The worst mistake the Democrats could make is to seek the center-again.

AuthorNichols, John
PositionWhy Biden Needs to GO BOLD

Even before Joe Biden was sworn in on January 20, many of the President-elect's Congressional allies showed a willingness to embrace the same cautious approach to governing that had defined Biden's fifty-year career as a centrist with a marked aversion to going big for economic and racial justice, for peace, or for the planet.

Throughout the fall campaign that culminated in his election, Biden made it a point to explain how he'd beaten the party's progressive wing in securing the Democratic nomination to take on Donald Trump. "I'm the guy who ran against the socialists," he boasted.

Biden's bid for the presidency was, too frequently, framed around the promise of a return to normalcy. That was a predictably appealing campaign message after four years of racism, xenophobia, and neo-fascist scheming by a rogue President who would finish his term inciting a mob of supporters to storm the U.S. Capitol. Unfortunately, in the weeks after the campaign finished, the circumspect messaging continued. Indications from a bureaucratic Biden transition team-along with the Congressional leaders who would carry the new President's agenda in the

House and Senate-suggested that Democrats were still seeking to manage the status quo rather than embrace fundamental change.

This tepid approach reflects a dangerous misread of the 2020 election results, as Biden begins his presidency with narrow Democratic majorities in the House and Senate. Polling data and election results-especially from referendums where progressive policies earned overwhelming support-bolster Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal's argument that this is the morally, practically, and politically right time to fight for "a progressive agenda that makes a transformative difference in people's lives."

Yet caution prevails as the Democratic Party wrestles with whether to push for fundamental change or beat a retreat toward what passed for "normalcy" before Donald Trump and COVID-19 exposed the vulnerability of the American experiment.

If Biden and Congressional Democrats do not reset their course quickly, a toxic mix of centrist messaging and policy compromises will prove to be a recipe for political disaster. It will cost the party control of the House and Senate in 2022 and the presidency in 2024. It will also fail the American people at a time when there is a pressing, desperate need for bold responses to COVID-19, mass unemployment, the climate crisis, and the unanswered cries for racial justice.

The reality of the current crises-not a single crisis but many intersecting ones-make it absolutely clear that Biden and the Democrats must learn from the past seventy-five years of Democratic missteps and adopt a boldly progressive approach capable of meeting the challenges of the moment and capturing the imagination of a battered and beaten-down American electorate.

Regrettably, there are signs that the Democrats could make the same mistake-again.

In the waning days of the deeply divided and often dysfunctional 116th Congress, top Democrats stared into the face of the future and blinked.

Three weeks before the end of a year that had imposed untold pain on a great mass of Americans, the nation's most prominent progressive, Bernie Sanders, determined to make a last stand for families that were struggling to get by in the face of the coronavirus pandemic and the economic misery that extended from it.

Sanders marched onto the floor of the United States Senate on December 10, 2020, and declared: "Today, as a result of the horrific pandemic and economic meltdown, the American working class is hurting like they have never hurt before." He noted that more than 3,000 men, women, and children had died from the virus the day before. "In other words," he said, "more Americans were killed by the coronavirus yesterday than were killed on 9/11."

The democratic socialist from Vermont continued: "The working class of this country is in the worst financial shape since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Tens of millions of our fellow citizens have lost their jobs. They have lost their incomes. They have lost their health insurance. They have depleted their life savings.

They cannot afford to pay the rent. They cannot afford to put food on the table. And they are scared to death that any day now they will get a knock on the door from the...

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