Joe Biden
Credit: Gage Skidmore/Flickr

Joe Biden likes to talk about his days as Obama’s vice president. He regularly touts the administration’s achievements while talking about the need to recapture the “soul of America” that has been decimated by the current occupant of the Oval Office.

But progressives are wrong to suggest that a Biden presidency would be nothing more than a return to the status quo of the Obama years. His platform currently includes the following:

  1. Increase taxes on the wealthy. The Tax Policy Center calculated that Biden’s plan would raise $4 trillion over a decade—one of the largest wealth transfers in American history.
  2. Subsidies and Medicaid funding, along with a public option, in order to achieve universal health care.
  3. A combination of $17 trillion in clean energy investment and tighter regulations to bring emissions to zero by 2050.
  4. A combined $2 trillion in new spending on early education, post-secondary education, and housing.
  5. A $1.3 trillion infrastructure plan.
  6. A $15 minimum wage.
  7. Closure of the gun show loophole and a ban on the sale of assault weapons.
  8. Comprehensive immigration reform, including a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
  9. A comprehensive program for criminal justice reform.
  10.  A constitutional amendment to eliminate private dollars from our federal elections.

Just a few days ago, Biden signed on to support Senator Elizabeth Warren’s bankruptcy plan.

When it comes to foreign policy, Biden would, first of all, restore the Iran Nuclear Agreement and re-engage the United States in the Paris Climate Accord. But I would also remind you that, during his time in the Obama administration, Biden consistently counseled against foreign military intervention. Restoring the relationships with our allies that have been decimated by the current administration is something Biden would tackle on day one.

While none of that reaches the level of change proposed by Senators Sanders and Warren, it hardly qualifies as “centrist” or maintenance of the status quo. It is one of the most progressive platforms we’ve ever seen from a presidential candidate.

One of the reasons Biden is so often misunderstood by progressives is that they did the same thing to President Obama. It is assumed that both men are content with what was accomplished from 2009-2016. But here is what Obama said about that last November.

…if I were running today, I wouldn’t run the same campaign that I did in 2008.” Conversations around issues like climate change and criminal justice reform have completely shifted, he explained. And as a result, so should the policy pitches. The Affordable Care Act is a “starter home.”

One of the analogies Obama used when talking about how change happens in democracies was to compare the federal government to steering an ocean liner. Here is how he described that to Marc Maron.

The emphasis on “hope and change” during the 2008 election captured our aspirations about where we should be going. But the question becomes, “how do we operationalize these concepts into concrete actions?” When it comes to specifics, the world is complicated and there are choices you have to make. The trajectory of progress comes in fits and starts and where you’re going is balanced by what is and where you’ve been. Progress in a democracy is never instantaneous and it’s always partial.

On the idea of “middle management,” sometimes your job is just to make things work. And sometimes your task is to make incremental improvements. It’s like steering an ocean liner and making a 2 degree turn so that 10 years from now we’re suddenly in a very different place. You can’t turn 50 degrees all at once because that’s not how societies – especially democracies – work. As long as we’re turning in the right direction and we’re making progress, government is working like its supposed to.

To get an idea of what that looks like, we can use this visualization.

Obama’s goal was to implement the two-degree turn that would lead to the destination marked “future.” That’s what he meant when he described Obamacare as a “starter home.” To use another one of Obama’s analogies, a Biden presidency would represent the next leg of the relay race meant to get us there.

There are progressives who might argue that it is, indeed, possible to turn the ocean liner 50 degrees all at once, which is what we need to do right now. That is an argument that would be worth having. But it is inaccurate to suggest that either Biden or Obama would advocate for simply returning to the status quo. And for the time being, it is clear that Democratic voters have rejected the notion of a “revolution” in favor of more pragmatic change.

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