Quit Whining & Start Presidenting!
Joe Biden's executive branch has the ability AND obligation to enforce laws limiting corporate misbehavior--which would also be overdue good politics.
NOTE: This newsletter is an updated and expanded version of a statement we issued yesterday afternoon diagnosing in advance the Democratic Party’s collapse in the 2021 elections and prescribing what Biden could do to turn it around.
We agree with everyone else: Tuesday night was bad for Democrats and... confirms our priors. But “confirming our priors” doesn’t mean we’re wrong. Our emphasis is less on presuming our ideology is a winner than understanding how modern communications operate. And also from our utter disdain for the idea that people like Joe Biden and Terry McAuliffe lack agency.
Real world problems don’t just happen. The political economy is never inevitable. Yet as their poll numbers slump, Joe Biden and his administration have mostly whimpered that they are the victims of circumstance. Terry McAuliffe, Carlyle investor, must also own his defeat to failed Carlyle private equity mogul-turned-Trump dog whistler Glenn Youngkin in Virginia.
These immensely powerful men too often make excuses by pretending to be helpless, primarily because they are afraid of making powerful enemies — most especially, corporations and the ultra-wealthy. But if they and other Democrats refuse to fight for the people, the people will seek fighters elsewhere.
Look at McAuliffe. Why is a hysterical, imagined version of ‘critical race theory’ the main villain discussed in Virginia and elsewhere? Glenn Youngkin’s firm, the Carlyle Group, fired thousands of unionized workers for profit. A non-compromised nominee would have been able to hammer Youngkin on the ways his greed devastated real people and connected that critique to issues in Virginia.
Likewise, if the Biden Administration is so worried about supply chain disruptions, why isn’t it tackling the ultimate cause of the problem — corporate greed? Profiteering companies embraced just-in-time logistics and swallowed any redundancies into bloated monopolies. Why isn’t the Biden Administration attacking firms which cared more about their dividends than their actual operations? Why isn’t the Administration dusting off little-used statutory powers to mitigate and resolve these disruptions? Why is there no `Supply Chain Profiteering Task Force’ identifying the obstacles to normalcy in American transportation?
And why is the Transportation Secretary claiming that the most important effort to tackle supply chain issues is ‘to put the pandemic behind us’ rather than using federal law to fight for consumers and against profiteers? How can we ‘put the pandemic behind us’ in a world that remains largely unvaccinated thanks to Big Pharma greed? Why hasn’t the Administration fought tooth and nail to actually end the intellectual property restrictions which strangle our global vaccine supply for the sake of blood-stained profits?
That extends to domestic fights against Pharma too. Forget Manchin, Sinema, and narrow Congressional majorities — the executive branch has extraordinary powers to rein in that industry. Why hasn’t Biden used them? It’s great that Big Ag consolidation is an Administration rhetorical target — but has Trump’s holdover in charge of the Antitrust Division actually brought any high-profile criminal cases against anti-competitive behavior? Perhaps more importantly, has the Administration publicly named names of the firms and individuals which broke the law?
David Shor’s acolytes like to discuss “popularism,” the idea that the polling average around items you mention in TV ads or speeches determines your popularity as a politician. But most ads are tuned out and speeches unlistened to. There are no hegemonic nightly news programs on TV networks to influence anymore. Only conflict with a responsive villain breaks through the broken social and earned media of the moment. And what conflicts -- with what villains? -- are Biden, McAuliffe, and so many other Democrats initiating? Because if you’re not the party initiating conflict, you’re the party being beaten up.
Actual politics requires taking action against actual villains to solve problems, not the shrugging and cowering which elites persuade themselves is ‘savvy.’ America is in a populist moment. If Democrats won’t harness that then the right wing will, substituting their bigoted fantasies for the actual forces which make life worse for Americans.
There is no direct public policy response to the fantasies that the right-wing media ecosystem pushes, but an active executive branch can generate an interesting counter-narrative surrounding a president’s war on corporate corruption. Incumbency can allow you to do good things AND be a political asset!
For the next twelve months and beyond, Revolving Door Project and its allies will be shining a light on those laws that can be enforced in ways which enhance the rule of law, promote substantive good, and make unpopular villains mad. The story of the midterm elections will be whether Biden chooses to spend the next twelve months focusing on speechifying pablum or substantive corporate accountability.