We Were Told Joe Biden Was The 'Safe Choice'. But It Was Risky to Offer So Little
Naomi Klein delivered her election analysis at a Haymarket event on Friday night. This is an abridged transcript of remarks. You can watch the event here
These have been a harrowing few days. And these days have been more harrowing than they should have been. As we all know, Joe Biden won the Democratic primaries based on the claim that he was the safest bet to beat Donald Trump. But even if the Democratic party base was much more politically aligned with Bernie Sanders, or Elizabeth Warren, in their support for Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, for racial justice, the party was sure that Bernie Sanders was too risky. And so, as we all remember, they banded together and gave us Biden.
But I think that after days of gnawing our fingers down to the quick, it’s fair to say that Biden was not safe at all, as we always knew. Not safe for the planet, not safe for the people on the front lines of police violence, not safe for the millions upon millions of people who are seeking asylum, but also not even safe as a candidate.
Defeating Trump is a really important popular victory. A great many people did not vote for Joe Biden, they voted against Trump, because they recognize the tremendous threat that he represents. And the fact that the movements that are behind so much of that political victory are not able to even just take a moment and feel that victory, because they are already under attack by the Democratic establishment, as it seeks once again to abdicate all responsibility for ending us in the mess that we are in, is really its own kind of a crime. People should not have to be fighting off these attacks. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez should not have to be on Twitter all day, making the point that it is not the fault of democratic socialists that the Democratic party has underperformed in the way that it has.
In fact, she and so many others should be taking a bow for the incredible organizing and leadership that they’ve shown in this period.
Biden was a risky candidate for the same reasons Hillary Clinton was a risky candidate. He was risky because of his swampy record because he had so little to offer so many people in such deep crisis. It seems he has secured an electoral victory by the skin of his teeth but it was a high risk gamble from the start. And not only is the left not to blame. We are largely responsible for the success that has taken place, not the Lincoln Project, which has, as David Sirota said, set fire to $67m in this election by trying to reach suburban Republican voters.
We are the levees holding back the tsunami of fascism. The wave is still gaining force, that’s why this is such a difficult moment to celebrate. We need to shore up those levees, and we also need to drain energy away from their storm. So how do we do that?
We need to, I think, recognize first of all that, though we may be dealing with the same kind of corporate Democrats as we were in 2008, we are not the same. We have changed. Our movements have grown. They grew during the Obama years, and they grew during the Trump years, they have grown in size but they’ve also grown in vision. In the vision of defund the police, moving the resources from the infrastructure of incarceration, of policing, of militarism to the infrastructure of care. Vision work has happened. The vision work behind the Green New Deal has happened. And of course the movement supporting Medicare for All.
Even as we approach this juncture with so much fatigue, we have to remind ourselves that we have changed. That the presence of “the Squad” is a difference from the Obama and Biden years. Obama and Biden did not have to contend with Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley and now Cori Bush and Jamaal Bowman. So I think where we go from here is, we need more coordination in all of this rising power.
I think about that moment in 2018, when the Democrats took back the House of Representatives. They were expecting their victory parade and instead had their offices occupied by the Sunrise movement and [Ocasio-Cortez] greeting them and pledging to introduce Green New Deal legislation. That sort of inside-outside pincer is what we need to be replicating again and again and again. That is a glimpse of the kind of dynamic that we will need if we are going to win the policies that are actually enough to begin to keep us safe.
What we have seen with the failure of the Democratic party to do the one thing that we look to from a political party, which is be good at winning elections. I don’t need to outline all the things we had going in our favor but this election should have been a repeat of Herbert Hoover’s loss in 1933. We are in the grips of a pandemic, a desperate economic depression and and Trump has done absolutely everything wrong.
This should have been a sweep. It should have been the sweep that we were promised. And the fact is, the Democratic leadership bungled it up on every single front. It wasn’t just a mistake. They did not want to offer people what they needed. They are much more interested in appeasing the donor class than they are in meeting the needs of their constituents, who need them now more than ever.
Naomi Klein is a senior correspondent at the Intercept and the inaugural Gloria Steinem endowed chair of media, culture and feminist studies at Rutgers University. She is an award-winning journalist and best-selling author, most recently of On Fire: The Burning Case for A Green New Deal.
This is an abridged transcript of remarks Klein delivered at Where Do We Go From Here? a Haymarket Books event on 6 November 2020