How a Biden Administration can Achieve “Unity”
We all understand that when Biden says “unity” he means he won’t rock the boat and that progressives shouldn’t rock the boat either. He won’t do anything too radical. He’ll even go so far as to appoint Republicans to cabinet positions; an honor doubtful to fall upon any progressives within his own party. Unfortunately, these tactics will not unify our nation and they won’t heal our fractured country.
One thing I have learned from this election: There are a LOT of fucked up people in this great country of ours. A stomach churning mass of people turned up to the polls and voted in favor of the top Twitter troll in country; a man who put babies in cages, is responsible for the deaths of a quarter of a million people, has floated the idea that people should drink bleach, and has actively worked to undermine what little semblance of democracy we have by throwing out legitimate votes if they’re not likely to go to him.
The Democrats’ strategy this election was to take advantage of how morally corrupt this president is and pull all the reasonable Republicans over to the blue side. Oddly enough, this was basically the same strategy as in 2016. This time, however, we had hope that it might actually work because Trump has shown himself to be so horrible. We believed in the basic human decency of “reasonable Republicans.” But those hopes have not borne fruit.
John Kasich, the former Republican governor of Ohio, was embraced by the Democratic party in an attempt to pull voters from Trump in 2020. To this end, the Democratic party nominated a moderate candidate in Joe Biden, a man who has shown himself eager to compromise with Republicans time and time again. Kasich was even a featured speaker at the Democratic Convention where he got more time than progressive Democrats like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. How did this strategy work out? Donald Trump actually got more votes in 2020 than he did in 2016. Republicans still voted for him in droves. The idea that unity between moderate Democrats and Republicans would pull Republican voters from Trump did not materialize. For some reason John Kasich is still appearing on cable news to give Democrats advice on how to win future elections; this is audacious given that he could not deliver his own state of Ohio for the Democrats; Trump won with a healthy margin. The Democratic party needs to stop listening to Republicans like Kasich if they want to win.
Who DID show up for Biden? Progressives, many of them people of color. The fact is that we showed up, held our noses, and voted for the lesser of two evils. The impact of this can be seen in states like mine, Minnesota, where Ilhan Omar campaigned to help Biden win with a healthy lead. In fact, Hennepin County alone carried the state with more votes for Biden than the total number of votes for Trump in the entire state. Black voters in Detroit showed up for Joe Biden, and Rashida Tlaib mobilized constituents in her district, helping Biden win Michigan. In many cities Black voters turned out. This was most dramatic in Atlanta where these votes flipped Georgia for the Democrats. The Navajo Nation was influential in flipping Arizona blue for Biden.
Many will look at the numbers post election and point to how split we tend to be along an urban/rural divide. They will assume that the votes cast for Trump indicate a strong right wing movement with staunch conservative values. They will use this to justify keeping the Democratic party center-right. But is this true? Is this a strategy that makes sense?
Progressive policies are popular with voters. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has already noted that, “Every single swing-seat House Democrat who endorsed #MedicareForAll won re-election or is on track to win re-election.” But progressive policies aren’t just popular with typical Democratic voters. Florida passed a ballot initiative to increase the minimum wage to $15.00 an hour. Montana and South Dakota passed measures that legalized recreational marijuana use for adults. All of these votes took place in 2020 at the same time these states voted overwhelmingly for Trump. Poll after poll indicates that the majority of Democrats and Independents support Medicare for all and that even a large percentage of Republicans support it. The evidence is clear; progressive policies win big. The Democratic efforts to appeal to centrist Republicans is a losing strategy.
Would Cubans in Florida have been willing to overlook Bernie’s socialism? Maybe not, but Biden’s lack of socialism didn’t sway them either so maybe they’re not a demographic Democrats should pursue. What the Democratic party doesn’t understand is that issues like improving pay, decriminalizing drugs, and Medicare for all are issues with strong non-partisan support. This presents a clear lesson and even a roadmap to the Democratic party. Fight for these popular policies to win, and win big, in the future.
What we as a country need is for Biden to uphold that which is morally right. He needs to lean into the left that supported him in spite of his flaws. After all of the games the Republican party has played in recent years of obstruction and corruption, we need the Democrats, led by Biden, to stand up to them. After their Supreme Court shenanigans and with Trump, backed up by members of his administration, threatening a second term in spite of losing the election, we need Democrats to finally stand up to these bullies. The Democrats need to signal that the actions of Republicans like Mitch McConnell who are standing with Trump will have consequences. It needs to be made clear that if they want bi-partisan cooperation the Republicans have to demonstrate some themselves first.
The Democrats will need to win in Georgia for this to have maximum effect, which is why they need to campaign on issues that impact those most likely to vote for the Democratic candidates. This means the Democratic party needs to focus their messaging on Black voters, and that the Democratic party must actually LISTEN to Black voters in Georgia. Organizations like the Black Male Voter Project have done excellent work to mobilize voters, but the Democratic party can bolster these efforts by listening and demonstrating that voting can substantively improve the voters’ daily life and their access to opportunities. If Democrats aren’t comfortable with this, the least they can do is to stop attacking progressives and progressive policies. Put energy into fighting the actual opponent, the Republicans.
The irony is that by fighting for “divisive” policies, Biden would actually be better serving the average Trump voter than if he pursues traditional Democratic middle of the road policies. If in four years the average American has access to quality and affordable healthcare, the economy has been bolstered by investment in renewable energy, people are making more money through minimum wage increases, and we have real criminal justice reform that allows people greater access to their economic potential, the Democratic Party won’t have to worry about another surprise loss or only winning by the skin of their teeth.
Thanks to the Democratic party pursuing moderate policies and refusing to engage with issues that appeal to the vast majority of voters, we now find ourselves at a moment where two Senate seats will largely determine how much can be accomplished in the next few years, if not Biden’s entire term. If we don’t want Biden to have a lame duck administration, we need to win in Georgia. Progressives are ready and able to win that fight; the only question is whether the Democratic party is willing to help them.