In “Democrats Make a Down Payment on a Radically More Just Economy” in The Nation, Joan Walsh writes of Biden’s Pandemic relief/stimulus legislative victory that “the many forces behind this stunning achievement are beyond my capacity to list here—and they represent a leftward migration of the Democratic Party that was a long time in the making but that accelerated in the past 10 years. Biden has been in the middle of it.” Walsh explains further,
It’s not a social democratic party, at least not yet. But it has steadily gotten more committed to using government to lessen suffering and promote equitable growth, and less afraid of GOP taunting about deficits and “dependency.” It had mostly moved past the neoliberal fetishization of markets, long before the pandemic: Hillary Clinton’s 2016 platform was more progressive than Obama’s, with a more robust role for government; four years later, Biden’s was more progressive than Clinton’s. (That partly reflected the influence of Senator Bernie Sanders, who ran a strong second in the Democratic presidential primaries to both of them.)
The pandemic accelerated the leftward surge of many, even most Democrats. The mismanaged plague that has in a year killed 530,000 Americans also destroyed Reagan’s tired maxim, “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem”—hopefully for good. Last year’s first Covid relief bill, the $2.2 trillion America Cares Act—passed under the uncaring, incompetent Donald Trump—kept 13 million people out of poverty; when its benefits began to evaporate, especially its extended unemployment relief, people felt the difference, and the pain. That’s why Biden’s plan is supported by roughly three-quarters of Americans in the latest Morning Consult/Politico poll: Americans know government is the solution, at the very least to this deadly pandemic.
Walsh adds, “What’s most important about the Biden plan is not its size but the thinking behind it. For one thing, it rejected old notions about government support as a morally hazardous “handout” to the undeserving that would discourage work. Welfare reform essentially punished poor children for the (supposed) wrongdoing of their parents (mostly single mothers) and, especially, their joblessness.” In addition,
By contrast, the expanded child tax credits are more like Social Security, a recognition that government has a role to play in caring for those who can’t care for themselves, not just the elderly but children as well. It isn’t conditioned on whether parents, especially mothers, work or stay home, which was formerly a culture-wars obsession. Likewise, expanded unemployment insurance passed (though it was trimmed slightly), despite arguments that it could make not working more alluring than working. Most wealthy developed nations offer support like this…..The bill supports small businesses and restaurants, child care providers and union members on the verge of losing their pensions. It invests billions in Black farmers and Native Americans, funding that’s long overdue but especially needed in this pandemic. It also pumps billions into state and local government: That’s another learning from early Obama efforts to stem the bleeding in 2009: As the federal government sent money into the economy, budget-crunched local and state officials were laying off workers and thus taking money out of it….It significantly shores up the Affordable Care Act, weakened by Trump, including more subsidies for more people, and not just the poor. But back to the poor: It reduces child poverty by more than half; poverty for all Americans, according to the Urban Institute, by almost 40 percent.
Walsh credits progressive Democrats for fighting for their policy reforms, but not walking away from supporting the Covid relief package when they didn’t get their way on everything: “I want to hail the members of the Progressive Caucus,” and she adds,
They had major problems with the Senate bill—it stripped the House version of the $15-an-hour minimum wage, reduced unemployment benefits slightly, and (even as single mom and progressive powerhouse Katie Porter railed against it) left inequity between single parents and married parents intact—but they kept their eyes on the prize. Most people, myself included, assumed Biden and the Democrats went into this negotiation with a $1.9 trillion plan in order to cut it by at least a quarter. They did not. Progressives knew what this bill achieved.
Progressive Caucus whip Representative Ro Khanna hit the cable shows almost immediately after the Senate bill passed, promoting it. Bernie Sanders praised it too, tweeting after its passage on Wednesday: “What a difference it makes when government is on the side of working people.” An elated Representative Pramila Jayapal, Progressive Caucus chair, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that Republicans made “a very big tactical mistake” in providing zero support for the relief package. “They’re going to have to try to explain why they voted ‘no’ on a package that puts money in people’s pockets.” On Wednesday afternoon, at a signing ceremony for the bill convened with Pelosi, Schumer effusively thanked Sanders. As well he should have.
Walsh concludes, “This is the new Democratic governing coalition moving forward—with a strong left wing that knows when to choose its battles, behind a president who survived the era when government was a dirty word, and now gets to live up to the ideals that inspired him to enter government. Every day won’t be like this, but as Biden signs the American Rescue Plan Act, less than two months into his presidency, I think we should all celebrate. This is a big fucking deal.”
The left, right and centrist flanks in the Democratic Party will continue to have major policy differences, heated debates and the occasional circular firing squad — It’s how we roll in the big tent. But we can hope that Democratic Party unity – and clarity – has been enhanced under Biden’s impressive leadership, with pivotal support from progressive leaders like Khanna, Porter, Jayapal and Sanders, as well as Pelosi and Schumer. It’s a good look. Here’s hoping it sticks.