among other “missteps” like Biden.
    I’m starting to believe much of Biden’s “dementia” is an act, and that he knows he cannot run on his smug policy records. Both domestic and international policies have been disasters. Maybe his arrogance is temporarily in check while he plays for sympathy, while the Establishment is running all sorts of cover for him, just as they did for Hillary. At least Trump is under a grueling microscope (keeping him relatively well in check) from the MSM, Intelligence Agencies and Congress. Biden gets a pass because he is one of them.

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