Commentary

Biden promises to be a more progressive president than anyone expected

MAY 01, 2020: Vice President Joe Biden attends the McKinley Elementary School gymnasium in Des Moines, Iowa, discussing issues including the recent escalation with Iran.
Photo: Shutterstock

President Biden.

For everyone who worried that Donald Trump would win a second term, today’s inauguration is a relief. Biden is everything that Trump is not: steady, empathetic, experienced, personable. While time will tell, there’s every reason to think that Biden has the personality that the multiple crises we face require.

Related: During last hours in office, Trump is fuming that Lady Gaga will perform at Biden’s inauguration

Voters obviously agreed. Throughout the crowded Democratic primary, Biden seemed like a political has-been, the candidate whose ship sailed long ago. But while voters flirted with other candidates, they never lost their affection for Joe.

The main rap on Biden was that he wasn’t progressive enough. He constantly reminded people of his ties to Barack Obama, who was often criticized for being overly cautious and overly respectful of Republicans. After the damage Trump caused, Democrats weren’t necessarily wanting a third Obama term but something bigger.

Yet in the end, voters realized that Biden could defeat Trump. He was non-threatening, the perfect consensus candidate. The competition collapsed rapidly and just as rapidly coalesced around Biden after Black voters made their choice perfectly clear.

Biden’s campaign succeeded in large part by being the counterpoint to Trump. Nowhere was that truer than the first presidential debate, where Trump gave the perfect imitation of a rabid wolf. By contrast, Biden was the safe, sane choice.

But Biden’s victory wasn’t a slam dunk. Beating Trump was a lot harder than it should have been because of his rabid base of support. Another candidate may not have met with the same success. For most voters, Biden was an inoffensive choice, promising a return to a normal presidency. Other candidates, for all of their virtues, may not have resonated with voters the same way. 

Biden’s voters are so focused on ushering Trump out the door that they may not have noticed one important fact about their candidate. He’s a lot more progressive than they might realize. That’s especially true on LGBTQ issues. There was very little difference between Biden’s platform on those issues and the other candidates’.

Boldness is probably the last attribute that voters would assign to Biden, but it’s really the best word to describe the start of his presidency. His Cabinet appointments, including Pete Buttigieg, are far more diverse than any of his predecessors.

Biden has gone big on his economic stimulus package. He has a sweeping immigration plan in mind. And then there’s his plan to battle the pandemic.

None of this is to suggest that Biden was a stealth candidate. His campaign was upfront about his policies. He’s never going to be a member (or favorite) of the Squad, the most progressive members of the House.

But in choosing Biden, voters have chosen the most progressive president ever. How much he’ll be able to live up to his promise remains to be seen. It may turn out that the slow steady candidate people opted for turns out to be the man who moves us forward faster than anyone expected.

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