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It Would Be a Shame If You Sacrificed All This Good Domestic Policy In Order to Kill a Bunch of Kids
Biden is putting all his accomplishments at risk for a terrible reason.
Yesterday I went to a conference in New York City, where everyone was celebrating the Biden administration’s domestic policy achievements. And rightly so. There was Heather Boushey, from the Council of Economic Advisers, explaining how they managed to help the American economy recover from the pandemic, with enormous public spending; there was Mitch Landrieu, playing up the Cajun accent, talking about the staggering, multi-trillion-dollar investment in infrastructure that has made Biden’s industrial policy an underappreciated titan; there was Jennifer Abruzzo, the general counsel of the NLRB, explaining all the ways that her office has been working nonstop to improve this country’s broken labor laws, to the benefit of workers everywhere. These people and others were talking up parts of this administration’s record that are legitimately good. This White House’s domestic policy wins over the past three years will improve the material conditions of millions of not-rich people. That is worth being happy about.
Like many of my fellow lefties, I never really “liked” Joe Biden, as such. The 1994 crime bill that boosted mass incarceration, the Senator from Delaware who was best friends with all the credit card companies… he’s a politician. His most redeeming quality as president, though, is that he has been willing to work with the left in a way that few of his predecessors in the past 50 years ever have. Even before his election, he formed a Unity Task Force with Bernie Sanders supporters that laid out policy recommendations that the left pushed for. The left wing of the party got a lot of personnel into this administration. It matters that Biden picked, as the head of the Federal Trade Commission, one of America’s most prominent anti-monopoly activists. It matters that economists like Boushey have the president’s ear more than economists from Goldman Sachs seem to. I write about labor, so let me speak on something I know about: It matters that Abruzzo, a staunch union partisan, has her seat in the NLRB. She has done everything humanly possible to make the regulatory apparatus of the American government more friendly to unions, and—even though she cannot wave a magic wand and make the weak laws better—she has aggressively pursued high profile illegal union busting at companies like Amazon and Starbucks, which is vital if those companies are ever going to be organized. Historically, the labor movement in America has expanded its power when the government has been its ally, and seen its power contract when the government was its enemy. When you understand how important the increase of labor power is to the mitigation of the inequality crisis that has fucked America up for 40 years, you come to appreciate just how important this sort of government support is.
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Joe Biden is not of the left, but he has left the White House door open to the left, and the left has gotten a lot of stuff from him. Stuff that is worth protecting. Stuff with value that can be measured by the number of humans who are able to live decent lives and not struggle in poverty. I do not say all this because I want to write some celebratory pro-Biden essay here. I say it just to lay out a small piece of what is at stake in this election. These are the things that the Biden administration is now putting at risk with its unqualified support for Israel’s brutal decimation of Gaza. These are the things that the Biden administration is willing to lose in order to strap on blinders and send billions of dollars worth of weapons to a nation that will use those weapons to bomb and kill thousands of civilians. All of the Biden administration’s great domestic policy gains are being treated as poker chips, mere fuel for a disastrous foreign policy gamble that may very well lose him the election.
The first and most important reason to be outraged about what is happening in Gaza is that it is a humanitarian atrocity. Videos of dead children being pulled from piles of rubble are their own explanation. At least nine thousand civilians are dead, as of today. Three dozen journalists have been killed by the Israeli bombardment. Six dozen United Nations relief workers have been killed. And, in the past three weeks, three thousand six hundred children have been killed.
Three thousand six hundred children have been killed. Children. That single fact is irrefutable proof of atrocity. More children have been killed in Gaza than the total number of Americans who were killed in all of the 9/11 attacks. The Hamas attacks on October 7 have been called “Israel’s 9/11,” and the comparison is sadly apt: there, like here, the world rallied in sympathy after civilians were killed in a bloody and unexpected act; and there, as here, the government’s reaction to the attack was so bloody and brutal and over-the-top and murderous that all of that sympathy drained away into horror at the vengeance itself. And who is most responsible for this massacre of civilians, outside of Israel itself? We are. Our support—money, weapons, political support—enables Israel to do this. And everyone can see it. Everyone can see the rubble and the dead children and the American bombs and the American politicians refusing to call for a ceasefire. It is plain. Joe Biden, the president of the United States, has hitched himself to this war, one year out from the election. Everything else he has done can be lost because of this. What a waste.
Being elected president means assembling a winning coalition. In 2020, Biden was riding on a wave of highly motivated voters who were extremely energized to get rid of Donald Trump. Assembling his coalition then was comparatively easy. Now, Biden is the incumbent, and the election will, as always, be a referendum on him. Trump, the likely nominee, doesn’t really even have to do anything. The Republican nominee will get the Republican vote. Biden’s ability to win the election depends on his ability to motivate the same coalition that elected him last time to turn out and vote for him again. We know, right now, that some significant number of people who voted for Biden in 2020 are too sickened by what he has done on the issue of Gaza to bring themselves to vote for him again. Some number—thousands? Hundreds of thousands? Millions?—of people who would otherwise have voted for Biden will sit this one out, out of pure disgust. Muslim voters, young voters, leftist voters, voters with the sort of genuine religious conviction that makes them value human life… the support for Biden of all of these groups is at grave risk right now. How many votes can he afford to lose? How many tens of thousands of Muslim-American voters in Michigan can Biden lose before the state swings red? Electoral margins are thin. This is not a far-fetched problem. Everything is up in the air now.
The only real response from the political establishment that I have seen to this discussion so far has been to lecture the voters. “Biden is better than Trump.” No shit. That is an utterly useless and backwards reaction. Voters are not employees of politicians. Voters do not have to vote. (Every time you find yourself tempted to lecture “the voters” about something, stop and reset and think about how to lecture the politicians and the parties and the institutions that support and influence them, instead. Otherwise you are just hollering into the void.) Emotion drives politics more than reason does. Biden is sickening people. Biden is making people who voted for him in the last election despise him. For good reason. Thousands of innocent civilians, dead, thanks to us. That is a substantive reason. The feeling of disgust that that provokes will, I assure you, cause some number of people to resolve never to cast a ballot for Joe Biden again. If the Democratic Party’s plan for this is “lecture voters more,” they will lose the election. This is a substantive issue that can only be solved by substantive change. A ceasefire, not a lecture, is what is necessary. As soon as possible. Followed by a whole lot of work to show us that the administration understands the scale of the mistake that they just made.
Is sending weapons to Israel that it can use to decimate and kill a civilian population more important than Biden’s industrial policy? Is it more important than the Supreme Court, and abortion rights? Is it more important that all of the hundreds of billions of dollars of infrastructure investment? Is it more important than having a government that takes on corporate power concentration? Is it more important than the revival of organized labor? The person who is answering “yes” to all of those questions right now is Joe Biden himself. Because he is placing all of those things in legitimate danger by publicly aligning himself with a rain of bombs that is killing thousands of children. For this—for this!—Joe Biden could very well fuck around and lose the election. What a grotesque, awful, loss that would be. What a pathetic, devastating, mistake of historic proportions. What a missed opportunity.
LBJ had a lot of good domestic policy. He supported the war in Vietnam, split the party, and ended up ushering in Richard Nixon. Here we are, once again. Don’t repeat that. Ceasefire now. We have a lot more work to be done in America.
This video of Ta-Nehisi Coates speaking about Palestine is well worth watching, particularly for Americans struggling to relate these events to our own nation’s history. You should also read this Washington Post story about how Gaza has become “a graveyard for children.”
With a few scattered exceptions, the US labor movement has not taken a strong stand on this war—effectively, the AFL-CIO is supporting the war by not opposing it. On top of all of the humanitarian reasons why labor should stand against this war, and on top of the fact that we owe our solidarity to the workers in Palestine whose lives are being destroyed, I hope that the labor movement begins to think about the fact that if Joe Biden blows up his reelection over this bullshit, all the money they are pouring into his campaign will be worthless. Call for a ceasefire.
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