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The Problem of Wanting Biden to “Succeed”

While Joe Biden has dismal approval ratings, many Democrats are still wishing for him to “succeed.” But success for bourgeois capitalist politicians like Biden always comes at the expense of the working class.

Adnan Ahmed

January 20, 2022
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Photo from Joshua Lott

Joe Biden is not so popular these days. After a year in office, he has failed to deliver on any of his big promises, from handling the coronavirus and expanding access to childcare to combating the climate crisis and strengthening voting rights. The Quinnipiac poll shows him at a dismal 33 percent approval rating, lower than Donald Trump’s approval rating (36%) at the same point in his presidency. Many of his supporters are furious, and they have every right to be. Despite all of this, many Democrats are still wishing for him to succeed. 

After a hellish four years of Trump, which saw the onset of the pandemic and culminated with the storming of the Capitol, people desperately wanted a break from feeling like they were living in a proto-fascist nightmare. And so they settled for the small but inadequate improvements that Biden seemed to offer as a candidate: not mishandling the pandemic; protecting voting rights; and subsidizing child care. But as candidate Biden himself promised his wealthy donors, nothing has fundamentally changed. It is no surprise that 25 percent of American billionaires donated to his campaign, compared to only 14 percent who donated to Trump. Biden’s campaign also took in a record-breaking $145 million in dark money donations. 

So what does success for Biden really look like?

Biden has a long track record as a faithful servant of the capitalist ruling class. He authored the 1994 crime bill, which led to mass incarceration and deepened the racist nature of policing of Black and Brown people. In 2005, right before a recession, he voted in favor of the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act (BAPCA), which made it more difficult for people to file bankruptcy or to discharge their student loans, even in bankruptcy. 

Loyalty to the ruling class and protecting the working class are diametrically opposed. Even when Democrats take actions that appear to benefit the working class, they are almost always tepid half-measures that don’t draw the ire of the ruling class — the Democratic Party’s real constituency. When the interests of the bosses and workers diverge, the Democrats abandon the working class to protect their donors. No wonder Biden’s plans — like the already diluted Build Back Better bill and voting rights legislation — have failed. The working class will always be on the losing end as long as capitalists like Biden are in charge. 

Want to discuss Biden’s first year?  Join our online event to discuss these ideas and more on Saturday, January 22, at 3pm. 

In the middle of this Omicron surge, as we cross the one-year anniversary of the Biden administration, an ominous feeling of déjà vu lingers, reminiscent of the pre-lockdown Trump era. It is a feeling of uncertainty and dread about our health and our future. Rather than instituting basic public health measures, Biden has zeroed in on a vaccination only approach that has proven completely inadequate. He only recently (and quite reluctantly) approved distributing a very limited supply of free N95 masks, along with a one-time supply of a mere four rapid COVID tests per household. These measures are not part of a robust public health campaign. Biden could have authorized free masks and tests when he first took office, and for the duration of the pandemic. Instead, we’re left with feeble gestures, too little too late, that aim only to quell the growing criticism of his administration.

There is a sense of anger and betrayal among the working class, a growing suspicion that our lives are no better or safer under the “lesser-evil” Democrats than they were under Trump. Just like disposable face masks and Starbucks coffee cups, we, the “heroic” essential workers, are expendable. From the ruling class perspective, what makes us essential is that the economy needs a constant supply of workers to keep it going so they can make profit. School teachers are being forced to teach in person without adequate safety measures, while the CDC has lost much of its credibility by doing ever more transparent, politically driven bending of its own guidelines to appease the capitalists. Health and retail workers are quitting their jobs in record numbers, concluding that work in their already exploitative industries — with the added stress of bosses’ escalating demands and lack of safety provisions during the pandemic — is simply no longer sustainable. Corporate bosses don’t care about the health of workers, so long as we can show up to work. Otherwise, we can be replaced. (Consider, for example, that many employers have implemented workplace vaccine mandates “for everyone’s safety” while offering no paid sick leave to their employees.) 

The Democrats’ idea of success is very different from the hope and dreams they sell on the campaign trail. Throughout Biden’s time in office, Democratic leaders have been blaming Republicans and the right wing of the Democratic Party (Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema) for preventing them from making good on their promises. They have blamed conservative justices and politicians for taking away abortion rights. But the Democrats are neither incompetent or inefficient; they are doing exactly what we should expect when it comes to addressing crises such as homelessness, police brutality, climate change, worker safety, and so on. Actually solving these problems is antithetical to the interests that fund the Democratic Party. 

The Democratic Party is a well-oiled machine for safeguarding ruling-class interests. Consider the strength and intel Democrats use to stage coups around the world or the speed and precision with which the party apparatus defeated Bernie Sanders. 

Speaking of Bernie Sanders: After the 2020 presidential primary elections, we heard the social democrats of DSA endlessly lamenting, “We coulda had Bernie”. But we’ve always had Bernie — the real Bernie. Throughout his career, he has voted largely in favor of military interventions against other countries, including the “War on Terror.” He ran as a Democrat, and is now one of Biden’s biggest cheerleaders. Soon after Sanders folded behind Biden, leading members of the DSA released a statement titled “DSA members organizing against Trump.” Playing on fears of Trump winning reelection, the statement tacitly endorsed Biden without ever mentioning his name. 

Sanders is a big reason why, in this moment of crisis, hardly anyone is in the streets. He legitimized the Democrats by telling his supporters that the path to social change is to work for incremental reforms and within the Democratic Party. But in this capitalist system, incrementalism has but one purpose: to serve the aim of co-opting social movements and thwarting any real possibility of meaningful change. Working within the Democratic Party is, by its very nature, a process of accommodating to capitalists’ interests. It forces you to abandon your values and dreams for social change in order to “build power,” be “pragmatic,” and be “electable.” 

As the DSA has grown in membership, and with several of its members winning prominent elected offices, the rightward shift of the DSA is a logical outcome. A recent manifestation of this rightward shift was the DSA’s decision to ignore its own membership’s demand to expel Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D–NY), a DSA member, for his continued support for apartheid Israel.

As we enter the midterm election season, we are already seeing the Democrats stoking fear of Republicans winning once again. Democrats will use empty platitudes and performative gestures to garner votes and hide their own inaction. While the Democratic and Republican parties may differ in their rhetoric, they share an overarching and powerful similarity: they are both instruments of the capitalist ruling class. Regardless of which party occupies the White House, the ruling class continues to make profits through the exploitation of the working class, effectively guaranteeing miserable living and working conditions for workers, oppressed people, and immigrants. 

The evidence is before us, and we have seen this movie before.

Many “influencer” Democrats like to poke fun at working-class Republicans for voting against their own interests, without realizing that they do the exact same thing when they advocate “vote blue no matter who.” This is, to be fair, an incredibly difficult worldview from which to break. It’s beaten into us by the politicians, the media, and by the self-policing of establishment Democrats who are sure they’ve mastered the art of the “possible.” Everywhere you turn, the message is the same: the only way to improve things is to vote for the Democrats, no matter what.

Both the Democratic and the Republican parties use messaging tactics to target their bases. As their currency, Republicans use racism, anti-abortion positions, homophobia, and transphobia, under the guise of conservative Christian values and patriotism. Democrats use hollow social justice verbiage and representation politics to appeal to their base. But what happens when Democrats are in office? Their elected officials, “woke” and “diverse,” are typically as happy as Republicans to abuse the rights of immigrants, allow courts to curtail poor people’s right to abortion, and repress movements such as Black Lives Matter with the might of the police. Social justice is not a deeply held value for the Democrats; it’s just part of the brand. 

To break this cycle of ruling-class deception, we must first realize how relying on Democrats to bring about social change is a recipe for failure. In the 2020 presidential elections, 65 percent of Gen Z voters voted for Biden, 11 percent more than any other age group. Gen Z adults are also different from their elders in that a majority (54%) have a negative view of capitalism. These are voters who described their key priorities to be managing the pandemic; the economy; racial justice; and climate crisis. Here we are, a year later, and Biden has proven to be a disappointment on all fronts. 

During every election, we are encouraged by the ruling class to abandon our hopes and dreams and struggles and get in line to vote — or the other party will win! Pragmatists tell us that a working-class party is an unattainable fools’ errand, and that we should think about what we can do right now. What if right now we just began to refuse to vote for the lesser evil and started building our own political organization? Instead of waiting for politicians to do the right thing, we should mobilize — in our workplaces, communities and the streets — against unjust working conditions, evictions, pipelines, and racist police violence. We should study class struggles, new and old, national and international, and learn from them. This is some of the groundwork for building a workers’ party with a socialist program that fights against the capitalists, rather than being at their mercy. 

It is not that socialists should never participate in electoral politics. Elections are a strategic time for socialists to strengthen an understanding of the class divide among the masses. Socialists shouldn’t be running in elections as candidates of a bourgeois party of capital that serves the interests of our class enemy. Rather, socialists should run in elections to present the working class with a political vision of a society in which we realize our power as a hegemonic collective to choose how society is run. A socialist candidate running in bourgeois elections should have the sole purpose of raising the working class’s consciousness of its own power.

One does not need to believe that Democrats and Republicans are exactly the same to recognize that voting for either the Democratic or the Republican party will only keep us running on the hamster wheel of capitalism. That is why we, as socialists, don’t want capitalists to succeed. We have to realize that our struggles are bigger than the elections before us. Fundamental to all of this is a deep conviction that the old order is no longer compatible with our existence, and that it has to go.

Want to discuss Biden’s first year?  Join our online event to discuss these ideas and more on Saturday, January 22, at 3pm. 

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Adnan Ahmed

Adnan Ahmed is an activist who lives in the Twin Cities.

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