Why Biden Says GOP Will Have ‘Epiphany’ And Work With Him If He’s Elected President

Kevin Gosztola
May 15 · 5 min read
Former Vice President Joe Biden on May 8, 2018 (Photo: Brookings Institution)

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden apparently believes Republican politicians will want to work with Democrats once President Donald Trump is no longer in the White House.

“You will see an epiphany occur among many of my Republican friends,” Biden said during a campaign event in New Hampshire.

Elected Republicans can barely bring themselves to critique Trump because he is so popular among their base of voters. Losing the White House would put more pressure on Republicans to oppose Democrats. So it is unlikely a Trump loss would shift politics in Congress.

But Biden has made uniting the country a part of his three-point pitch to voters. He is confident in his ability to engage in bipartisanship that produces results.

The political establishment clearly favors Biden as a centrist liberal who may restore pragmatism in United States government. They frequently express dismay at a country that has such a reactionary right as well as a left-wing faction, which has become increasingly influential.

In that sense, it is possible what comes off as fantasy is more of a statement of Biden’s intent.

The strategy of finding “common ground” is one Democrats have favored for the past few decades, particularly to ward off left-wing populist challenges.

It was adhered to by Hillary Clinton in 2016, President Barack Obama embraced it as a core philosophy in 2008 and 2012, and Bill Clinton, along with Al Gore, perfected the art of making common cause with corporate and special interests in order to pass legislation.

The New Democrat movement in the 1980s popularized a Third Way philosophy that catered to a rightward shift in U.S. business. Politicians who adopted this philosophy sought to balance free market policies with social security and develop a “social compact based on individual rights and responsibilities.” They supported a model of government that equipped citizens to be able to solve their own problems without depending on so-called entitlement programs.

By enabling this shift, it spurred the further dismantling of New Deal policies that led to the creation of social welfare programs. It encouraged efforts to break up and curtail the power of labor unions. This paved the way for pro-business accomplishments by Bill Clinton’s administration, like the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), “welfare reform,” and the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which removed key Wall Street regulations.

In 1997, the Balanced Budget Act passed with the “largest cuts in the history of Medicare.”

Such attacks on the poor and working class were made possible by centrist Democrats like Biden. He voted for the Balanced Budget Act, the Financial Services Modernization Act that repealed regulations on banks, NAFTA, and “welfare reform.”

A chief accomplishment of the Obama administration was passing the Affordable Care Act. It was very similar to the Health Equity and Access Reform Today (HEART) bill introduced by several Republicans in the 1990s. It was also a proposal intended to preserve the system of private health insurance, and it shielded the health insurance industry from pushes to develop a single-payer health care program.

On April 25, 2019, Matt Bennett, co-founder of the think tank for Third Way, appeared on NPR. “He is clearly an unbelievably good retail politician. He’s just very comfortable with people. His policy ideas are connecting because people in this country want the opportunity to earn a good life. They want to go out there and earn it for themselves.”

“Others in the field are offering kind of very big, sweeping government programs,” Bennett added. “What Biden is talking about is saying, look, the government has to play a role in helping people adjust to this new economy. But that doesn’t mean that we need to kind of socialize one-fifth of the American economy, as others in the field are proposing — around health care, for example.”

This is the same neoliberal pitch that centrist Democrats had for voters facing the threat of “trickle-down economics” under President Ronald Reagan. It ultimately led to compromises with Republicans that greatly expanded corporate power in the United States at the expense of working people.

Yet, this is exactly why Biden is the front-runner among the liberal political establishment in May 2019.

As Biden suggested Republicans would have an “epiphany,” he complained, “The nation cannot function without generating consensus.” He further elaborated on this point in a separate exchange.

We can’t get anything done in this country without a consensus. This is where our Constitution is written. That’s the way it runs. We’re in a situation, where you have to generate a consensus to get anything done. If you don’t do that, you end up where we are now. You end up with a president, who can divide the country based on the ability to garner more power for himself or herself, depending on who it is, and be in a situation where you just can’t get anything done. When things don’t get done, that’s when executives reach out and claim more power than they’re entitled to.

Essentially, to Biden, more bipartisanship and compromise is necessary to prevent authoritarianism.

This may appeal to Democratic voters, who see a president that acts as if he does not need to abide by any rules or regulations. But a key problem is the culture within Congress. Politicians are extremely hesitant to go too far in checking executive power.

Many Democrats see too much accountability as “divisive.” That is more responsible for the threat of an imperial presidency than gridlock in the legislative branch.

When Biden speaks about generating consensus, he is not talking about building a consensus or shifting political sentiments so Medicare For All, tuition-free college, paid family leave, or any other initiatives could be passed. He is speaking about finding a middle ground between politicians based on where they currently stand.

A president who does not seek to mold a new consensus will only be able to pass the same mediocre policies that consistently fail to address the needs of lower class people. Or he or she will enable attacks on their social safety that facilitate the transfer of more wealth to corporate executives and the richest one percent.

If Biden is successful in finding common ground with Republicans in Congress, it will not be because they had some “epiphany.” It will be because Democrats like Biden are once again passing legislation that appeals to business elites.

Such spurts of unity between Republicans and Democrats will likely be a cause for concern, not celebration.

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Kevin Gosztola

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Journalist. Writes about politics & film. Every now and then publishes satire. Managing editor of Shadowproof.com. Twitter: @kgosztola