by Karyn Pomerantz,
Millions of voters in the US look to Biden for righting the wrongs of the Trump Administration by ushering in a more democratic civil society and addressing racism and the Covid19 pandemic, participating in global organizations, restraining state violence, mitigating climate disasters, and restoring jobs and housing. Regardless of his gentler rhetoric, Biden, like Obama, will impose policies to maintain US hegemony (control) and serve the super rich.
This article reviews some of Biden’s appointments for domestic policy offices as a reflection of his Administration’s political positions. As one writer said, it’s “back to the future” as he renews the participation of many Obama officials whose presidency increased deportations, warfare, and inaction against racist murders while maintaining a liberal anti racist veneer. Many activists who voted and organized for Biden, Bernie, and the Green Party want to humanize capitalism, counting on elections, regulations, and defunding carceral institutions to transform society. They believe that the abolition of racism and inequities can occur without workers taking power. We can’t allow this illusion to continue.
It is impossible to reform or improve capitalism. Capitalism is an economic system with rules and practices that occur regardless of the party or politician in office. It requires, by definition, the exploitation of workers to make profit for the owners of industry and banks. It requires the use of racist policies and ideas to weaken and alienate workers from one another. It requires wars and oppressive trade deals to use lower paid workers abroad, secure markets, and extract resources. It revealed its worst effects with extremely disproportionate rates of covid, unemployment, homelessness, and police deaths among black and Latinx people.
The survival of capitalism and the US economy depends on containing the virus and bringing businesses back to life. Businesses could care less about people dying, but they do need them back at work. The US ruling class cannot afford a united working class that rebels. Therefore, liberal administrations often respond with reforms to maintain their system (and if that doesn’t quell rebellion, they resort to fascist repression). FDR’s New Deal responded to the militancy of workers, led by the Communist Party and various socialist groups. It provided some relief to workers during the Depression but still maintained a racist hierarchy in the distribution of benefits. Civil rights legislation, Medicare, Medicaid, and the War on Poverty passed in response to the multiracial antiracist movement and the uprisings in the cities during the 1960s.
Today, multiracial rebellions against police murders and detentions have galvanized people to demand economic and policing reforms. Outraged by Trump’s lies, immigration policies, and his brazen support of racist groups, many reluctantly endorsed anyone opposing Trump’s election. As we have argued elsewhere in this blog (see “Biden: Lesser Evil or Just Plain Evil?”), lesser evils, like Obama and now Biden, are more dangerous. They lull the working class to sleep, leaving us unprepared to counter their anti-worker policies in the US and around the world. There were no uprisings when Obama deported millions of people, bombed Afghanistan, and blamed black youth for their problems. People believed his rhetoric instead of examining his actions.
Too many people believe that the president and legislators make a large difference in workers’ and students’ lives in the US and around the world. The media drill us into thinking we exercise power through the ballot box in spite of Frederick Douglass’ warnings that “power concedes nothing without a demand.” Just like other Democrats, Biden intends to serve the ruling class. His current nominees reveal his commitment to US imperialism and to traditional, non-New Green Deal domestic policy. Many nominees served under Biden and Obama in earlier times.
Following is a brief review of some of his current selections reveals this commitment to corporate power in the US. Another article covers his foreign policy and security appointees (DANGERS ABOUND WITH BIDEN – The Multiracial Unity Blog).
Climate and Energy Politics
John Kerry, Envoy for Climate and National Security Council member, supports fracking and carbon trading to reduce emissions, policies hazardous to the environment. Protesting this choice, Food & Water Action Executive Director Wenonah Hauter responded:
“… we are suddenly alarmed by his choice of John Kerry for climate czar. Kerry has been a long-time apologist for fossil fuel fracking, and a reliable promoter of false climate solutions like market-based carbon-trading schemes. Kerry’s proposals are tired ideas from years past that will do little or nothing to address our climate crisis, and will actually continue to place a disproportionate, unjust burden on vulnerable communities that have borne the brunt of fossil fuel pollution and climate impacts for decades now.”
Cedric Richmond, Office of Public Engagement and Climate Envoy, served as Biden’s campaign manager and chair of the Congressional Black Caucus. He represents Louisiana’s District 2 in the House of Representatives, one of the most polluted areas known as “cancer alley.” He received the most money while in Congress from the fossil fuel industry in his career ($341,000) among other industries and unions (https://www.opensecrets.org/members-of-congress/cedric-richmond/industries?cid=N00030184&cycle=CAREER&type=I)
Climate change advocates from the Sunrise Movement objected angrily to this appointment:
“…today feels like a betrayal, because one of President-elect Biden’s very first hires for his new administration has taken more donations from the fossil fuel industry during his congressional career than nearly any other Democrat, cozied up to Big Oil and Gas, and stayed silent and ignored meeting with organizations in his own community while they suffered from toxic pollution and sea-level rise (https://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/11/17/today-feels-betrayal-sunrise-movement-blasts-biden-pick-big-oil-backed-cedric).”
Health and Human Services (HHS) and Covid-19 Advisory Team
Biden must get a grip on the Covid-19 pandemic if he wants to recharge the economy, save capitalism, and win the trust of the US population. He has included epidemiologists, infectious disease specialists, and health care managers to organize a national response to the pandemic.
Xavier Becerra, a former US congressman and California attorney general, advocated for Medicare for All and women’s health services. He accepted the nomination as secretary of HHS by promising to drop his campaign for universal healthcare.
Rochelle Walensky, an infectious disease specialist and professor of medicine who has experience fighting the HIV epidemic, will become the director of CDC, an agency severely defunded and weakened over decades. She lacks managerial skills on a large scale but has a solid reputation as a scientist.
Department of Homeland Security
This Department enforces immigration policies and oversees ICE, Immigration Control and Enforcement, that has separated families, arrested, detained, and deported immigrants and asylum seekers. Alejandro Mayorkaras will lead this repressive agency. He served as the second in command of ICE during the Obama years where he presided over the detention and deportation of immigrant families and others entering the US illegally. The Biden transition team acclaims him for his work on DACA, the program that allows immigrant youth to earn citizenship IF they attend (and finance) a university education OR enter military service, a more likely choice. Immigrant advocacy groups reacted by demanding that Biden make immigration reform and safety a higher priority issue. Biden did nothing to stop the Obama Administration from deporting millions of people.
Janet Yellin, Treasury Secretary, is the former head of the Federal Reserve Board and member of Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisors. She favors a strong stimulus package in spite of increasing the federal debt yet protected the big banks during the banking crisis. She is an outspoken advocate for more gender and racial diversity in economic policy positions and for better wages to increase productivity. Like other liberals, she wants to save capitalism:
“There really is a new kind of recognition that you’ve got a society where capitalism is beginning to run amok and needs to be readjusted in order to make sure that what we’re doing is sustainable and the benefits of growth are widely shared in ways they haven’t been” (The US is on ‘inequality autopilot’ – how can Biden’s treasury pick help change course? | US income inequality | The Guardian).
As one of the founding members of the Climate Leadership Council, she joins major oil companies, such as BP and Exxon, and corporations, such as Pepsico, Goldman Sachs, and Microsoft where she promotes a carbon tax to control climate change, a strategy often endorsed by industry but opposed by environment activists. (Founding Members | Climate Leadership Council (clcouncil.org).
Yellen speaks out against inequality and diversity among economists but will protect the banking industry
Joshua Bernstein and Heather Bousey who will serve on the National Economic Council also support a strong stimulus package. They are liberal economists concerned about income and wealth inequalities in order to preserve capitalism; they are likely to push for a stimulus program.
Brian Deese will be the director of the Council. He is another former Obama staffer, and was the managing director of BlackRock, a large investment fund that earned billions from supporting businesses weakened by the pandemic and mortgage failures. He is known as arranging the bailout of the auto industry and calling for weak climate change interventions. While some Greens applaud his efforts, others criticize his moderate positions.
Department of Agriculture
Tom Vilsack, Obama’s Secretary of Agriculture, represents the interests of industrial food producers; he currently serves as head of the US Dairy Export Council that favors corporate milk producers over smaller operations. As Obama’s secretary, he pledged to limit the monopolies of companies like Monsanto and Tyson but did nothing to help small family farmers threatened by competition from these giants. Vilsack denied loans to Black farmers under his tenure and brushed off the complaints of Black farmers who suffered 6x…..With Covid-19 raging in the meatpacking plants, worker safety is on the line. Vilsack increased productivity (profit) by speeding up chicken processing from 140 to 175 birds per hour. He allowed plants to conduct their own inspections and removed other regulations that Trump continued and worsened.
Representation – Identity Politics Over Substance
The gender and “racial” identity of the nominees has become a central issue, taking precedence over their political positions in media reports. Biden’s choices include many women, Latinx, and African American people, but favoring nominees for their backgrounds obscures their politics. Many South Asian people laud Kamala Harris as the first Indian woman to become vice president while ignoring her role in the carceral system. Just because politicians have similar backgrounds as the population – “someone who looks like me” – does not mean they will serve workers’ needs. Many women leaders, such as Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi, Kamala Harris, and Golda Meir, instituted racist policies. African American officials, such as Ben Carson at HUD, Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court, and former president Obama did not serve the interests of workers from any racialized group. Politics are primary over identity. Diversity alone will not ensure just policies.
As David Rovics wrote in Counterpunch: “… the sooner … we can stop talking so much about the racial and gender diversity of Biden’s cabinet full of privileged corporate stooges, and talk about the fact that they are a bunch of privileged corporate stooges, the better. If Black lives really matter, that is, and it’s not all just about appearances. And by the same token, the sooner we stop pretending that the average white person in this country … is possibly represented by the privileged elite that can afford to spend $500,000 on a house, the better https://www.counterpunch.org/2020/12/15/how-npr-divides-and-conquers/).
Good advice! Only a mobilized, multiracial working class can fight for and create an equitable system to replace capitalism that the Republican and Democrat Parties support and serve.
There will be more nominees announced in the coming days. Examine them closely. And ask: Will they enact a living stimulus? Forgive all rents, mortgages, credit card debt, and student loans? Create more jobs? Provide enough vaccines worldwide? Equip healthcare workers with proper protection? NO
Will they build racism, anti-communism, anti-immigrant scapegoating to divide workers? Will they arrest masses of people to repress dissent? Will they promote patriotism and wars against Yemenis, Palestinians, and Syrians, and ultimately China, to maintain political and economic domination? Will they play cheap identity politics by choosing imperialists and racists from underrepresented groups for Cabinet positions? YES
What will we choose? A system we know that doesn’t work for the vast majority of the world or another where the working class has the power to try to solve these problems?
Before we can achieve state power, we can keep up the pressure by encouraging unions to strike; protestors to confront white nationalists; workers, students, and soldiers to unite across socially constructed divisions; and everyone to join a revolutionary party that doesn’t rely on elections and can conduct political education, envision the future, and coordinate our fight.