Matt Taibbi Media Criticism

Joe Biden Is No “Radical” Progressive Hero

The press is building an image of a "radical" progressive hero, while reality looks like the same corporate Democrat.
[Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 2.0]

By Matt Taibbi / TK News

On April Fool’s Day, CNN ran an “analysis” of Joe Biden’s presidency:

Will JRB take his place alongside FDR and LBJ?

CNN explained “JRB” had just unveiled a $2 trillion infrastructure plan “to boost ordinary working Americans rather than the wealthy,” a program that together with his $1.9 trillion Covid rescue doubles “as a bid to lift millions of Americans out of poverty.”

The news is like high school. One day, one kid comes in wearing Dior sneakers and Nike X Ambush pants, and two days later, that’s all you see in the halls. The “Biden-as-FDR” stories raced around News High, with headlines like “With nods to FDR, JFK and LBJ, Biden goes big on infrastructure plan” (Yahoo!) and “Can Biden achieve an FDR-style presidency? A historian sees surprising parallels” (Washington Post). Even the New Yorker’s naysayingtake, “Is Biden Really the Second Coming of F.D.R. and L.B.J.?” read at first glance like an affirmation.

That this high-flown language came on the heels of Biden’s people whispering F.D.R. comparisons in the ears of reporters for weeks, and Biden himself calling his plan “a once-in-a-generation investment in America,” seemed not to bother anyone. We live in a time when a president can be said to have “sharply cut poverty” the moment he signs a relief bill, so why not say, as CNN editorialists Stephen Collison and Caitlin Hu did, that this new bill’s passage would immediately allow Biden to “lay claim to a spot in the Democratic pantheon alongside Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson?”

This would only be natural, they said, since “Scranton Joe” has long despaired over the silver spoon inequities of Donald Trump’s trickle-down economy:

The President complained as he unveiled his plan in Pittsburgh — the kind of gritty blue-collar city he loves — that the top 1% saw their wealth rise by $4 trillion during the pandemic while millions of Americans lost jobs. “Just goes to show you how distorted and unfair our economy has become,” Biden said. “Wasn’t always this way. Well, it’s time to change that.”

Left unmentioned was that the same gritty, blue-collar president oversaw the TARP bailout, which resulted in a similar Trumpian windfall for the 1%. The richest saw their share of America’s wealth increase from 30% in 2010 to 39% in 2016. Median household net worth fell 34% from a peak in 2007 to the end of the Obama-Biden presidency, while banks in 2009 had the best year they would have until 2020, that “unfair” bailout year Biden complained about.

Pundits have long been working on revising that history. By last summer, the Atlantic was writing this about Biden’s management of the other bailout:

Critics on the left faulted him and Obama for not making the stimulus package bigger (though keeping it below $1 trillion was the price of winning necessary Republican votes for its passage in the Senate).

That’s just not true. Certainly, Republicans would have hammered Obama for a stimulus of any size, but Obama officials decided on those levels on their own. We’ve known this since 2012, when the New Yorker published a piece outing the fact that Larry Summers advised the incoming president to prioritize deficit reduction over stimulus. You can read the 57-page secret Summers memo here.

With a partisan divide wedded to a hyper-concentrated landscape, commercial media companies can now sell almost any narrative they want. They can disappear the past with relative ease, and the present can be pushed whichever way a handful of key decision-makers thinks will sell best with audiences.

In the case of Biden, we’ve seen in the first few months that the upscale, cosmopolitan target audiences of outlets like CNN, the New York Times, and the Washington Post want to believe they’re living through a “radical,” “transformative” presidency, the political antidote to the Trump years. The same crowd of West Wing power-tweeters was leading the charge against “purity” in politics about eight minutes ago.

In fact, in the 2019-2020 primary season, Bernie Sanders was regularly lambasted by the same blue-leaning press outlets for trying to re-imagine F.D.R. through programs with names like the “Green New Deal.” Proposal after proposal that had been directly inspired by F.D.R. was described as too expensive, unrealistic, or a political non-starter heading into a general election.

Now that the real version of that brand of politics has been safely eliminated, a new PR campaign is stressing that Democrats did elect F.D.R. after all. Moreover, a legend is being built that crime-bill signing, PATRIOT-Act inspiring, Iraq-war-humping Joe Biden wanted all along to be a radical progressive, but was held back by the intransigence of the evil Republicans. Is that even remotely true?

Observe, for instance, the hilarious Ezra Klein editorial that just ran in the New York Times, called “Four Ways to Look at the Radicalism of Joe Biden” (someone actually wrote that headline!):

This is an excerpt from today’s subscriber-only post. To read the entire article and get full access to the archives, you can subscribe to Matt Taibbi’s SubStack newsletter for $5 a month or $50 a year.


  1. While the Corporates, MIC and Deep State cement their positions of power as rulers of all, and as the right wing goes full fascist, the “left” crawls around like a demented masochistic toddler utterly incapable of learning, or of even wanting to defend themselves. In three words, pathetic brainwashed sheep who even after forty years of regular sheering, have yet to figure it out. I don’t think they ever will.

    The mere fact that Matt felt the need to even write this, is enough to know that this country is doomed utterly. Biden is as vile a sociopath as you will ever come across, with a long and incredibly well documented record of immoral and unethical behavior to prove it.

    Ignorance is Strength, War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery.

    1. Nearsighted fools or opportunists will call Biden progressive or even radical. But we know he is what he’s always been: a mediocrity among mediocrities susceptible like all of his kind to being bought off.

      Now, much older and suffering from some cognitive disrepair, he can no longer do what he formerly did on occasion: Read the room. The “room” is filled with corrupt Republicans who are unappeasable except on their self-aggrandizing terms, and Biden seems to think they are “colleagues.”

    2. Pretty sure you write this exact comment, near verbatim, under every Matt or Chris article.

      How boring, predictable and conformist of you.

  2. It is astonishing, isn’t it? “Cracker” Joe Biden, the now-demented rightwing racist 50-years long servant of the Banks and Wall Street and the War Machine, now converted into a “radical” “progressive. ” At least in the minds of many Important People.

  3. Hi Matt.
    I dig your work and have for a long time. I have noticed the same thing you have noticed: Joe Biden doing a 180 and the press interpreting it as holding the line.
    It’s their job isn’t it? Pretending like history does not exist. Pretending like there is no truth. Pretending like perception is reality. Pretending that subjectivity is the same thing as objectivity. And that objectivity is not defined by scientists but buy furniture retailers who buy advertising. Yay!
    I would hasten to add, however, that there has been some progress in the main stream media. For example, I now see people such as Bernie Sanders on MSNBC, specifically on the The ReidOut, which also frequently features Black Lives Matter representatives and other progressives whose voices as little as eight years ago we’re never heard on the mainstream media, except to be attacked.
    The show does march in lockstep with the day’s talking points of the Democratic party. There is no doubt about that. And there is no doubt that Joe Biden is a shrewd enough politician to look at the hazardous new political terrain and realize he has to adapt. He had to bring at least part of the progressives under the tent. Seems like a no brainer. But it is something Hillary Clinton did not do.
    That said, MSNBC still does a pathetic job of covering foreign policy. They are not alone. Yesterday, NPR had a special about the Afghan troop pull out and again they discussed tactics, not strategy. This mindset is so deeply ingrained in journalists, I’m sorry to say, that they don’t even realize they do it. They ask, is it the right tactic to pull out of Afghanistan? They never ask: is it the right strategy to overthrow governments that are not a direct threat to the United States? Has it been effective since 1947 to carry out our foreign policy in secret, largely without the consent or knowledge of the American people? Is the blowback from our covert foreign-policy worse than the problems it is trying to solve?
    And all of this begs the question: why do journalists always do such a pathetic jobs of covering foreign policy in any Latin American country that does not have a US backed dictator? Why do journalists pretend like the Boland Amendment never existed and that America never, on the one hand, had its DEA agents fighting the drug war, and on the other hand had its undercover CIA agents facilitating the financing and transport of drugs to America?
    So, yeah, Joe Biden has done an about face with domestic policy. And I’m glad he did. But his foreign-policy is still largely a cold war relic. Changing tactics in one country won’t change anything. And I don’t think President Biden or the Democrats have a plan for changing foreign policy to address our collapsing ecosystem and not simply focuse on terrorists who we largely created with a bigoted, covert, myopic foreign policy.

  4. Matt points out a painful truth and as JustAMaverick states so succinctly Biden is an absolutely loathsome figure! The demonizing of Trump allowed Democrats to continue their hypocrisy. Once again very few mainstream Democrats ever mention the elephant in the room. Unless American Defence Spending (more accurately constant war spending) is addressed the world will face two options utter ecological collapse as the Pentagon is the greatest emitter of green house gases or a war sparked by an incident in Europe or Asia that will provoke a potential nuclear exchange or at least a devastating conventional war. Biden will continue to pad the accounts of the big weapons profiteers: Northrup Grumman, Raytheon, Boeing, General Dynamics, General Electric et al ad infinitum as evidenced by his proposed war budget that even exceeds Trump’s. Time for a reality check on the imperial overreach that may just kill us all!

  5. People took an understandable sigh of relief after Trump lost but as the reality of the fact that Biden is a straight-up neocon and neo liberalist, “progressives” (i.e. people with a normal conscience and morals) find themselves in a very dark place.

  6. FedEx is facing pressure to reconsider its policy of forcing employees to lock up their phones during work, following Thursday night’s deadly shooting at a ground facility in Indianapolis. A man opened fire in the parking lot at the facility, killing eight and injuring several others before dying of suicide.

    The no-phone policy would have necessarily prevented workers from dialing 911 and, horrifically, left victims unable to reach loved ones as they were dying.

    FedEx’s No-Phone Policy Prevented Indianapolis Shooting Victims From Calling Loved Ones

  7. That Biden is a “radical Progressive” or indeed a “Progressive” at all is undermined by his meager tax proposals. A 28% tax rate on Corporate profits when before 2017 the rate was 35%. A top marginal tax rate of 39% up from the current 35% rate. How very Obama of him. He is proposing a 39-43% capital gains tax which is much better than the current 20% rate and is, so far, the only real tax change of any significance he has proposed. His tax policies, so far, seem aimed at covering only projected costs of current programs and not towards a long term return to the increased revenue that will be needed to ensure the well being and upward mobility of the middle and working class.

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