Rolling Rock Ramblings: The Most Progressive President Ever?

Joe Biden gives his first Annual Address./ Getty Images
Joe Biden gives his first Annual Address./ Getty Images

When Joe Biden secured the democratic nomination for president, a number of political pundits came out of their caves to proclaim that he has the potential to be the most progressive leader our country has ever had. As much as it pains me to admit it, on paper, they were right. In the reality that I am confined in, however, Joe Biden remains an enigma of the indifference found in ineffectual politics. 

Joe Biden has used the scepter granted to him as the leader of the progressive agenda to formally acknowledge the Armenian Genocide, pass modest tax reform, raise the cap on refugees allowed in the country, rejoin the Paris Climate Accord, pass a sweeping stimulus which actually includes funding for working people, and a sizable number of other acts that have situated him to wear the county fair ribbon embroidered with the words: “Most Progressive President.” 

The problem remains with the words that Joe Biden used in campaign pitches to wealthy donors. He said, with an assurance reserved for those who are about to enter the commanding heights of this country that, “nothing would fundamentally change” if he became president. Who he is speaking to is important to understand the weight of this statement: wealthy donors whose interests are unevenly represented in the halls of state and federal legislatures. 

The rest of us, those who don’t have a couple of spare million dollars to throw away trying to convince lawmakers that they should do what we think is right, are left being told that we are living under the most progressive president we’ve ever had. It pains me to acknowledge that this is true for a few reasons. One of them being that head to head, Joe Biden versus FDR or LBJ, Joe wins by default. This victory is delivered on the coattails of all the real progressive bloodshed on the field trying to make this world a better place. 

When FDR and LBJ were at the wheel, their historically progressive agendas were filtered through a public opinion and a residing Congress who were still thoroughly sandbagged by overtly racist understandings of the world. When FDR passed the New Deal that almost entirely excluded the plight of black people, it was still the most progressive series of legislation ever passed. LBJ launching the War on Poverty is painfully remembered now as a mandate against serious societal ills without an earnest acknowledgment of the society that bred and incubated these ills. 

Those that have come before Joe Biden should not be remembered wholly as heroes doing the best with what they could. But there does need to be an understanding that what they were able to do was more significant because of the great societal barriers that lay before them. Joe has the luxury of presiding over the most “progressive” populace our nature has seen for some time and amid a crisis that screams for government action. What he has been able to pass has been little more than par for the course for what this moment holds. 

Real legislation, the stuff that will fundamentally change the lives of working, poor, minority, or otherwise discriminated-against populations, isn’t being tabled as of right now. A climate mandate that insists on not steering around the iceberg but putting the brakes on and turning around, has yet to be seen. A student debt loan forgiveness plan that goes beyond ten grand for federally issued loans doesn’t appear to be likely. And a national budget that is characterized by a reckoning with the fact that war sucks and helping people both foreign and domestic has yet to be alluded to. 

The hope lies in that Joe Biden is a great target for bullying. Victims of bullying come to therapy for a myriad of reasons. But they all share the experience of feeling as though others are trying to control the narrative with how they are perceived and how they navigate the world. Joe Biden is particularly susceptible to bullying because his presidency is characterized, at least concretely, by few things other than wanting to be perceived as good. Bullying has worked to win real gains from the Biden administration, the raising of the refugee cap being the most recent example. For a presidency that relies so heavily on how it is perceived in order to be effective, Joe Biden might actually go beyond the county fair ribbon awardee of “Most Progressive President,” to something more historically sound if we continue to press him and his cronies for actual, fundamental, change.