I would argue that there is much too much of what I call “buckpassing” among many left and progressive activists. By this I mean an attitude that places responsibility for the enactment of the postive elements – and there are many – of Biden’s political and legislative agenda exclusively on Biden and Congressional Democrats. The ball, in this understanding of politica, is in their court so to speak. The rest of us are no more than observers – watching, bemoaning, and critiquing compromises, half measures, and withdrawn bills.
Let me give you one example – and there are many: When Biden introduced Build Back Better – a bill that if passed would strike a blow against 30 years of neoliberalism and Reaganism – this same activists, save Reverend Barber and the Poor People’s campaign and a few others, did little in the public square demanding the bill’s passage. The bill was more an object of interest than a subject of struggle.
Nothing like Solidarity Day I and II, protesting Reagan’s punitive policies was organized. Or, like the Women’s March, coinciding with Trump’s inauguration. Or, like the massive demonstrations, triggered by the police asassination of George Floyd.
Even when the bill, albeit in shrunken form, was hanging by a thread, the feet on the ground in Washington or other elsewhere across the country calling for its passage were few. No doubt their absence made it much easier for West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin to oppose it and, in doing so, kill the bill, as it was constructed.
Granted the pandemic made a mass presence difficult. But making the difficult doable is what leaders of mass organizations are elected to do. If there’s a will, and a splash of creativity, there’s a way.
Now if Biden had a congressional majority in the Senate and House approximating the majorities that Roosevelt and Johnson could count on in their first terms, buckpassing wouldn’t matter so much.
But he doesn’t. Far from it. The Democratic advantage in the Senate and House, as everyone knows, is razor thin and Republican opposition to Biden’s domestic agenda is locked in and fierce. Any Democratic defection in the Senate to a bill is its death knell. In these circumstances, mass actions should be a no brainer. But aren’t yet.
So much so, one could argue that Biden has pressed his domestic agenda better than the diverse coalition that elected him has fought for it. But the past doesn’t have to be prologue to the future. Buckpassing can give way to practical engagement on this crucial level of politics.
But will it? It should, but as we inch closer to November, the attention of elected represenatives of both parties and their various constitutencies will migrate from the halls of Congress to the vector of electoral politics. Moreover, the the foreign policy of the Biden administration – and in particular its unequivocal support of Ukraine and fierce opposition to Putin – have become an escape hatch for some progressive and radical people to further distance them from the administration.
Finally, the results of the November elections, no matter their outcome, will likely trigger a recalibration of the posture of progressive and left activists toward the Biden administration and Democratic Party. In what way isn’t yet clear.