Bi­den turns to lib­eral pop­ulism as he seeks to out­flank Trump

Enterprise-Record (Chico) - - OBITUARIES - By Bill Barrow and Will Weissert

WASH­ING­TON » Joe Bi­den stood in a Penn­syl­va­nia metal works shop, just miles from his boy­hood home, and pledged to de­fine his pres­i­dency by a sweep­ing eco­nomic agenda be­yond any­thing Amer­i­cans have seen since the Great De­pres­sion and the in­dus­trial mo­bi­liza­tion for World War II.

The prospec­tive Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee promised the ef­fort would not just an­swer a pan­demic-in­duced re­ces­sion, but ad­dress cen­turies of racism and sys­temic in­equal­i­ties with “a new Amer­i­can economy” that “fi­nally and fully (lives) up to the words and the val­ues en­shrined in the found­ing doc­u­ments of this na­tion — that we’re all cre­ated equal.”

It was a strik­ing call com­ing from Bi­den, a 77-yearold es­tab­lish­ment fig­ure known more as a back­slap­ping deal-maker than vi­sion­ary re­former. But it made plain his in­ten­tion to test the reach of lib­eral pop­ulism as he tries to cre­ate a coali­tion that can de­feat Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump in Novem­ber.

Trump and his Repub­li­can al­lies ar­gue that Bi­den’s po­si­tion­ing, es­pe­cially his on­go­ing work with pro­gres­sives, proves he’s cap­tive to a “rad­i­cal” left wing. Con­versely, ac­tivists who backed Bernie San­ders or El­iz­a­beth War­ren in the Demo­cratic pri­mary were en­cour­aged, yet cau­tious, about Bi­den’s abil­ity to fol­low through while con­ced­ing that his plans on is­sues in­clud­ing cli­mate ac­tion and crim­i­nal jus­tice still fall short of their ideals.

Bi­den’s in­ner cir­cle in­sists his ap­proach in 2020 is the same it’s been since he was elected to the Sen­ate in 1972: Meet the mo­ment.

“He’s al­ways evolved,” said Ted Kauf­man, Bi­den’s long­est-serv­ing ad­viser. “The thing that’s been con­sis­tent for his en­tire ca­reer, al­most 50 years, is he never prom­ises things that he doesn’t think he can do.”

Kauf­man, who suc­ceeded Bi­den in the Sen­ate when he as­cended to the vice pres­i­dency, said Bi­den’s core iden­tity hasn’t changed: “pro­gres­sive Demo­crat,” friendly to la­bor and busi­ness, con­sis­tent sup­porter of civil rights, be­liever in govern­ment and the pri­vate sec­tor. What’s dif­fer­ent in 2020, he said, are the coun­try’s cir­cum­stances — a pub­lic health cri­sis, near-De­pres­sion level un­em­ploy­ment, a na­tional reck­on­ing on racism — and the of­fice Bi­den now seeks.

“If you want to get some­thing done, en­cour­age it,” Kauf­man said. “What he learned over his­tory watch­ing cam­paigns is that you put forth a pro­gram, and then you come into of­fice, and ev­ery­body in­volved knows that’s the pro­gram you’re of­fer­ing.”

Bi­den’s evo­lu­tion has been on dis­play from the start of his campaign as he’s tacked left both in sub­stance and style while try­ing to pre­serve his prag­ma­tist brand.

At the start of the Demo­cratic pri­mary, Bi­den was po­si­tioned as of­fer­ing a moderate al­ter­na­tive to San­ders’ call for a “political rev­o­lu­tion” and War­ren’s push for “big struc­tural change.”

The for­mer vice pres­i­dent coun­tered their pro­posed uni­ver­sal govern­ment-funded health in­sur­ance with a govern­ment in­sur­ance plan that would com­pete along­side pri­vate in­sur­ance. Pro­gres­sives wanted tuition-free pub­lic higher ed­u­ca­tion; Bi­den of­fered tuition sub­si­dies for two-year schools. Bi­den called the cli­mate cri­sis an “ex­is­ten­tial threat” and of­fered a clean en­ergy plan with a tril­lion-dol­lar price tag, but re­sisted the full ver­sion of pro­gres­sives’ Green New Deal. He promised hefty tax hikes for cor­po­ra­tions and the in­vestor class but op­posed a “wealth tax” on in­di­vid­u­als’ net worth.

Bi­den noted that his health care plat­form put him to the left of 2016 nom­i­nee Hil­lary Clin­ton and Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, who had jet­ti­soned a “pub­lic op­tion” from his 2010 health care law, an­ger­ing lib­eral Democrats.

And on race, even be­fore the re­cent na­tional up­ris­ing against po­lice vi­o­lence, Bi­den spoke of­ten of the na­tion’s sys­temic fail­ure “to live up to” the Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence. “Thomas Jef­fer­son didn’t,” he said of­ten in early speeches, al­lud­ing to the fact that the Dec­la­ra­tion’s au­thor and the third U.S. pres­i­dent owned slaves.

Still, Bi­den isn’t im­mune from the kind of in­ter­nal party ten­sions that cost Clin­ton pro­gres­sive sup­port in 2016, and he’s spent the last three months shoring up his left flank.

Bi­den and San­ders cre­ated pol­icy groups to write rec­om­men­da­tions for Democrats’ 2020 plat­form. Those com­mit­tees un­veiled 110 pages of pol­icy plans Wed­nes­day, ahead of Bi­den’s speech in Penn­syl­va­nia. They left Bi­den short of en­dors­ing sin­gle-payer health in­sur­ance and the most ag­gres­sive time­lines to achieve a car­bon-neu­tral economy, but rat­i­fied his claims of a more pro­gres­sive slate than his pre­de­ces­sors’.

Fur­ther, Bi­den al­ready had moved to­ward San­ders’ tuition po­si­tion, en­dors­ing four years of full sub­si­dies for most mid­dle-class house­holds. He adopted War­ren’s pro­posed bank­ruptcy law over­haul and her ideas for a govern­ment pro­cure­ment campaign to ben­e­fit U.S. com­pa­nies.

Pro­gres­sives prom­ise con­tin­ued pres­sure.

“I think our job is re­ally to some­times push him,” Wash­ing­ton Rep. Pramila Jaya­pal said. Jaya­pal, who helped lead the Bi­den-San­ders health care task force, said that means be­ing “along­side him, of course, and then some­times be out in front.”

MATT SLOCUM — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS FILE

Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date and for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den ad­justs his mask Thurs­day dur­ing a tour of McGre­gor In­dus­tries, a metal fab­ri­cat­ing fa­cil­ity in Dun­more, Pa.

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