With 2023 underway, Democrats in office are still dodging the key fact that most of their party’s voters don’t want President Biden to run for re-election. Among prominent Democratic politicians, deference is routine while genuine enthusiasm is sparse. Many of the endorsements sound rote. Late last month, retiring senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont came up with this gem: “I want him to do whatever he wants. If he does, I’ll support him.”
Joe Biden keeps saying he intends to be the Democratic nominee in 2024. Whether he will be is an open question — and progressives should strive to answer it with a firm No. The next presidential election will be exceedingly grim if all the Democratic Party can offer as an alternative to the neofascist Republican Party is an incumbent who has so often served corporate power and consistently serves the military-industrial complex.
The Biden administration has taken some significant antitrust steps to limit rampant monopolization. But overall realities are continuing to widen vast economic inequalities that are grist for the spinning mill of pseudo-populist GOP demagogues. Meanwhile, President Biden rarely conveys a sense of urgency or fervent discontent with present-day social conditions. Instead, he routinely comes off as “status-quo Joe.”
For the future well-being of so many millions of people, and for the electoral prospects of the Democratic Party in 2024, representing the status quo invites cascading disasters. A few months ago, Bernie Sanders summed up this way: “The most important economic and political issues facing this country are the extraordinary levels of income and wealth inequality, the rapidly growing concentration of ownership, the long-term decline of the American middle class and the evolution of this country into oligarchy.”
Interviewed days ago, Sanders said: “It pains me very, very much that we’re seeing more and more working-class people voting Republican. Politically, that is a disaster, and Democrats have to recognize that serious problem and address it.”
But President Biden doesn’t seem to recognize the serious problem, and he fails to address it.
During the last two years, domestic policy possibilities have been curbed by Biden’s frequent and notable refusals to use the power of the presidency for progress. He did not issue many of the potential executive orders that could have moved the country forward despite Senate logjams. At the same time, “bully pulpit” advocacy for workers’ rights, voter rights, economic justice, climate action and much more has been muted or nonexistent.
Biden seems unable or unwilling to articulate a social-justice approach to such issues. As for the continuing upward spike in Pentagon largesse while giving human needs short shrift, Biden was full of praise for the record-breaking, beyond-bloated $858 billion military spending bill that he signed in late December.
While corporate media’s reporters and pundits are much more inclined to critique his age than his policies, what makes Biden most problematic for so many voters is his antiquated political approach. Running for a second term would inevitably cast Biden as a defender of current conditions — in an era when personifying current conditions is a heavy albatross that weighs against electoral success.
A Hart Research poll of registered voters in November found that only 21 percent said the country was “headed in the right direction” while 72 percent said it was “off on the wrong track.” As the preeminent symbol of the way things are, Biden is all set to be a vulnerable standard-bearer in a country where nearly three-quarters of the electorate say they don’t like the nation’s current path.
But for now anyway, no progressive Democrat in Congress is willing to get into major trouble with the Biden White House by saying he shouldn’t run, let alone by indicating a willingness to challenge him in the early 2024 primaries. Meanwhile, one recent poll after another showed that nearly 60 percent of Democrats don’t want Biden to run again. A New York Times poll last summer found that a stunning 94 percent of Democrats under 30 years old would prefer a different nominee.
Although leaning favorably toward Biden overall, mass-media coverage has occasionally supplied the kind of candor that Democratic officeholders have refused to provide on the record. “The party’s relief over holding the Senate and minimizing House losses in the midterms has gradually given way to collective angst about what it means if Biden runs again,” NBC News reported days before Christmas.
Conformist support from elected Democrats for another Biden campaign reflects a shortage of authentic representation on Capitol Hill. The gap is gaping, for instance, between leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the constituency — the progressive base — they claim to represent. In late November, CPC chair Pramila Jayapal highlighted the gap when she went out of her way to proclaim that “I believe he should run for another term and finish this agenda we laid out.”
Is such leadership representing progressives to the establishment or the other way around?