Biden Admin Norman Solomon

The ‘Moderate’ Rot at the Top of the Democratic Party

Joe Biden’s choices to run the Office of Management and Budget and the State Department personify everything that's wrong with the party.
Antony Blinken. [ U.S. Department of State /   United States government work]

By Norman Solomon

Sometimes a couple of nominations convey an incoming president’s basic mindset and worldview. That’s how it seems with Joe Biden’s choices to run the Office of Management and Budget and the State Department.

For OMB director, Biden selected corporate centrist Neera Tanden, whose Center for American Progress thrives on the largesse of wealthy donors representing powerful corporate interests. Tanden has been a notably scornful foe of the Democratic Party’s progressive wing; former Sanders speechwriter David Sirota calls her “the single biggest, most aggressive Bernie Sanders critic in the United States.” Who better to oversee the budget of the U.S. government?

For Secretary of State, Biden chose his longtime top foreign-policy adviser, whose frequent support for U.S. warfare included pushing for the disastrous 2011 military intervention in Libya. Antony Blinken is a revolving-door pro who has combined his record of war boosterism with entrepreneurial zeal to personally profit from influence-peddling for weapons sales to the Pentagon. Who better to oversee diplomacy for the U.S. government?

Standard news coverage tells us that Tanden and Blinken are “moderates.” But what’s so moderate about being on the take from rich beneficiaries of corporate America while opposing proposals that would curb their profits in order to reduce income inequality and advance social justice? What’s so moderate about serving the military-industrial complex while advocating for massive “defense” spending and what amounts to endless war?

Unless they fail to get Senate confirmation, Tanden and Blinken will shape future history in major ways.

As OMB director, Tanden would head what the Washington Post describes as “the nerve center of the federal government, executing the annual spending plan, setting fiscal and personnel policy for agencies, and overseeing the regulatory process across the executive branch.”

Blinken is ready to be the administration’s most influential figure on foreign policy, bolstered by his longstanding close ties with Biden. As staff director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Biden chaired the panel’s mid-2002 crucial sham hearings on scenarios for invading Iraq, Blinken helped grease the skids for the catastrophic invasion.

Overall, purported “moderates” Tanden and Blinken have benefited from favorable mass-media coverage since their nominations were announced several weeks ago. Most of the well-documented critical accounts have appeared in progressive outlets such as Common DreamsDemocracy NowThe Daily PosterIn These Times and The American Prospect. But some unappealing aspects of their records have been reported by the mainstream press.

“In her nine years helming Washington’s leading liberal think tank, Neera Tanden mingled with deep-pocketed donors who made their fortunes on Wall Street, in Silicon Valley and in other powerful sectors of corporate America,” the Washington Post reported in early December. “At formal pitches and swanky fundraisers, Tanden personally cultivated the bevy of benefactors fueling the $45 million to $50 million annual budget of the Center for American Progress.”

The Post added: “As OMB director, Tanden would have a hand in policies that touch every part of the economy after years spent courting corporate and foreign donors. These regulatory decisions will have profound implications for a range of U.S. companies, dictating how much they pay in taxes, the barriers they face and whether they benefit from new stimulus programs.”

Blinken’s eagerness to cash in on the warfare state — when not a formal part of the government’s war-making apparatus — is well-documented and chilling. In a healthier political culture, Blinken’s shameless insistence on profiteering from military weapons sales, as spelled out in a Nov. 28 New York Times news story, would have sunk his nomination for Secretary of State.

As for Tanden, in recent years her Center for American Progress received between $1.5 million and $3 million from the United Arab Emirates, which is allied with Saudi Arabia in waging a long and murderous war on Yemen. CAP refused to back a Senate resolution calling for the U.S. government to end its military support for that war. On a range of foreign-policy issues, Tanden has shown dedication to militarism again and again and again.

By many accounts, progressive organizing was a key factor in preventing the widely expected nomination of hawkish Michèle Flournoy to be Secretary of Defense. (RootsAction.org, where I’m national director, was part of that organizing effort.) Last week, the withdrawal of torture defender Mike Morell from consideration for CIA director was a victory for activism led by CodePink, Progressive Democrats of America, Witness Against Torture and other groups.

During the first weeks of 2021, such organizing could be effective in helping to derail other nominations. High on the deserving list are Agriculture Secretary nominee Tom “Mr. Monsanto” Vilsack, a loyal ally of corporate Big Ag, and Director of National Intelligence nominee Avril Haines — whose record as former deputy director of the CIA included working to prevent accountability for agency personnel who engaged in torture, as well as crafting legal rationales for drone strikes that often killed civilians.

Such deplorable nominees don’t tell the whole story of Biden’s incoming team, which includes some decent economic and environmental appointees. “There’s no question that progressive focus on personnel has led to far better outcomes than when Obama put a corporate- and bank-friendly Cabinet together with little resistance,” The American Prospect’s executive editor, David Dayen, correctly pointed out last week. At the same time, none of Biden’s high-level nominees were supporters of the Bernie Sanders 2020 campaign or are fully in sync with the progressive wing of the party.

The brighter spots among Joe Biden’s nominations reflect the political wattage that progressives have generated in recent years on a wide array of intertwined matters, from climate to healthcare to economic justice to structural racism. Yet, with few exceptions, Biden’s current policy positions are destructively corporate, deferential to obscene concentrations of wealth, woefully inadequate for meeting human needs, and zealously militaristic. It’s hardly incidental that the list of key White House staff is overwhelmingly dominated by corporate-aligned operatives and PR specialists.

Wishful thinking aside, on vital issue after vital issue, it’s foreseeable that Biden — and the people in line for the most powerful roles in his administration — will not do the right thing unless movements can organize effectively enough to make them do it.

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Norman Solomon is the national director of RootsAction.org and the author of many books including War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He was a Bernie Sanders delegate from California to the 2016 and 2020 Democratic National Conventions. Solomon is the founder and executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.

13 comments

  1. An excellent, important, and disturbing article. No political conduct is more egregious than wars based on lies and/or a dislike of systems of government that are not advantageous to US corporations. This coupled with establishment Democrats revulsion towards basic social programs (healthcare, education, etc.) that even our center-right European allies have enjoyed for decades completes the psychopathy of both US foreign and domestic policies.

  2. In other words same old thinking and some people. Didn’t really expect much, didn’t get much.

  3. Norman Solomon is useful to read because just about everything he says is either half right or completely wrong. The idea of two parties pitted against each other is a complete lie but a big part of the country swallows it hole.

    Pro-military Bernie Sanders loves huge defense contractors spread around his state like maple syrup and Solomon calls Bern a progressive. Which happens to be 100% true.

    I recommend reading Solomon while taking note of the companies and personalities listed. Prepare a resume or form new social connections for the new year. Follow the money and organize to get a better job. Stay far away from death cults on social media and elsewhere.

    1. More of this pseudonymous commenter’s silly notion that lefty writers/sites (i.e., Norman Solomon) are all cashing in on some kind of sweet big money waterfall. Sheesh. Clueless. Try and make it as a print/web journalist in the United States, then take that salary and cut it in half or a quarter — that’s the very few lucky ones. The rest are basically volunteers with day jobs.

      1. Is the Editor automated engagement? No filtering needed? There are lots of people ready to debate the hapless Solomon and his war contractor Bernie Sanders but they are usually aggressed against or censored.

      2. Aggressed against? You mean challenged? Is this not a free debate space? Would you rather I comment under a pseudonym like yours?

        I am a site moderator and webmaster. I want there to be a comments section. I don’t want it to be a place everybody ignores, like on so many sites, so I am trying to be active against bullies or those who dominate under pseudonyms to post the same tired rants in every space they are allowed. Some call this censorship, I call it light editing plus a little debating to expose what I see as unchallenged conspiracy froth that flows easily through through the social mediasphere.

      3. “I call it light editing plus a little debating to expose what I see as unchallenged conspiracy froth that flows easily through through the social mediasphere.”

        Call it what you want but the rest of us in the world call it censorship. It’s amazingly depressing watching the supposed left championing censorship in 2020 at every level of our society.

      4. So if we remove the comments section altogether, like most sites, or offshore it somewhere nobody but diehards will see it, is that also censorship?

  4. That isn’t “rot,” Mr. Solomon; it’s who they are and what the party is, as their record makes perfectly clear.

    Practically every article Solomon writes is him gagging at the sticker price of joining the Democratic Party, which exists to be a graveyard for lefty movements. That’s its job, Norman; get used to it. If you don’t like the price, go back to the Green Party.

  5. We need to make the DNC and the democratic party go the way of the Whigs. This country can’t handle 2 right wing parties that are bought and paid for by Wall St and the MIC for much longer.

    People’s Party 2022/24!!!

  6. The “moderator” who evidently speaks for the editor should keep out of the commentary section. As I’ve written before, the moderator has a de facto authority that tends to censor or at the very least have commenters look over their shoulder. Moreover, the moderator is him/herself bullying and tends to write hurriedly and even ungrammatically. It is an unprofessional way of running a “progressive” site and if it continues I will stop reading it and occasionally expressing my opinions.

  7. If you’re the webmaster, Editor, please consider installing a better comments platform.

    Unless there are features hidden from me, this platform has fewer features than were available in the ancestor of all online-discussion software 45 years ago.

  8. I read this site a few times per week and welcome the articles. This is a good website that gives a voice to real journalists whose voices are shut out of the corporate media.

    But the complaints here in the comments section are pathetic.
    There is nothing wrong with the editor entering the discussion. You can interact with writers and journalists, this is great.
    It doesn’t need any more “features”. Leave a reply, and then try really hard to put down your addictive electronic toy “smart” phone and go actually do something!

    Thanks to the creators of this website.

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