By Jeff Cohen
If President Biden fails to act boldly and quickly in improving the material lives of poor, working-class and struggling middle-class Americans of all colors, the right wing is likely to come storming back into power through the 2022 and 2024 elections.
With Biden’s popularity lagging, success or failure for his administration hinges on who he listens to on various pressing issues. Will he side with the “radicals” or with the go-slow, yes/no, status-quo corporate media?
*** STUDENT DEBT: Biden should listen to Senate leader Chuck Schumer, not exactly a Marxist-Leninist, who has spent months publicly pressuring the president to use his executive authority under the Higher Education Act of 1965 to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student debt for each person holding such debt. This executive order would dramatically stimulate the economy well in advance of the 2022 election – and would be an important step forward on racial justice as well as economic equity.
But too much like President Reagan who – when asked about government help to poor people – would habitually invoke the anecdote of a welfare-grabbing, Cadillac-driving, fur-wearing “woman from Chicago,” Biden repeatedly answers questions about student debt cancellation by invoking Ivy Leaguers and his aversion to forgiving “billions of dollars in debt for people who have gone to Harvard and Yale and Penn.” It’s a Reagan-like myth: almost none of the $1.7 trillion owed in student debt is held by Ivy Leaguers. Half of those with student debt attended public colleges, and a whopping 25 percent attended for-profit colleges, including unscrupulous ones. Nearly 78 percent of black students take out federal student loans, as do 57.5 percent of white students.
Biden seems to have shelved even his meager campaign pledge to get Congress to cancel – due to COVID – $10,000 in college debt per person.
*** GUNS VS. BUTTER: The aforementioned Schumer joined Bernie Sanders last year in championing a historic but failed amendment in Congress to cut 10 percent of the military budget and reinvest that $74 billion in “jobs, education, health care and housing” in poor and working-class communities. An expansive domestic agenda will help Democrats win in 2022 and 2024 – and cuts in the military budget (which soaks up half of all federal discretionary spending) would help pay for that agenda. But the Biden administration rejected such cuts and instead proposed an increase in military spending even beyond Trump’s bloated military budget.
The other way to fund a progressive domestic agenda is also popular with voters: taxing wealthy elites. Which side is Biden on as Sen. Joe Manchin and other pro-big business Democrats in Congress fight to protect those elites from tax increases and to shrink the proposed $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package?
*** MEDICARE EXPANSION: Instead of all the myths and propaganda about healthcare that Biden hears from corporate media, he’d be smart to listen to one of his own cabinet members, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, who strongly supported Medicare for All during his 24 years in Congress. Today, as the battle rages among Democrats in Congress over the size of the budget reconciliation proposal, progressives are pushing to include a significant expansion of Medicare – by providing seniors with dental, vision and hearing coverage, while lowering eligibility from age 65 to 60, and granting Medicare the power to negotiate with Big Pharma for lower drug prices.
Medicare expansion faces resistance from corporatist Democrats and their powerful and frenzied corporate sponsors. Biden should sit down privately and talk with Secretary Becerra, who might tell him that a major expansion of Medicare in 2021 (even if not full Medicare for All) would help Democrats in 2022 – especially with older voters, the ones who rarely miss an election. (It’s worth remembering that even Hillary Clinton, hardly a militant socialist, called for Medicare to be open to those 55 and over during her 2016 presidential campaign.)
Prominently displayed above the fireplace in Joe Biden’s Oval Office is a portrait of Franklin Roosevelt, the most popular and successful president in modern U.S. history. FDR succeeded and won repeated reelection in alliance with genuine radicals and socialists – often heeding their proposals and advice. These were not establishment figures like Chuck Schumer.
At this crucial juncture, if Biden won’t even heed Schumer’s urgent advice to give the country an FDR-like push forward – and instead listens to the “go-slow/go-small” warnings of giant corporations and their media – the GOP will win big in 2022 . . . and the Biden era will end quicker than you can say Jimmy Carter.
Jeff Cohen is co-founder of RootsAction.org, a retired journalism professor at Ithaca College, and author of “Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media.” In 1986, he founded the media watch group FAIR.