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Joe Biden Wasn’t My First Choice. But I Now Believe He Could Be A Transformative President

In this image from video, Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden smiles after the roll call vote during the second night of the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. (Democratic National Convention via AP)
In this image from video, Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden smiles after the roll call vote during the second night of the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. (Democratic National Convention via AP)

As a progressive whose values fall slightly to the left of Jesus Christ, I supported Bernie Sanders in the last presidential election, even when that put me in conflict with my wife.

Last fall, I supported Elizabeth Warren.

My essential view is that modern capitalism incentivizes greed and competition, thus acting as a centrifuge that concentrates wealth and power at the top and leaves the great unwashed to fend for themselves. In my ideal America, the top earners would be allowed to keep $10 million per year. Period. The rest of their fortunes would fund education, health care, job retraining for the green economy and new bicycles for every citizen.

Of course, I recognize that we live in another America, where huge corporations pay nothing in taxes and the federal government cuts food stamps to poor families during a pandemic that has put nearly 30 million Americans out of work.

What I’ve found even more hopeful is Biden’s ability to evolve with the times.

But as we learned in 2016, our political and media systems are rigged by corporate cash in such a manner that an avowed sexual predator and failed casino owner can seize the presidency, and run it as a criminal enterprise.

Much as I wanted Warren or Sanders to run against "Individual One," I’ve accepted that my feelings aren’t what matter. What matters — until we can make structural changes to our electoral system, anyway — is appealing to moderate voters in swing states.

And thus, like other progressives, I have had to move past my initial impressions of Biden as just another back-slapping moderate.

One thing that helped was watching this 1986 clip, which features Biden tearing into former Secretary of State George Schulz for his refusal to condemn the apartheid government of South Africa. Watching this, it’s impossible to escape the conviction that Biden has a moral core, a fundamental belief that the U.S. government should stand against all forms of racism and oppression.

What I’ve found even more hopeful is Biden’s ability to evolve with the times.

The current president came to power promising to drag our nation back in time, to a period of white male hegemony, misogyny and anti-immigrant fervor.

Biden’s path has been just the opposite. He has come recognize that the vast majority of our citizens are tired of America’s de facto apartheid, that our future belongs to women and people of color and overlooked workers; groups that have been underrepresented, and therefore marginalized, for years.

Biden also recognizes that he alone can’t fix anything. This is why he’s worked with Bernie on a Unity Task Force to craft the most liberal democratic platform in history. He’s also talked weekly with Warren to incorporate her detailed plans.

Biden is not pushing Medicare for all, or the Green New Deal, or the kind of big-ticket wealth taxation his progressive rivals favored. But for this reason, he has managed to retain his moderate “cred” while leading a party that now officially endorses universal health care, a $15 minimum wage, and an ambitious plan to make America’s power carbon-free by 2035 (a plan endorsed by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez).

If American history is any indication, Biden is uniquely positioned to lead the country precisely because he has never been an ideologue.

The details of his Build Back Better plan are remarkably aggressive. Biden is calling for the largest federal investment in manufacturing, infrastructure, clean energy and job creation since the Second World War, in an effort to jolt the economy out of the depression caused by the president’s reckless negligence of the COVID crisis.

The president and his cabal of allies ... have tried their darndest to portray Biden as a radical lefty. But nobody beyond the cult is buying their hysterics.

To say that the details of Biden’s plan stand as a stark contrast to his opponent doesn’t capture the situation; Trump has no economic or medical plan, beyond quack cures and attacks on the Postal Service.

The president and his cabal of allies, which extends from Fox News to the Kremlin, have tried their darndest to portray Biden as a radical lefty. But nobody beyond the cult is buying their hysterics.

Most Americans have more important things to worry about at this point: if and when our kids can return to school, whether we can find work again, or forestall an eviction notice. They want a president who has some basic conception of what the federal government is supposed to do: help out.

Joe Biden wasn’t my first choice as a nominee. He wasn’t even my fourth. But I’ve studied his plans. He has the values and humility to serve as president, and the historical opportunity to be a transformative figure, one who can help us recover from the economic and moral wreckage of his predecessor.

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Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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