Barack Obama — his policies and his posture — just won a third term.
Joe Biden will be president because of his close association with Obama, because he espoused many of the same centrist policies and positioning and because of public nostalgia for the normalcy and decency the Obama years provided.
Biden is a restoration president-elect, elected to right the ship and save the system. He is not so much a change agent as a reversion agent. He is elected to Make America Able to Sleep Again.
He doesn’t see his mission as shaking things up, but calming things down.
But, just as was the case with Obama, many of the people who made Biden’s win possible are far to the left of him. As Biden told a Miami television station last month: “I’m the guy that ran against socialists, OK. I’m the guy that’s the moderate. Remember, you guys were all talking, you’d interview me and say, ‘Well, you’re a moderate, how can you win the nomination?’ It’s who I am.” But, progressives are not likely to be as silent now as they were during the Obama years.
Obama faced intense, often unfair, resistance from the right on every front, so many who wanted to push him in a more progressive direction held their criticism or limited it for fear of adding to the damage being done to him by his conservative opposition.
But many progressives emerged from that unhappy or downright angry. They are not likely to repeat what many consider a mistake.
As my colleague Thomas Edsall astutely observed last year, the Democratic Party is actually three different parties: the most progressive on the left, the “somewhat liberal” in the middle and the majority nonwhite moderates on the right.
The most progressive, who are also the most vocal, have yet to have a true champion in the White House. Although Biden and the Democrats need their energy and can sometimes tack in their direction, these people know that the right uses them as the boogeymen of whom voters in the center and on the right should be afraid.
And many centrist Democrats accuse the most progressive of doing damage to the rest of the party with their rhetoric and policy ambitions.
As The Intercept reported last week, House Democrats held a conference call in the wake of the election in which “centrist after centrist lambasted the party’s left for costing it seats in the lower chamber and threatening its ability to win the Senate.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders last month told the Squad — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib — that the first order of business for progressives was to defeat President Donald Trump by electing Biden. But, he said, the second order of business was to push Biden into becoming “the most progressive president since FDR.”
Ocasio-Cortez chimed in to thank Sanders for “normalizing bringing the ruckus on the Democratic Party.” As she explained: “That was not seen as OK for a very long time. It was seen as extremely taboo for a very long time. And it would result in so many people being ostracized, and targeted.”
These progressives aren’t simply going to slink away and be quiet, to sacrifice principles for decorum, nor should they.
We are coming to the end of four years in which Republicans have rampaged, endangering our democracy and attempting to use the courts to lock in their power for a generation. Democrats are meeting that with more happy talk of unity and normalcy. The Republicans know that we are at war; Democrats think it’s a crochet class.
Democrats must think bigger and more strategically. They lean far too heavily on changing demographics, as if population patterns make long-term planning about the gaining and retaining of power unnecessary. That could eventually be problematic. Although nonwhites still vote about 2 to 1 for the Democrats, Trump this year got a larger share of the nonwhite vote than any Republican since 1960.
When they were frightened by the socialist claim against Biden, frustrated by what they thought wasn’t enough of a Black agenda, had fallen victim to misinformation, or had simply decided that, somehow, the Republican Party was more attractive to them, they voted for Trump.
Nothing is static in politics. You can take nothing for granted.
Trump got more votes than any Republican in history. He will remain a powerful force among conservatives. The Republican Party is still his. There has been some speculation that he could start his own network that rivals Fox News or exists to the right of it, if that’s even possible.
He loves television, and this would give him the perfect perch to launch a four-year-long assault on the Biden administration and to influence Republicans in Congress. He could in fact run again in 2024.
Republicans are playing hardball; Democrats are playing softball.