Joe Biden is by no means a progressive. His entire history has been in the service of the neoliberal, pro-war, pro-business consensus that defines the two major parties. While the Democratic Party platform that he ran on was more progressive than the stances he had taken before, platforms are just wish lists and often are ignored by presidents once they are elected. The most important achievement in Biden’s career may well end up being that he defeated Donald Trump. To his credit, he did not blow it. For progressives, defeating Trump was just the first battle, albeit a major one and a victory that deserves to be savored. The next battle must be to fight Biden’s administration picks who have neoliberal, anti-progressive, and pro-war stances.
Knowing Biden’s history does not mean that we should not expect more from him than his past might suggest. While he may surprise us by being more progressive, he could well turn out to be another Barack Obama who as president was more conservative, more pro-war, and more friendly to business and the financial sector than his first election campaign led us to believe. Norman Solomon writes that some progressives are already succumbing to the allure of access to top administration officials to overlook some very troubling nominees to Biden’s cabinet in the national security area.
No matter who ends up winning Senate confirmation for top positions on incoming President Joe Biden’s “national security” team, an ominous dynamic is already underway. Some foreign policy specialists with progressive reputations are voicing support and evasive praise for prospective Cabinet members — as though spinning through revolving doors to broker lucrative Pentagon contracts is not a conflict of interest, and as though advocating for an aggressive U.S. military posture is fine.
As journalists have brought to light, Antony Blinken and Michèle Flournoy shamelessly teamed up to cash in while rotating through high positions at the State Department and Pentagon. At the same time, Blinken (Biden’s nominee as secretary of state) and Flournoy (a likely nominee as secretary of defense) have backed nonstop U.S. warfare.
Flournoy is grimly notable for urging potentially catastrophic military brinkmanship with China. Like her unabashed pursuit of wealth from the weapons industry, her dangerously aggressive approach toward China is anything but a secret. Yet in her current quest to run the Pentagon, she has received unequivocal support from numerous individuals who are respected in progressive circles, including those with avowed dedication to beating swords into plowshares.
That’s a common rationale for supporting potential Cabinet members, despite the fact that their records and policy prescriptions are contrary to progressive principles. In effect, we’re supposed to be grateful — and mollified — that at least they talk with us.
Here’s a cogent assessment from Winograd, a tireless antiwar activist: “Progressives may be tempted to trade truth for access to the powerful and privileged, thinking they can influence the course of events if they bite their tongue when Flournoy talks of fighting and prevailing in a war with China. But this sort of thinking is misguided. The power progressives hold must be wielded now before it’s too late, before Flournoy is crowned and the U.S. slips further into decline, mired in a high-stakes high-tech arms race — or worse, another endless war, this one with a nuclear-armed nation of over 1.3 billion people.”
Many progressive activists and organizations have mobilized since the election to offer well-documented opposition to highly dubious potential members of the Biden Cabinet, including contenders for “national security” posts. Outside the Beltway bubble, grassroots groups are organizing to put up a fight against nominees who have repeatedly pledged and shown their allegiance to the warfare state.
I have also read rumors that the utterly odious Rahm Emmanuel, who was Obama’s chief of staff, is angling for the post of transportation secretary.
There is a tendency among liberals to excuse poor nominees of Democratic presidents by arguing that they could have been worse so we should go along with whoever is proposed. I think a better strategy is to not give in so easily and keep fighting so that Biden realizes that there is a political cost to nominating the usual people in the pro-war, pro-business neoliberal party establishment. As Solomon says, some progressive groups are doing just that.