From the Senate in the 1970s to the presidential campaign trail in 2020, Joe Biden has a long record of going where political pressures push him—and right now they’re pushing him aggressively leftward
I’ve been reading “progressive” looks at our national divisions so as to understand the intellectual winds that will blow more intensively if we have a Biden presidency.
Two 2020 Princeton University Press books offer prescriptions for ways to circumvent what Hillary Clinton called “the deplorables.” Donald Kettl’s The Divided States of America is faithful to its subtitle: Why Federalism Doesn’t Work. He has faith that centralization will work better. John Matsusaka’s Let the People Rule recommends national referenda and ignores how they would enthrone big cities, big media, and corrupt ballot box stuffing.
Ezra Klein, in Why We’re Polarized (Simon & Schuster, 2020), points to Republicans and recommends that we eliminate the Electoral College, reconstitute the Supreme Court, and add senators from Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. I have a better answer for why we’re polarized: Look at the political movement since 2000, with Democrats moving far to the left and, through their media allies, convincing millions of Americans to join them.
Brookings Institution scholar William Gale, in Fiscal Therapy: Curing America’s Debt Addiction and Investing in the Future (Oxford, 2019), recommends sharp rises in spending and taxation during the next few years and a leveling off or smaller rises starting seven years later. Good luck with that: Anyone who tracks history and human nature, or at least politicians’ nature, will be skeptical that bigger government now means smaller government later.
Yves Citton, in Mediarchy (Polity, 2019), says government should fund media, but at the same time have producers be “independent of the political pressures that governments controlling the state apparatus will inevitably exert.” How? Trust “collectives of journalists, thinkers, and artists.” Good luck with that. In Spiritual Socialists (University of Pennsylvania, 2019), Vaneesa Cook says we should trust the religious left. She doesn’t recognize that power-hungry Marxists have repeatedly seen these altruistic souls as “useful idiots” ripe for manipulation.
A Biden administration would also bring us more propaganda of the kind Brian Harrison boasts about in A Change Is Gonna Come (Oxford, 2020). Harrison explains that he changed attitudes about same-sex marriage by dropping “rational, rights-oriented frames” and instead teaching liberals to “target the right emotions” by emphasizing slogans like “love is love” and “all love is equal.” The bad guys, of course, are those Katherine Stewart scorns in The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism (Bloomsbury, 2020).
Michael Lind’s The New Class War (Penguin Random House, 2020) explains why the conventional wisdom 20 years ago about free trade was wrong or misleading. He cites studies indicating Chinese imports reduced U.S. inflation by about 0.1 percent annually, lowered annual prices in the U.S. by 1 percent to 2.5 percent, and boosted GDP by almost 1 percent—but also led to the loss of 2 million jobs. Lind questions whether the international trade trade-off—slightly cheaper prices but loss of jobs—is worthwhile.
Lind also offers a cultural critique, writing that in the mid-20th century a worker “could leave the factory gate for the safety of a world that excluded the bosses, a world of working-class neighborhoods, churches, clubs, and taverns. Under technocratic liberalism, however, the boss class pursues the working class after the workday has ended, trying to snatch the unhealthy steak or soda from the worker’s plate, vilifying the theology of the worker’s church as a firing offense and possibly an illegal hate crime to be reported to the police.”