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  • Shiqi Duan

Biden's Moderate Approach to Progressive Policies

It is no secret we live in a time of political polarization. The four years of President Donald Trump’s presidency has been marked by stark divisions that have added new dimensions to our political system. The emergence of the alt-right movement has been counterbalanced by a reactionary progressive movement that face off at opposing sides of the political spectrum.

Initially, it seemed likely that Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) was able to capture the hearts and minds of a great many people. But it was ultimately Joe Biden, a politician of similar age and experience, but comparatively less progressive in his plans, who emerged victorious from the primaries, and got the opportunity to, as Tom Steyer would say, “go face-to-face with Donald Trump” in the mess of a presidential debate last month. This begs the question, all campaign shenanigans aside — how progressive is Joe Biden exactly?

The short answer to the question is: “kind of.” Joe Biden said it himself one time in an interview, that he “was always labeled as one of the most liberal members of the United States Congress.” But according to an analysis published by The Washington Post in May, Joe Biden is not nearly the most liberal within the Democratic Party. Social media did get it right to some degree — Biden may not be the progressive candidate to enact, for example, nationalized health care or free college education.

The long answer, on the other hand, is much more complex and nuanced. On the aforementioned subjects of healthcare and college education, even though Biden is not as radically progressive as Bernie Sanders, his policy still calls for a drastic change of the status quo.

On his campaign platform, he stated an aim to establish a “public option” for health insurance, eligible to all, that will have no deductibles and will not be administered through the private sector. It will cover “all primary care” and “control costs for other treatments. . . like Medicare does on behalf of old people.”

This plan is not all-encompassing — it does not cover all treatments, and it does not replace the existing health insurance industry — but it calls for significant reform in the realm of healthcare, and is indeed a progressive first step. Coupled with plans to reduce drug prices and expand support for mental health issues, Biden’s plan on the economy is progressive enough to prompt Republicans to call it “socialism,” but not progressive to win the wholehearted support of the far left.

On the subject of college education, Biden called for free college — with a few catches. Biden explicitly stated in the platform that community colleges and trade schools ought to be free for all who enroll. Public colleges and universities under the plan would be free for students whose families earn less than $125,000.

Student loan relief is also an aspect to be considered. Biden called for up to $10,000 per borrower from the federal government, which is certainly an appeal to progressive ideals, but seems unlikely to address the issue of student loans in a significant capacity. Biden’s plan on education seems to be a far cry from the free college education called for by Bernie Sanders' platform, but it is nonetheless an improvement over the status quo.

One of the pillars of Biden’s presidential platform reshaping government attitudes on climate change, which, under the status quo, is treated with neglect and denial. Biden's plan acknowledges the Green New Deal as an “important framework,” and, although it leaves policy options fairly open, largely follows the spirit of the Green New Deal Resolution where it applies.

Alongside reversing the Trump-era climate decisions, the Biden Plan calls for an expansion of infrastructure for electric vehicles, federal investment into the research, development, and deployment of new clean technologies in the private sector, and a special federal agency dedicated to research surrounding clean technologies.

A separate section of the climate plan is dedicated to addressing the workers and communities who will be impacted, and has been impacted by the changing energy market, aiming to secure their retirement benefits and various funds aimed to protect those workers’ rights. The Biden climate plan is not as sweeping as the Green New Deal resolution had called for, but it is nonetheless a concrete step in the progressive direction.

The race issue in the US has become a powder keg in the past four years. Unlike President Trump, who refused to directly denounce the right-wing militia Proud Boys during the first presidential debate, Biden made it plain and clear that “violence is never appropriate” while acknowledging the systemic problem of racism in the American society. Biden also openly stated that he believes that the “vast majority of law enforcement officers are good and decent men and women. . . but there are some bad apples,” and proceeded to proclaim that he opposes the movement to defund the police, which also differs from a more aggressive attitude toward law enforcement from the far left.

Joe Biden is not what one would expect from a “liberal” after tapping through Snapchat Discovery or Instagram Stories, but that does not impact his progressive stance — albeit a careful and calculated one — on addressing the current major issues faced by the United States.

Looking back to the Obama years, during which the Affordable Care Act faced so much conservative criticism, Biden's platform is more than moderately progressive. But in comparison with the modern day Democratic Party, the same platform seems to be unsatisfactory for much of its base. What this demonstrates is a general shift and radicalization of the predominant culture within the Democratic Party — likely a reciprocation to the radicalization of the Republican Party — that had taken place in the past four years.

What will the Republican response be, now that Biden’s victory seems highly probable? Will it become more radicalized and engage in undemocratic political methods, like the ones seen in pre-WWII Germany? Or will it oust the radical right represented by Trump, and revert to the Grand Old Party of John McCain’s time? As the mounting ballots in swing states indicate a Biden presidency is becoming increasingly likely, these questions will guide the future of both parties who must reckon with a shifting center of their party's ideology.


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