The fight over Biden’s administration choices begins

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.


  1. mnb0 says

    “albeit a major one”
    I strongly disagree with this evaluation. If Biden rules according my low expectations (and I hope that I’ll be proven wrong) it will be a very minor one. What really worries me is that so many American liberals will leave it here due to misplaced loyalty and even tribalism (“I voted for him so I must defend him”). I’ve already seen PZ doing this. Such pseudoprogressives took the moral high ground before the elections, like RobG with (I paraphraze) “now the only thing that matters is to get rid of Donald the Clown; afterwards we should work hard to improve the system”. I expect many of them to break this promise and do nothing, with the predictable result that the next two candidates in 2024 both will be worse than we had this year.
    And then the likes of RobG will just repeat their arguments.
    This victory does not deserve to be savored at all.
    After reading Solomon I actually, as a non-American, fear another war started by the USA more than last four years. Due to his incompetence Donald the Clown did not make war against North-Korea, did not invade Iran, did not invade Venezuela etc. etc. JoeB at the other hand is competent enough. Unlike Donald the Clown he is impressible to “Mr. President, you need to show the American people that you are standing tall”.

  2. Sunday Afternoon says

    Mano writes:

    “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.”

    I don’t dispute that party platforms in the US are “just wish lists”, but many people (even professional commentators) conveniently ignore the fact that party platforms require legislation. An impartial precis of the implications of the US election might be “not Trump, but don’t change much else”. As things stand, the Democratic Party platform is a non-starter due to them lacking control of the senate. This is not exactly Biden’s fault, though he will be attacked for not enacting the platform.

    In a parliamentary system (my direct experience is the UK), parties propose manifestos and then enact them. Failure on a major part of the manifesto is rare and generally shows that the prime minister has lost the confidence of their party and it’s time for a change of leadership.

  3. seachange says

    Nope sorry Dr. Singham former president Obama was never liberal and did not campaign with any liberal statements, you are wrong. You are confusing him with a draftdodging pussygrabbing liar, which he is not any of those. Nothing former president Obama did was surprising.

    During first year of his first term many of my liberal friends who aren’t as liberal as I were deluded about this, just like you (apparently?) still are. They would go “why he do this we are all betray” and I would point out still existing evidence of campaign stuff he did and said which pointed out once he won and was in power that he did and said exactly what he said he would do.

    Somehow they found themselves incapable of remembering this. In fact they would continue to fail to remember it even after having the evidence put in their face multiple times.

    Folks here on Freethoughtblogs wonder how ‘the other side’ can support the odious. And here you are revising your memory, demonstrating how it can be done.

    None of us will get the chance to vote on Biden for another four years, and we have no say in what he does anymore. The Permanent War party and the Murder Earth party thought they were in agreement with the Trumpster, but he failed at starting new wars and got us out of Syria so they have found someone more congenial.

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