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Biden-Harris: Conciliation And Moderation Will Not Stop the Far Right

Joe Biden and the vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris are making sure to not bother anyone but progressives. Meanwhile, polarization and far-right attacks are rising.

Ana Rivera

September 4, 2020
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Photo: Lucas Jackson

In Delaware, where months earlier Joe Biden had his first meeting with Democratic leaders since the pandemic started, Biden and Harris made their first public appearance as the Democratic ticket that could win. Their speech was aimed at differentiating themselves from Donald Trump and reconciling with each other at a time of social crisis and political polarization. The Democrats and their media allies are undertaking a big operation to hide both candidates’ records of racist policies by highlighting Kamala Harris’ criticisms to Biden as a guarantee of honesty, unceremoniously sweeping both candidates’ records under the rug to bolster   the capitalist Democratic party that stood at the head of brutal repression of the uprising against racism and the police.

With Kamala Harris on the presidential ticket, the Democratic Party presents itself as an ambassador of political renewal, using identity politics to tout Harris as a solution in the context of BLM mobilizations and the terrible effects of the pandemic. Demographics will be a major factor that may tip the balance even in states where Trump has more popular support. The former prosecutor’s candidacy may create enthusiasm among moderate voters of color, especially among the Caribbean diaspora and West Indians. Donald Trump’s growing unpopularity, coupled with the impact of massive BLM mobilizations, has changed the face of the election. Along with the Black community, Latinx people have also been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 crisis, and today 2 out of 3 Latinx voters lean toward Joe Biden. Even when Donald Trump blames them for the mobilizations and accuses Democrats of being part of the “radical left,” the reality is that the previous records of Harris and Biden are a guarantee of safety for the police and guaranteed capitalist profits.

Criticism of the Democrats’ lack of younger leaders may also find an answer in the nomination of Harris, who, if she wins, could run for a future presidency in 2024. In this sense, Joe Biden defined himself as “a transitional president” to a period of new leadership. However, the election of Harris, who has ties to the Silicon Valley big tech bourgeoisie and links with the police and penal system as the former Attorney General in California, is more of a guarantee of loyalty to the Democratic Party establishment; she is critical enough of Biden to attract those who don’t trust the former vice president much, but she is also moderate enough to please conservative voters who are looking for an alternative to Donald Trump. 

The current president’s campaign strategy consists of linking Biden and Harris with the radical left, a difficult discourse to sustain when the Democratic formula does not even propose popular progressive reforms such as Medicare for All, nor — as a very important sector of the anti-racist protests claimed — either the defunding of the billion-dollar police budgets or full police abolition. The candidates are popularizing the slogan “Building Back Better,” particularly referring to health insurance, income, social security, and education. However, as their campaign proposals already reflect, these are hardly radical, or even progressive, proposals: basically they propose to return to the policies of the Obama/Biden administration. They do not propose to question the exorbitant budgets for police departments, nor to make substantive changes to the education, health and housing systems. Instead, they only propose a return to Obamacare, to low-income housing programs like the questioned Section 8 voucher system, and they do not propose canceling student debt. Obamacare is not enough, especially in a context of the pandemic, and is a step-back in what millions in America think is the solution, the Medicare for All program. In terms of housing, there are several critiques on how the Section 8 voucher system has actually deepened systemic racism, since it made the low income neighborhood homes more profitable for landlords who receive state aid through vouchers. Their program does not modify the deeply unequal education system that permanently under-finances those schools attended by children from low-income families, especially Black children (who are now exposed to additional risk by reopening schools).

A Broad Support That Leaves Progressives Behind

Against the backdrop of Trump’s disastrous policies, the Biden-Harris formula wants the support of all who oppose Trump, from the protesters who called for abolishing the police and supported Bernie Sanders, to the Republicans who are disillusioned with Trump; from the working class hit by unemployment and pandemic, to the big billionaires who don’t want to see their fortunes affected by Trump’s erratic policies. This is what we have seen in the Democratic convention and Biden supporters who spoke, from Black families affected by police brutality to Republican billionaires and white supremacists. But with a historic crisis unfolding and ever-increasing hardships from the pandemic, unemployment, and poverty, it is false that the working class can aspire to rebuild the country together with the capitalists; it will instead be a struggle to see who pays the consequences. In this sense, the Democratic Party is preparing itself for the strategic task of rebuilding the legitimacy of its party, and of the bourgeois regime as a whole, at a time when the political and economic hegemony of the United States is in question on the international stage, mainly because of the role of China, and a time when institutions such as the police are being called into question by a mass anti-racist movement.

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The Democratic Party was completely divided before this crisis, after the establishment’s maneuvers to eliminate Bernie Sanders from the primary; now, however, all of the party’s major figures have aligned behind Joe Biden. While Barack and Michelle Obama’s support played an important role in conveying his political capital, Joe Biden is also a figure in the Democratic Party in his own right, with many ties to the different wings of the party. The Democrats are playing a new game after the disaster of 2016. Many of Biden’s advisers, who had previously switched to the Clinton campaign, are now returning to support him and trying to find their place in a coalition that has a serious chance of defeating Trump. But negotiations are not enough to hold the party together and manage a crisis that shows a constant polarization. Appealing to identity politics is a way to show that something changes so that nothing changes, and a way to dialogue with the anti-racist movement without taking up a single one of their demands. Trump knows this too, and he stresses it in his anti-politics discourse, the same anti-establishment discourse that led him to the White House in the past.

 The strategy of presenting themselves as an alternative to Donald Trump, through the dichotomy between dialogue and authoritarianism, decency and intolerance, and unity and division, seeks to show Joe Biden as an empathetic candidate, capable of understanding the suffering and problems of ordinary people. Both Harris and Biden spoke of the unemployed, those suffering from racism, those who lost loved ones to the coronavirus pandemic. At the event in Delaware, Harris argued that this election is about “who we are as a nation.” This new variation on “Make America Great Again” under the slogan of “Build Back Better” represents the supposedly common interest of all Americans in the recovery and reputation of the country, when it is actually the capitalists and their parties who have led this crisis and plan to continue dumping it on the working class and oppressed. It is in this sense that they are building their alliances with the conservative sectors. Not in vain are they making alliances with sectors of the Republican Party that broke with Trump and focusing their discourse on the importance of the family and the defense of faith.  As the New York Times story “Christianity Will Win” stated, the evangelical churches still constitute an important base of support for Trump, and 70% of evangelical Republican voters say they would vote for him again. This is why the Republican Convention had so many pro-life speeches, for example. But it is also why Democrats appeal so desperately to the American family and constantly remind us that they are “people of faith”.

Churches benefited both politically and economically from the Trump administration, which assured he would protect them from perceived threats to their way of life, thus gaining the support that the Democrats want to contest. For this reason, for example, the Democrats drafted a completely pro-Israel platform, dismissing the positions of progressives like Sanders or the Squad who have spoken out for the rights of Palestine, because Christian churches strongly support Israel.

While disenchantment with the capitalist crisis and the neoliberal policies of the Democratic Party led to the election of the ultra-right-wing Trump during the last election, now the Democratic Party wants to convince us that the same party (the same person!) that saved the banks and financial speculators after the 2008 crisis is on the side of the people. This argument only strengthens the anti-politics tendencies from the far-right and further disillusions the working class and oppressed people who do not feel identified with the establishment.

While progressive measures like Medicare For All gained mass support and are more important than ever in a worldwide health crisis, anti-racism protests shook the world, and the working class continues to battle both unemployment and pandemic, the Biden/Harris campaign seeks to temper the anger and channel it into the Democratic Party to restore legitimacy to the regime. This is why they talk about returning decency to the White House, to the figure of the president, and to democracy: to prevent a deepening crisis that would call into question inequality and capitalist irrationality, in the country where the billionaires exist while millions have no homes, jobs, or access to health care. Some progressives leaders and activists say that a Biden-Harris government is more likely to feel pressured by the people. But this is just an attempt by the ruling class to try to shore up the cracking hegemony of the ruling class and the two-party bourgeois political system that is now showing major signs of strain.

So far, the campaign of Biden and Harris has not targeted the progressive sectors or the youth; on the contrary, it is Sanders and the progressive sectors that have voluntarily shouldered the task of gathering support for Biden among these sectors. Young progressives were born into political life by supporting the figures who spoke of socialism and defeating the democratic establishment. Sanders’s job has been to attract  and incorporate the leftward elements threatening to turn against the establishment in more radical ways. When Sanders lost the primary and resigned his candidacy, he claimed that there was already a victory because progressives had won support for his program and would continue to fight for it. Then he gave up his program as well, signing an endorsement of Biden without including any progressive demands. Finally, in his speech at the DNC, Sanders simply said that he and Biden disagree on points like healthcare or education, but that Biden has plans to create better health and education. In other words, he has now directly declined to even talk about his program, showing that Biden is no longer permeable to pressure from the left, but that the left in the Democratic Party has gone over to the establishment. The rejection of Donald Trump is more exciting than the lackluster presidential ticket: this is what the progressives are counting on to ask their supporters to support Joe Biden. Some on the left have argued that people should “settle for Biden“–to prevent a future Trump administration that would be much worse. This call is also very dangerous as protests continue to develop and the far right is organizing. We have seen white supremacist attacks and an increasing polarization. This is not the time to leave the streets; it is the time to confront the right wing.

Fears of higher unemployment, increasing Covid deaths, poverty, and uncertainty are a pressure to choose the lesser evil, but the underlying problems will continue to surface. The idea of successfully facing the current crisis with the same tools that lead us here is utopian. Sanders called for transforming this movement that wants to fight for the working class and the oppressed into a movement to bring Biden into the presidential hall. But that movement was formed in the heat of disillusionment with the capitalists and the conviction that a root-and-branch transformation of the system is necessary. It must not let itself be transformed.

 The project to win the soul of the Democratic Party has proven to be futile. But there is a movement that can embrace a political strategy for the working class to have its own party. The first task for this alternative to emerge is to convince thousands that we workers and oppressed do not have to support our own executioners. 

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