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My Fellow Populist Joe Biden

Minnesota’s presidential primary made national news this month when close to 19% of Democratic voters selected “uncommitted.” I get it. Biden has clear weaknesses as a candidate, not least his failure to rein in Israel’s devastation of Gaza. But Biden is almost certain to be the Democratic candidate on November’s ballot, and there are plenty of good reasons to welcome the prospect of a second term.

            Those reasons were on full display in the proposed budget his administration has just issued. His budget priorities mark Biden as the true populist in the race. The true populist, as I’ve written before, is not the candidate who whips up popular resentments, but rather the one who promotes the common good through positive government action. The true populist is not the one who rails against the “deep state,” but rather the one who believes government plays a necessary role in countering the harsher consequences of unfettered capitalism. As Biden has been saying, building economic prosperity “from the middle out and the bottom up, not the top down” is the way to make government work for the people. That is the true populist approach.

            For example, Biden’s budget proposes a guarantee of affordable childcare for families making less than $200,000. Such a guarantee would enable more young parents to become more productive contributors to the economy and might well pay for itself. Instead of threatening to cut Social Security and Medicare, putting more seniors in financial distress, Biden has promised to strengthen those programs. Other policies such as forgiveness of student debt and controlling the costs of prescription drugs directly benefit the consumer economy.

Republicans, on the other hand, remain committed to the failed policy of “trickle-down” economics that promises economic growth through tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy. Tax cuts like those passed under Trump in 2017 have contributed instead to the massive growth in economic inequality in this country. By contrast, Biden has pushed for added funding to enable the IRS to crack down on wealthy tax cheats, and he proposes to increase the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%, along with creating a minimum corporate tax and quadrupling the tax on stock buybacks.

Other elements of Biden’s proposed budget echo the progressive achievements of Minnesota’s latest legislative session. He calls for a family leave program that would guarantee up to 12 weeks of paid leave in the event of a birth or illness in the family. As in Minnesota, the welfare of children is a major theme. Biden proposes to reinstate the child tax credit that reduced the child poverty rate by 46% during 2021.

Of course, Minnesota achieved what it did because of our DFL “trifecta,” and Biden’s agenda has no chance of passage as long as Republicans control the House. What’s important is the vision it holds out for what could be done if Democrats did gain control. For many of us, it’s enough that we face the terrifying prospect of a second Trump term and the slide into authoritarianism and climate catastrophe that portends. But voters also need a positive reason to vote for Biden, and the stark differences in economic policy between Biden and the Republicans should provide that. A Biden victory in Minnesota is by no means assured, but working together we can make it happen.


Paul Harris


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