Biden victory: Bonfire of the insanities

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Election results appear to be in, but any progressive triumphalism, or claims of a “mandate for radical change,” will hit a wall — radical insanity lost.  

Let’s be clear. In the general election, Joe Biden’s victory was largely a vote for “not-Trump.” It was the culmination of a national paroxysm triggered by the surprise Donald Trump victory in 2016. Let’s also be clear about this: In the Democratic primaries, the overwhelming Biden victory was largely a vote for “not-extreme.” Biden received a decisive 2,716 delegates, while the radical progressive wing, led by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), racked up only 1,112 and 67 delegates, respectively — a landslide for moderation. Biden never needed to campaign aggressively; he was perceived as the “safe” choice. 

Without Trump as a foil and Sanders as a standard-bearer, the radical progressive wing of the Democratic Party should steeply decline. To paraphrase the kid in the movie “The Sixth Sense,” “I see dead people everywhere. They just don’t know they’re dead.”

The most important triggering event is the calendar. There is a mid-term election in two years and a wide-open general election in four years (Biden will not run). Members of Congress who want to be re-elected are on pretty safe ground with minor changes to tax policy and moderate adjustments to health care, but radical changes in energy policy such as the Green New Deal (hurting the industrial heartland and America’s energy security) are likely to be colossal losers and lead to a record-setting mid-term red wave. The Biden lesson is clear: Any 2024 presidential hopefuls in either party will build their brand as moderates, slightly right or left of center.

Congressional leadership may pass radical legislation, but the White House probably will resist, with the likely Republican Senate providing a firewall.

There also will be a major shift in news media. Over the past four years, nearly the entire media lined up in a political turkey shoot, trying to outdo each other in hobbling Trump and smothering his message. It was a unifying raison d’etre. Now that the gravitational force of Trump will be gone, the commercial interests of each element of the media create a centrifugal force leading to a much wider (and, hopefully, higher quality) range of political/policy analysis and reporting. Biden, especially, may be surprised to find that he no longer enjoys the indulgence shown him during the campaign — when the entire media energy appeared to be focused on defeating Trump — or during the Obama administration (Barack Obama was transformational; Joe Biden is a caretaker).

That same can be said for the tech/social media giants. The Democrats love to regulate, and the unrestrained behavior of Facebook, Google and Twitter cries out for regulation. A feint toward open political forums and freedom of speech with reduced censorship is a possible tack, although it may well be much too late for that. The tech giants have shown their autocratic/anti-democratic hand and Democrats know a future threat when they see it, and they will kill it.

In the same way, institutional Washington will not be as understanding or forgiving to Biden as it was during the campaign. The intelligence and law enforcement agencies were alarmed by the Trump election and some worked actively to undermine him and his policies. But they bear no loyalty or fondness for Biden per se, and as they go back to concentrating on their core missions, Biden will find that he will be judged solely on the soundness of his strategies and policies, something he was spared during the campaign.

Which, of course, leads to his cabinet. Sanders, unlikely as future chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, expects a big payoff as secretary of Labor, and Warren may still hope to drive her radical agenda as secretary of Treasury. While it is entirely possible that Biden may choose to keep his “enemies” near by giving Sanders the relatively harmless Labor slot, it would be suicide to give Warren anything, and especially Treasury. As many past administrations have discovered, an outspoken, loose cannon at Treasury (Larry Summers and Paul O’Neill come to mind) can massively disrupt global capital markets with one casual and misplaced comment. Given the daily deluge of radical ideas that spews forth from Warren and other progressives, combined with the trivial contributions they made to the Biden victory, they are unlikely for the cabinet, and any senior positions likely would be short-lived. 

The same should be said for Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and “The Squad.” While they served as useful foils for the Trump administration and congressional Republicans, they represent a narrow constituency and constitute little more than an annoyance to serious legislating or governing in a Democratic Party that seeks to maintain the White House and congressional majorities. Putting aside Sanders’s personal charisma and political skill, the radical progressive left shows little sign of capturing a significant portion of the electorate and is not worth the continuous aggravation. Few voters for Biden actually signed up for radical transformation of America — he certainly didn’t campaign on it.

The bottom line is that tech giants face humbling, Congress needs to tack toward the center, mayors need to clean up their cities (they no longer have Trump to blame), and the media need to return to serious journalism — or Donald J. Trump still may get the last laugh.  

Grady Means is a writer ( and former corporate strategy consultant. He served in the White House as a policy assistant to Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. Follow him on Twitter @gradymeans1.

Tags 2020 Democrats 2020 presidential election Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Barack Obama Bernie Sanders Donald Trump Elizabeth Warren Joe Biden moderates progressives

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