Norman Solomon Politics

The Pros and Cons of Bernie Sanders’ Bond with Joe Biden

For genuine progressives, the Sanders-Biden bond is both positive and negative, for all of the following reasons.
Bernie and Biden are long-time buds. [Screen shot / YouTube]

By Norman Solomon

So far, most of the Biden presidency has been predictable. Its foreign policy includes bloated Pentagon spending and timeworn declarations that the United States should again “lead the world” and “sit at the head of the table.” Many corporate influence peddlers have settled into jobs in upper reaches of the executive branch. The new administration has taken only baby steps toward student debt relief or progressive taxation. On health care, the White House keeps protecting the interests of insurance companies while rebuffing public opinion that favors Medicare for All.

And yet — Joe Biden is no longer on the narrow corporate road that he traveled during five decades in politics.

President Biden’s recent moves to curtail monopolies have stunned many observers who — extrapolating from his 36-year record in the Senate — logically assumed he would do little to challenge corporate power. Overall, Biden has moved leftward on economic policies, while Sen. Bernie Sanders — who says that “the Biden of today is not what I or others would have expected” decades ago — has gained major clout that extends into the Oval Office.

This month has seen a spate of news stories about Sanders’ new political leverage, not only as chair of the Senate Budget Committee but also due to his close working relationship with Biden. Under the headline “Vermont’s Longtime Outsider Has Become a Trusted Voice in the Biden White House,” CNN summed up: “The Biden-Sanders connection is not a love story; it’s more a marriage of convenience. But as Biden pushes an unprecedented progressive White House agenda, it’s crucial.” Sanders told the network that Biden “wants to be a champion of working families, and I admire that and respect that.”

But if Biden is pushing “an unprecedented progressive White House agenda,” it’s a high jump over a low bar. Leaving aside President Lyndon Johnson’s short-lived Great Society program that was smothered by Vietnam War spending, no White House agendas since the 1940s really merit the term “progressive.” And the current president hardly passes as “a champion of working families” unless he’s graded on an unduly lenient curve.

One danger of Bernie’s tight political embrace of Biden is that “progressive” standards will be redefined downward. Another danger is that Biden’s international policies and conformity to militarism will be further swept off the table of public debate.

For instance, targeting VenezuelaIranCuba and other disfavored nations, Biden continues to impose sanctions that are killing many thousands of people each month, with children especially vulnerable. A truly progressive president would not do such a thing.

Meanwhile — despite strong efforts by Sanders, some other lawmakers and many human-rights activists — Biden is still abetting Saudi Arabia’s warfare in Yemen that continues to cause the world’s worst humanitarian disaster. “While he is a welcome change from the incompetence, venality, and cruelty of the Trump administration,” epidemiologist Aisha Jumaan and attorney Charles Pierson wrote days ago, “Biden has continued the Obama and Trump administrations’ support for the Saudi-led war on Yemen.” A truly progressive president would not do such a thing.

And then there’s the enormous U.S. military budget, already bloated during the Trump years, which Biden has opted to raise. A truly progressive president would not do such a thing.

There is political and moral peril ahead to the extent that Bernie Sanders — or others who oppose such policies — feel compelled to tamp down denunciations of them in hopes of reaping progressive results by bonding, and not polarizing, with Biden.

In the aftermath of his two presidential campaigns that achieved huge political paradigm shifts, Sanders is now in a unique position. “Sanders already influenced a leftward shift in the Democratic Party through his time on the campaign trail in 2016 and 2020,” Bloomberg News reported last week. “Biden has embraced a series of progressive priorities, including an expanded child tax credit and subsidies for clean energy, and made an attempt at increasing the national minimum wage earlier this year.”

Sanders routinely combines his zeal for the art of the morally imperative with the art of the possible. So, four months ago, he helped push the American Rescue Plan through the Senate and onto Biden’s desk for signing. It resulted in upwards of 160 million direct cash payments to individuals, but did not boost the minimum wage. Sanders commented: “Was it everything we wanted? No. Was it a major step for the working class of this country. You bet it was.”

His approach has been similar this week in the midst of negotiations for a multitrillion-dollar budget plan. After a private White House meeting with Biden that Sanders called a “very good discussion,” the senator told reporters: “He knows and I know that we’re seeing an economy where the very, very rich are getting richer while working families are struggling.”

For genuine progressives, the Sanders-Biden bond is positive to the extent that it helps sway the president’s policies leftward — but negative to the extent that it restrains Sanders, and others in his extended orbit, from publicly confronting Biden about policies that are antithetical to the values that the Bernie 2020 presidential campaign embodied. Today, Sanders’ role is appreciably and necessarily different than the needed roles of grassroots movements that have inspired and been inspired by him.

Progressives cannot and should not be satisfied with the policies of the Biden presidency. Yet breakthrough achievements should not be denied.

At the end of last week, Public Citizen’s president Robert Weissman sent out a mass email hailing big news about Biden’s executive order on monopolies. Noting that Biden “tasked agencies throughout his administration with helping to level the playing field for consumers, workers, and small businesses,” Weissman declared: “Joe Biden just took the most significant action any president has taken in generations to confront the menace of corporate monopolies.”

An exaggeration? Hyperbolic? I wondered. So, I asked a leading progressive economist, Dean Baker.

“I think the enthusiasm is warranted,” Baker replied. “Biden laid out pretty much everything that he could do in terms of executive action. In many cases, everything will depend on the implementation, and also what the courts will buy.” The executive order’s provisions will be legally contested. “But some of these items are a really big deal. In the case of imported prescription drugs, you could easily be talking about [saving] $100 billion a year and if they push hard, possibly as much as $200 billion a year. That comes to more than $600 per person every year.”

Baker added that Biden’s recent appointment of Lina Kahn to be the chair of the Federal Trade Commission “was a really big deal — she is probably the foremost progressive anti-trust scholar in the country.”

Overall, what the Biden administration is doing runs the gamut from very good to very awful. Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders — an extraordinary politician who has always worked in tandem with progressive movements — has landed in an exceptional position to shape history. He recently told an interviewer, “As somebody who wrote a book called ‘Outsider in the House,’ yes, it is a strange experience to be having that kind of influence that we have now.”

As Bernie Sanders continues to navigate that “strange experience,” one of the realms where he excels is public communication. It was aptly summarized a few days ago by Nathan J. Robinson, who wrote that Sanders “is always on message, always trying to make sure the press has to talk about what he wants them to talk about…. Bernie has his flaws and made serious mistakes in both of his presidential campaigns, but he is very good at politics despite his marginal position. If he goes on a talk show, he will be discussing wealth inequality or the future of democracy… Staying relentlessly on message — and thinking about what topics we want to spend our finite resources and time talking about — is critical to having an effective, persuasive left.”

An effective, persuasive left cannot be sustained by any leader, no matter how inspiring or brilliant. With the future at stake, what’s ultimately possible — as the Bernie 2020 motto insisted — is not about him, it’s about us.

___________________________

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.

21 comments

  1. A truly Progressive President would insist upon a FLAT Tax for all and the elimination of the Draconian TAX CODE. As for military spending, you know who runs the government, just look at who gets increases. Our Military is no longer necessary. Any defensive based military-as ours should be can function very well 1/5th of its size with all of the tech it now has. It has been a total waste. Repurpose the military to fix the power grid and infrastructure. Open an Office of the Peace or something similar- designed to promote world peace and cooperation and NOT to do as the CIA and Military have done through deceit and subterfuge, infiltrate other countries and make them play ball with America. See the book”Economic Hit Man”.

  2. Very impressed with Lina Kahn and hope Biden and cronies will get out of her way and let her get anti-monopoly work done.
    Biden has control of the House, the Senate, the Presidency and 50 years as an Insider in Government (and a horrible record, particularly on War and incarceration and the War on Drugs. Good luck to Sanders changing any of that). That said, Biden is in position as an Establishment favorite to move ALL levers of power. But will he?
    The Biden tax credits for children (for one year?) was pablum for his base (Blacks and Hispanics disproportionately have more children than whites and Asians).
    The reinstatement of SALT income tax deductions will be a huge gift for the Blue State rich.
    Of course the IMMEDIATE $2000 check he campaigned on never happened, and never will.
    The $15 federal minimum wage he campaigned on never happened, and never will.
    Student debt relief he campaigned on never happened, and never will.
    Medical campaign issues– the Public option, lowering Medicare eligibility age, prescription drug reform– never happened, and never will.
    Biden said he would get kids out of cages at the Border– never happened, and never will.
    He said he would punish Saudi Arabia and MBS– never happened, and never will.
    He campaigned on only raising tax rate on those making over $400,000 a year, and raising estate taxes– never happened, and never will.
    Biden criticized Trump moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (recognizing that city, already by Law since 1995 under Clinton, as the Israeli Capital). Will he move the US Embassy back? Never will.
    Will Biden bail out Wall Street and the banks again as the FED did between 2008-2012 with $29 Trillion? Of course!!
    Hopefully I’m wrong.
    As Solomon notes, Biden’s foreign policies are a continuation of the Neoliberal/ Neoconservative disasters of the Bush/ Obama years. If anything Bernie seems to be following “my good friend Joe” down that path to perdition, becoming a Hillary Democrat loyalist. Yemen is the perfect example. Entirely an Obama War, Bernie tried to pin it on Trump. Doubt it will be stopped under Biden.
    Biden cancelled the Trump withdrawal treaty with the Taliban scheduled for May. Rumor has it that in August, Biden will replace soldiers with contractors, CIA and black ops specialists. Have to keep throwing money down the black hole of Afghanistan.

    1. michael888,

      You could have saved a lot of time by just stating Biden clearly takes his orders from the ruling class.

  3. Whatever positive stuff you have to say about Bernie, he is a hypocrite….He disappointed us twice….He had the chance to stand up for his professed values in 2 elections….But in the end gave in to the Right-Leaning DNC and outrightly SUPPORTED HIllary 2016 & Biden 2020….I can’t understand how you can still trust him.

    1. It is not possible to convince people who do not understand, that American political wins have been so heavily weighted toward business and corporate power, that Bernie, who is a wise old fox, (the seasoned politician who looked at his poll numbers and his treasure chest, and felt he would lose), made the difficult but strategic decision to bow out, and to hold the Senate seat which we so desperately needed him to hold. He saw that the right thing to do would be what he actually is NOW doing– trying to pull the party to the left. He was smarter than most, and not swayed by the illusion that he would somehow pull a win out of the crucible. This article points to the amazing strength and clarity of his main message, which he continues to deliver, now as the head of the Senate finance committee! Please send him $10. It is 2 coffees a month, and worth the hope that he can get the whole Senate to go through the cheese grater of what we really need. If all the Democrats who believe in Climate Change would get behind him, we would accomplish the miracle we need.

  4. Thanks for this assessment. Politics is the art of the possible, and Bernie is doing the best he can. What would help the most is for more Democrats to send him $10 a month, and stay out of the DNC. Help us push against the Pentagon budget, and push harder for banking reform and tax reform. Make it serious that Democrats ARE progressive, and that we need legislation which really DOES help working families.

    1. martina nicholson,

      The only reliably independent person to actually run for president in the past 50 years was Ralph Nader.

  5. I’m not sure what I just read but it sounds like another Solomon handout with the usual slogans and platitudes. No need to suspend disbelief. We can think of ourselves as special when we look in the mirror.

    1. Jane Fake,

      Faithful Democrats who believed “It’s Time for a Change,” then “Hope and Change,” and of course, “Build Back Better,” definitely deserve the exact same fun house mirror now being used by Trump Republicans.

  6. The Sanders Effect, however much he can shift Biden, is worth noting. We can’t change the country without changing the conversation. And Bernie is very very good at starting and sticking to a new conversation. The widespread and casual acceptance of his “radical” ideas from the 2016 campaign — that campaign speech the whole country could recite — that was the good kind of propaganda.
    But we still need the insistent, even strident, voices from the real progressive left to keep shoving public consciousness and political response toward an equitable economy, an equable climate, an end to the ravages of imperialism, and a society that values tolerance and truth-telling. The real work, the crucial work will happen, like all good revolutions, in the streets.

    1. I like everything you said, until the last word. The willingness to try to have a nonviolent, ongoing and evolving constitutional democracy has not been overthrown. By some miracle, it is still inching through the fascist fallout from the last administration and the powerful who feed it. I am still hopeful that the work can be done, and that more and more people will willingly join the movement, as they see the benefits of education, support for working parents, and holding the powerful and the violent to laws which are trying to make them accountable. Putting journalistic pressure, information and support to the social acupressure points where that can be enhanced (Nuns on the Bus, Public Citizen, Win without War, etc) will help us bring more coherence to the effort to do what we are hoping to accompish.

    2. Booklolly,

      “Conversations” are merely words, and when spoken by a Lockheed Martin stooge they mean nothing.

    3. Did Bernie ever have a “radical” idea?….I don’t think so….Unless of course if we compare him to the Right-Wing Biden.

  7. 1. Biden chose Blinken-hopeless.
    2. No change to Trump’s disgusting 243 extra sanctions on Cuba, with the rest of the 60 years of shameful cruelty.
    3. Immediate acceptance of the continued vicious fake charges on Julian Assange.
    4. Russophobia added to the same anti-China Trump treatment of “enemies” and encouragement of NATO’s excesses.
    5. Pretense that the JCPOA is wanted while ensuring that the obvious step is to lift the illegal US sanctions on Iran, not trying to impose more conditions.

    Just a few. As for the positive policies- observe they are mostly words and unlikely to get acted upon.

  8. What total crap. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again….The Left in America was eradicated long ago and all that remains are trained victims utterly incapable of resistance or defending themselves.

    Although the particulars were very different, I know understand how a civilized and educated people like the Germans let their society fall into the hands of psychopaths and madmen.

  9. Bernie Sander’s is a Lockheed Martin stooge. What does the Moderator see when he looks in the mirror?

  10. The overwhelming majority of evidence clearly proves that Bernie Sanders is a Lockheed Martin stooge.

    So, what does the Moderator see when he looks in the mirror… that makes him censor such comments?

  11. Previous replies to comments in this thread are not visible. BTW- Amazing that you replied in LESS THAN 30 SECONDS.

    1. Chill out with the moderator conspiracy theories. I am a volunteer. I hand approve the comments every day or two, as I have time. I happened to be on right now doing this. I do reserve the right to not approve posts, and sometimes do so, and this is not censorship it is deciding what is adding to the conversation in my editorial opinion. You post a lot and I let nearly all of them through, even the borderline petty ones such as some of this current batch. If you don’t like the system, you are free to start your own free WordPress site or comment elsewhere. It is a big internet.

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