Progressives around the country “settled” for President Joe Biden this past November. Now that he is in office, we need to do more than that.
Despite the fact that 60 percent of voters under 30 years old supported former Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, that same age group turned out to vote for Biden in record numbers. Both Sens. Sanders, I-Vt., and Warren, D-Mass., supported Biden after he earned the Democratic party’s nomination and encouraged their supporters to get out and vote for Biden. In fact, an online campaign encouraging progressives to “settle for Biden” gained traction, and that mentality convinced many progressive activists to vote for him last November.
The quip was a good idea with strong merit leading up to the general election. But now that Biden has been sworn into office, it is time to ditch this mentality. We will not have another four years of right-wing extremism, but that does not mean we can live through four years of platitudes, corporatism and piecemeal measures that will not fundamentally change a system that has been failing Americans for decades. We have seen signs that the Biden administration will need more than just words of encouragement to move to the left because of his ties to the defense, oil and financial sectors.
Instead, progressives must use the slim Democratic majority in the U.S. House of Representatives to force critical rule changes regarding issues like the filibuster, and vote for important legislation like statehood for D.C. and Puerto Rico, the nation-wide legalization of marijuana, a large climate and infrastructure spending package and broad executive action. In doing so, progressives will be able to secure marked improvements for Americans.
In the weeks leading up to Biden’s inauguration, officials with corporate ties and deeply moderate track records were appointed as members of his cabinet. His secretary of defense, retired Gen. Lloyd Austin III, has sat on the boards of defense contractors since he left the military in 2016, and most recently, he joined the board of Raytheon Technologies, which has profited off of our wars in the Middle East for years. Both Antony Blinken, Biden’s pick for secretary of state, and Avril Haines, his pick for director of national intelligence, have corporate ties. Blinken and Haines worked at WestExec Advisors, a consulting firm that has refused to release a client list but has secured multimillion dollar contracts in the defense sector. Janet Yellen, the nominee for treasury secretary, has taken more than $7 million in speaking fees from organizations like Goldman Sachs and Citigroup. One of his senior advisers, Cedric Richmond, received extensive donations from the oil and gas industry as a member of Congress.
These cabinet nominees should concern any progressive who hopes for four years of reform, justice and growth rather than military expansion abroad and Wall Street coddling. Leaders with deep corporate ties will be very hesitant to cross the industries that have provided much of their wealth and success. They will likely opt for incrementalism or even ignore the concerns of progressives as we saw in the Obama administration. Those eight years of incrementalism is what allowed the rise of Trump’s populism, and if we ignore these concerns for another four years, the next president will not be Trump, but much worse.
These cabinet picks are almost certainly going to be confirmed, but the fight does not end there. We have seen encouraging signs that progressives can work with the Biden administration to realize major change, just as long as we put in the work. Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., a fierce climate advocate who supports the Green New Deal and has openly opposed fracking and drilling on public land, was named Biden’s nominee for secretary of the interior. Biden has also released strong immigration reform proposals and shown a willingness toward deficit spending.
We also recently saw how progressives can utilize the slim Democratic House majority to force crucial rule changes into various legislation. The Congressional Progressive Caucus was able to secure two exemptions to the Paygo rule, one for spending related to the economic and public health effects of COVID-19 and the other for spending related to the economic, environmental and public health consequences of climate change. The Paygo rule has been a roadblock for major policies like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, and that roadblock has now been lifted because progressives used their leverage appropriately.
Now, as Democrats take control of both houses of Congress and the White House, it is time for progressives to amplify that leverage and work with Congressional leadership to hold votes on significant pieces of legislation. This should include – at a minimum – votes on another round of $2,000 stimulus checks, statehood for D.C. and Puerto Rico, massive investment in our crumbling infrastructure, health care expansions and the legalization of marijuana.
Progressives must pressure their elected leaders in Congress and activists around the country to enforce these changes and resist corporatism. Student activists should be on the forefront of this movement. The number of Millennial and Gen Z voters is projected to equal the amount of votes from older generations in 2024 and surpass it in 2028. We are an overwhelmingly progressive generation and deserve a voice in the policies of the Biden administration. Student activists should lobby members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus to block votes on legislation that is important to congressional leadership until votes on progressive legislation are brought to the floor.
We don’t need to settle for Biden for the next four years. We must bring progressive issues to the forefront and enact real change.
Declan Duggan, a freshman majoring in international affairs, is an opinions writer.
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