In 2008, after eight years of a George W. Bush administration that had done staggering damage to the United States and the world, a moderate Democrat ascended to the presidency, promising that he would set things right.
That president, of course, was Barack Obama. He did nothing of the sort — instead he tried to "look forward, as opposed to looking backwards" to restore a bleary simulacrum of the pre-disaster status quo. Obama let severe problems fester for eight years, let war crimes galore go unpunished, and helped secure the nomination of his unpopular former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, as his successor. She lost to a game show clown.
Now Democrats have officially nominated Joe Biden, who served as vice president under Obama, after four years of catastrophe just possibly even worse than what happened under Bush. Team Biden clearly expects to win, and they are already starting to walk back their campaign promises, just as happened under Obama. If this proves to be how a President Biden will govern, he is already assuring us of another failed presidency.
The great problem with the United States today is twofold: First, the country is falling to pieces under President Trump, the most corrupt and incompetent president in American history. Second, as I have argued at length previously, the U.S. has been suffering severe problems for decades that Trump leveraged to squirm into power. Deindustrialization, the opioid epidemic, poverty, inequality, and so on — these are the soil in which racist demagoguery grows. Obama threw homeowners under the bus to save the banks, endorsed austerity instead of full employment, and Republicans reaped the political benefit in 2010, 2014, and 2016.
We see here a certain political trajectory that has ended in right-wing dictatorship on multiple occasions in other countries in the past. A country is being devoured from the inside by gangrenous capitalism. The status quo elites, who benefit from the rigged economy, are strong enough to throttle any reform effort from the democratic left. But they are not strong enough to fend off an anti-democratic attack from the right — or worse, they actively welcome it as the only way to avoid higher taxes and more regulation. As Dan O'Sullivan wrote after Trump was first elected, "This is all the result of kneecapping any attempt at reform of the system — the reform fails, the pain remains, only now it comes out sideways, through the only permissible path: the far right."
It's true that Joe Biden is being nominated for president on the most left-wing major party platform in many years. But his campaign is already distancing itself from that platform. As Aída Chávez writes at The Intercept, Biden's promised 100-day moratorium on the deportation of any immigrants residing in the United States has already mysteriously vanished. A promise to end fossil fuel subsidies has similarly gone missing. And campaign insiders are already assuring corrupt Big Medical swindlers that the promise to create some kind of public option on the ObamaCare exchanges was a lie.
This is not that surprising given Biden's long record of conservative neoliberalism. He worked with segregationists to stop school integration in the 1970s, he was long the credit card industry's man in Washington, and he was a big advocate of slanted free trade deals. He's been a status quo man for 40 years.
That said, it's unclear exactly who is in charge in this campaign. On Tuesday during the DNC, Biden facilitated a roundtable of ill people who described how the extant health-care system victimized them or how ObamaCare had allowed them to keep coverage, and promised he would help them. "Look, we're going to make sure we don't lose that ACA. We're going to provide a Medicare-like option as a public option," Biden said. "I'm going to protect you like I tried to protect my own family."
Similarly, activist Ady Barkan gave a moving speech directly afterward lamenting the horrible American health care system. "We live in the richest country in history and yet we do not guarantee this most basic human right," he said. "Everyone living in America should get the health care they need, regardless of their employment status or their ability to pay." What Barkan did not say is that Biden's own campaign estimates that about 3 percent of Americans would still be uninsured if Biden gets all he wants — and there is now an open question as to whether he wants even that. Is Biden lying about wanting to keep people uninsured so rich people can get more money? I certainly don't know.
With Bernie Sanders defeated, it is now up to Biden and his advisers whether he wants to try a repeat of the Obama formula that provided a lot of cushy consulting gigs for Democratic insiders and stuck the nation with Trump. They can have another couple years of fat profits selling the American people down the river to corporate swine, or they can have a democratic republic. They cannot have both.