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In Biden's next 100 days, progressives must reclaim their power

In Biden's next 100 days, progressives must reclaim their power
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Now that we’re past the end of Joe Biden’s first 100 days, everyone is analyzing how he did. From the progressive perspective, the jury is out on President BidenJoe Biden28 Senate Democrats sign statement urging Israel-Hamas ceasefire Franklin Graham says Trump comeback would 'be a very tough thing to do' Schools face new pressures to reopen for in-person learning MORE. He passed a large COVID relief bill, but almost any president would have passed a sizable relief bill. He got a relief bill larger than President Obama after the 2008 crash and it had some small progressive priorities in it. That seems like an awfully low bar to clear to start comparisons to Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Biden also went out of his way to kill the top progressive priority in the bill — the $15 minimum wage. Both Delaware Senators voted against increasing minimum wage. That’s Biden saying that he never wanted it in the first place. Those are his top two allies in the Senate. That’s an open-handed slap at progressives. 

It’s possible Biden could rally and go further left or be more ambitious, but I would be quite surprised. I think we’re likely at the high-water mark in his presidency. I doubt he’ll effectively fight corporate Democrats in the Senate, who want to block most of his theoretical agenda. It’s far more likely to be kabuki theater than an actual fight. After all, Joe Biden is arguably the prototypical corporate Democrat. He doesn’t want to fight them because he is them.

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Going forward, the most likely outcome is that Biden will start negotiating away everything vaguely progressive while saying the Democratic mantra of, “There was nothing I could do!”

That leads to the question of how progressive leaders in Congress did in the first 100 days of the Biden presidency. The honest answer is, poorly. Fifteen dollar minimum wage is the simplest progressive priority. They were supposed to get that win on the board immediately and then move on to things that were harder. Instead, they got crushed and don’t even seem to realize it.

On the minimum wage issue, progressives theoretically have the president, the vice president, all of Democratic leadership in Congress and the overwhelming majority of the American people on their side. And they still didn’t even come close. If progressives can’t win on this, they can’t win on anything.

If they go this whole two-year term without passing the most basic progressive priority — the very first thing on our priority list — it would have to be considered a colossal failure. 

I co-founded Justice Democrats and even named the group. So, no one is rooting for them more than I am. But friends have to be honest with each other. Right now, there is no effective leadership, there is no planning and there is no effective opposition to the right-wing of the Democratic Party. The only thing worse than getting routed is not realizing you’re getting routed. 

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Has anyone asked for accountability for losing on their simplest policy demand? Was this provision even demanded in the last bill? Were there any concessions that they extracted from the Biden administration for killing that part of the bill? Do they have any plan to get it passed now? Will they even object if it’s never brought up again?

Progressive leadership in the House just released their wish list for the infrastructure bill. The minimum wage isn’t even on it. This is beginning to look like capitulation. You can’t ask for more leverage than a voting bloc that can stop any bill. It’s simply not true that they don’t have the power to make demands. They’re just choosing not to use that power.

On the other hand, progressives appear to be exuberant about their newfound access to power. Here’s my question — so what? Who cares that they have access to the president if they never get anything for it? You’re not supposed to use that access to pad your resume, you’re supposed to use it to make demands on behalf of your voters. The Biden administration has deftly smothered them with kindness, and it appears progressive leaders melted. While access might be intoxicating to the people who have it, it is irrelevant to the 27 million Americans who desperately need a raise.

In Washington, there is a powerful reality-warping force field that makes legislators feel like they’re doing a great job when they’ve done nothing at all. People who pop that bubble are usually reviled. But progressive leaders outside of Congress enabling this inaction aren’t helping progressive legislators, they’re hurting them. At some point, when you have no legislative victories, the chickens will come home to roost. The base is already beginning to lose hope. As a friend and an ally, I’m telling them now, it’s an ambush! You’re going to get nothing unless you fight back.

Frederick Douglass said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Unfortunately, so far, almost nothing has been demanded of power and accordingly, it has conceded nothing. If the rest of these two years goes like the first 100 days, progressives will have gotten exactly what they asked for — nothing. 

Cenk Uygur is the CEO, founder and host of The Young Turks and co-founder of Justice Democrats.