Joe Biden’s presidential campaign for a long time was the empty suit of electability, the claim that he is the best possible opponent to Trump on the basis of his decades of experience and bland, avuncular persona. This is despite the experience of the Democratic Party in losing election after election with the safe candidate for the whole of the twenty-first century — and even before, since Al Gore’s campaign was based on having been the moral authority of the Clinton years. But a candidate does have to step onto the public stage from time to time, if only to offer safe platitudes as a proof of political life. One of Biden’s examples of this is his claim that “there’s nothing we can’t accomplish if we stand together as Americans.”
This comes straight out of the anthology of political clichés that would fit neatly into the text of E.E. Cummings’s poem, “next to god of course america i.” Some presidents treated our potential for accomplishment as inspiration rather than soporific. We built a canal across Panama — after facilitating the birth of Panama as a nation — were part of the team that defeated fascism, and discovered the origin of the Moon — oh, and visited the Moon, too. Others concluded that the best we can do is triangulate for the purpose of enriching the already rich. And all of them — and aspirants to the office, too — have at times treated words like glass beads to impress the primitives.
The belief that we can do anything if only we commit enough to it is curiously selective in its political application. Consider two major programs that divide America into opposing plateaux facing each other across a canyon: Medicare for All and gun control. Each is strongly favored by Joe Biden’s supposed base on the left, while facing vehement rejection from the right. Each would be a radical reorientation of our society if carried out in full. Each presents heavy obstacles that appear immovable. Biden yearns to intrude the federal government into our private lives by monitoring all gun sales, banning the sale of what he calls “assault weapons,” and requiring current owners of such things to submit ourselves to registration. But he regards Medicare for All as too expensive and too difficult to get through Congress, along with being too much of a transformation of his beloved Obamacare.
If he believes Medicare for All to be too difficult, despite his claim that Americans can accomplish anything, he should consider the opposition in America generally and among gun owners in particular to the depth of penetration of the federal government into our private lives that his gun control aspirations would be. The truth is that, as said above, the amount of effort required does not really feature into the calculation. The question is what constituency he is trying to please.
Biden surrounds himself with the illusion of being on the side of African-American voters, but the truth is that he works for his wealthy donors, the people to whom he gave the assurance that “nothing will fundamentally change.” He is an oligarchist. Medicare for All would cut away the obscene profits of the insurance companies whose executives make up a significant part of the donors to his campaign, while gun makers and the NRA are not handing him piles of cash.
A revolutionary like Bernie Sanders raised money through small donations, making his platform far more believable as a reflection of his genuine concern for the people. When any politician talks about the difficult thing we need to do as a nation, it is best to inquire into the dollars that are paying for this opinion. And when the work is to be done by the people while the few benefit — when Joe Biden demands that we labor for the enrichment of insurance executives who will have all the armed security they desire, no matter what gun control laws we are expected to obey — we should respond with a definitive no.