Grassroots progressives put Biden in the White House… but what do we get for that?
Nothing guaranteed, but at least he gives us the possibility of winning some progressive policies. Unlike when Clinton and Obama fleetingly raised hopes in 1992 and 2008 that progress was possible — only to disappoint us — two new factors give progressive proposals a greater chance this time. First, is Biden himself. A core part of his political makeup is that he’s Joe Labor, coming to the job with a genuine affinity for working stiffs. For Biden, labor rights are not wonkish issues, but about showing gut-level respect for working families, actually caring about the well-being of workers.
Second — and most important — is you and me. This is not ’92 or ’08, when our incoming presidents simply said “Thank you and goodbye” to grassroots backers, then handed the government’s economic keys to Wall Street bankers and corporate lobbyists. We won’t allow Biden to do that and he knows it. Today, there’s an organized, battle-tested Left on alert in practically every congressional district. Plus, we now have a growing cadre of unwilting agitators who’re members of Congress, willing to expose and oppose insider sellouts.
This time, progressive forces are not about to be shushed or shooed away by the Democratic Party’s go-slow establishment. We’re akin to the insistent forces of fundamental change who asserted themselves after Roosevelt won. FDR had not run as a New Dealer, but as a centrist Democrat promising little more than to rid the White House of the clueless Herbert Hoover. The moment he was elected, grassroots movements were in his face. They created the historic New Deal reform agenda... and then made Roosevelt spend political capital to pass it.
There’s one big lesson from the New Dealers we should heed: Push hard and fast for the Big Change America needs.
And that includes the fundamental, structural rebuilding that’s necessary in health care, immigration, the environment, civil justice, labor law and infrastructure. But here’s another huge area that must become a priority for a major policy overhaul: the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Carter, Clinton and Obama represent 20 years when Democratic presidents had control of ag and rural policies. But what did they do, even as crisis after crisis ripped through the farmlands and communities they were supposed to serve?
Consider Barack Obama’s former appointee, who Biden has chosen to serve again, Tom Vilsack. Bizarre, since he actually tried to resign as Obama’s secretary, complaining, “There are days when I have literally nothing to do.” Seriously? At the time when whole towns were boarding up, massive hog factories were exploiting farmers and local residents, climate change was advancing relentlessly, and… well, get to work! Vilsack did eventually find something to do — he became chief Washington lobbyist for dairy-exporting corporations, drawing a million-dollar annual paycheck. Meanwhile, hundreds of U.S. dairy farms are going bankrupt under low milk-price policies he sanctioned.
Recent presidents have used the position to keep the corporate giants of agribusiness content and in charge, so USDA’s top leadership has been indifferent and hostile to the majority of workaday rural people who need an ally.
Let’s become that ally — to push for real change, go to RootsAction.org.