We heard that gibe continually during the 2020 campaign. We continue to hear it from right-wing, anti-democratic Republicans, who shriek that voting for a 50-50 split in the Senate by electing Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock in the Georgia Senate runoff elections will summon — you guessed it — the rise of socialism and downfall of American capitalism. Poppycock.
Given Biden’s record on everything from the Iraq War to the 1994 crime bill to his campaign rhetoric opposing Medicare-for-all, Republican fear-mongering about a radical Democratic administration never made sense. And certainly, a party that no longer believes in the sanctity of elections and democratic self-government loses all credibility in identifying “radicals.”
Still, it’s worth pointing out that since the election, it has become even more apparent how moderate Biden really is. There is not a single super-progressive among his Cabinet and senior staff picks. To the contrary, his national security team is imbued with a bipartisan vision of international leadership, not a left- or right-wing call for retrenchment. His economic team, with veterans of the Obama administration including Janet Yellen as treasury secretary and serious economists at the Council of Economic Advisers, consists not of soak-the-rich socialists but center-left reformers whose most radical idea might be raising the federal minimum wage (as many states and cities have already done). Whatever you think of retired Gen. Lloyd Austin III, Biden’s pick to lead the Pentagon (my opposition to a general still stands), he was an advocate of a larger stay-behind force in Iraq than the Obama White House team wanted. Austin is not the guy to choose if you want to turn the military upside down.
Biden has avoided innovators who might renovate departments in favor of institutionalists who want to restore departments and agencies to their original mission (e.g., Denis McDonough at Veterans Affairs, Tom Vilsack at the Agriculture Department). If anything — and I find their patience remarkable — super-progressives can point to few staffing wins.
Another silly Republican scare tactic — Democrats will pack the court! — likewise has lost credibility, especially coming from a party that rushed through a last-minute confirmation of a right-wing Supreme Court justice. In any event, the most Biden seems inclined to do is set up a commission to study court reform generically. Not the stuff of radical court-packers.
On policy, Biden’s options are limited by the closely divided Senate (even if Democrats do not win both Georgia runoffs) and by the national health-care and economic emergencies. His top agenda items — expedited vaccinations and putting together a stimulus deal — are items Republicans have championed through the Cares Act, despite their latest mind-numbing obstruction to a pre-inauguration bill. “Build Back Better” is a slogan aimed at making capitalism fairer, not knocking it down. Biden continues to resist many progressive measures, including student loan forgiveness.
Republicans who voted against President Trump, not necessarily because they favored or even knew much about Biden’s agenda, might be pleasantly surprised to find out that Biden Democrats look a lot like what used to be called Rockefeller Republicans. Given that the Republican Party has descended into authoritarian lunacy, these refugees from the Trump GOP might find themselves voting Democratic by default for a while. They will not agree with the administration on some issues, but they might be surprised by how little strikes them as excessively progressive, let alone socialist.
Once more, Never Trump and ex-Republicans might realize they had been sold a bill of goods by Republican fear-merchants. If Biden holds the line against the most progressive elements in his party, ex-Republicans might find themselves surprisingly comfortable in a Biden Democratic Party.