It is not surprising that President Biden is failing on his Build Back Better and voting rights agendas. It is not surprising because Biden campaigned as the candidate who could work with the ultra-conservative, Trump-infatuated Republicans to build unity and “restore the soul of America.” Biden continued to pursue bipartisanship even after the anti-democratic Republicans tried to overthrow his election.
Bipartisan Biden’s political strategy has been as reality-challenged as Trump’s 30,000 lies in office. It is not surprising that as Biden approached the January 20th anniversary of his inauguration a Quinnipiac Poll showed that Biden’s job approval is 33% and a 58% to 37% majority of Americans believe our democracy is in danger of collapsing.
Progressive Democrats have been reality-challenged as well. Joe Biden, a lifelong neoliberal hawk, was always part of the corporate wing of the Democratic Party that has more votes in Congress than the progressive wing. But that did not stop Bernie Sanders from saying during the campaign that Biden would be the “most progressive president since FDR,” although the smart money on Wall Street didn’t buy that fantasy. Sanders co-opted progressive Democrats on to Sanders-Biden Unity Working Groups to develop Biden’s platform during the campaign, where Sanders’ progressive agenda began to be watered down.
After inauguration, progressive Democrats made concession after concession on the Build Back Better agenda in a vain attempt to gain the support of conservative corporate Democrats. In a final defeating concession, Pramila Jayapal, Chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, agreed to delink the conservative Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill from joint passage with the more progressive and expansive Build Back Better bill, saying that she trusted Joe Biden’s word that he would deliver the votes of the conservative Democratic holdouts.
The only bipartisan “success” is a progressive nightmare. It is the passage of the military spending bill in which Congress gave the Pentagon $25 billion more than Biden asked for. Instead of emphasizing diplomacy and economic assistance to reduce conflicts around the world, the Biden administration with bipartisan support is saber-rattling, sanctioning, and escalating tensions with China, Russia, and a host of smaller countries that refuse to kowtow to U.S. dictates.
Meanwhile, progressive domestic priorities have been killed. The Green New Deal is off the table.
The ever-shrinking Build Back Better bill’s far more limited climate program is on life-support at best. Instead of declaring a climate emergency and taking available executive actions for climate protection, Biden is permitting oil and gas drilling and pipelines at a faster rate than Donald Trump.
Medicare for All is off the table when it is needed more than ever in the midst of the covid pandemic. Biden has protected Big Pharma monopoly profits at the expense of public health by failing to use his many authorities to socialize covid vaccine patents and end the “vaccine apartheid” that is enabling new covid variants to evolve as the virus runs wild among the world’s unvaccinated billions in the poorer nations.
What progressive reforms have been adopted by the House have died in the Senate due to minority rule enabled by the filibuster, including:
* Protect Our Right to Organize Act (PRO Act) to enable union organizing
* Raise the Wage Act to raise the federal minimum wage to $15
* Women’s Health Protection Act to codify the abortion rights in Roe v. Wade
* Equality Act to make LGBT discrimination illegal
* American Dream and Promise Act (DACA) to provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children
* George Floyd Justice in Policing Act
* Gun Safety Laws for universal background checks
* DC Statehood
* Save the Internet Act for net neutrality
* Paycheck Fairness Act to strengthen enforcement of equal pay for equal work for women
* Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act to protect and provide resources for victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence
As a majority of Americans fear for their democracy, Biden and the Democrats have failed to reform the filibuster to enable the passage of the voting rights and election protection bills, the Freedom To Vote Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. These bills should be just the beginning of an Inclusive Democracy agenda that is about candidate access to the ballot as well as voter access to the ballot. Voting rights should include the right to vote for who you want.
Progressives should be championing a federal fair ballot access law. They should be leading the campaign for ranked-choice voting for executive offices that eliminates the spoiler effect that penalizes third party candidates, including replacing the Electoral College with a ranked-choice national popular vote for president. They should be denouncing the exclusionary nature of single-member-district, winer-take-all elections and fighting for proportional representation through ranked-choice voting in multi-member legislative districts.
This pro-democracy agenda must include Supreme Court reforms so that an unelected body with lifetime tenure can no longer act as a super-legislature overruling the elected branches of government.
It is time for progressives to stop being passive spectators of the inside game that progressive members of Congress are playing, which has only led to negotiating concessions with conservative Democrats who hold the balance of power in a closely divided Congress. It is time for independent political action that focuses on organizing and mobilizing the majority support that already exists for many progressive reforms like the Green New Deal (63%), Medicare for All (72%), Medicare drug price negotiations (83%), tuition-free public college (63%), student debt forgiveness (66%), $15 minimum wage (64%), paid family leave (75%), and tax the rich (71%).
Independent political action means raising progressive demands in the streets and every public forum available without compromise or equivocation. It also means running Green Party candidates on these demands outside the two-party system of corporate rule. Without Green Party challengers from their left, progressive demands will continue to be dismissed by the Democratic leadership because progressive voters pose no threat of taking their votes elsewhere.
Progressives trapped inside the Democratic Party are powerless because the corporate Democrats who dominate the party take their votes for granted since the Republican Party is not an option for progressives. It is time for progressives to build the Green Party and give the voters a real alternative and leverage in the political system.
There is no time to waste. Climate breakdown is accelerating. Inequality is killing us – U.S. life expectancy has been declining since 2015, well before the covid pandemic. Military bloat and the new nuclear arms race are growing without challenge from within the two parties of corporate militarism. We need the Green Party now more than ever.
*Howie Hawkins was the 2020 Green Party candidate for President.