The Biden-Harris ticket exposes an under-appreciated problem with our politics. We lack the language to describe a mounting army of mainstream candidates who blend cultural radicalism with liberal corporatism. Is “moderate” the word? Certainly not, although that’s how Biden and Harris have both been labeled in the press.
Given the party’s leftward lurch, Democrats like Harris who stop short of a Bernie Sanders-style economic platform are considered centrists. Even Biden’s platform leans further left than Hillary Clinton’s did in 2016. “Biden’s current set of policy prescriptions would likely be considered radical if they had been proposed in any previous Democratic presidential primary,” A McClatchy report declared last September.
Harris co-sponsored Sanders’ “Medicare for All” legislation years ago, then waffled a bit during her candidacy. She supports abolishing the Electoral College, eliminating private prisons, raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, an “assault weapons” ban, and the “Green New Deal,” on which Harris collaborated with democratic-socialist Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.). She supports late-term abortion, major cuts to police forces, the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, the Equality Act, and the Obama-era Title IX regulations.
But, of course, both Biden and Harris take corporate money, work closely with their party’s establishment, and don’t go as far as others on issues like breaking up Big Tech. Harris’s record as California attorney general rankles progressives. She waffles on M4A. She’s been accused of lenience towards Wall Street, which cheered her appointment to the ticket on Tuesday, arguing the move “reinforces” Biden’s commitment to centrism.
Biden and Harris are not Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. It’s clear their economic policy is closer to the center of the political spectrum than to certain far-left party leaders. They’re essentially corporatists who favor big government, are vulnerable to cronyism, and aspirationally good for markets.
But take Harris: there is nothing centrist about her cultural agenda, which includes the Green New Deal, the Equality Act, late-term abortion, slashing police budgets, and more. Biden himself supports the Equality Act, contraception mandates, a $2 trillion “environmental justice” plan, among other policies.
Even considering leading leftists’ steady march from the center, this is not moderation. Therein lies the problem. Wall Street is right that Biden reinforced his commitment to centrism inasmuch as centrism means establishment politics. But because our cultural establishment—from boardrooms to newsrooms to classrooms—is well to the rest of the country’s left, establishment politics now come with a far-left cultural agenda.
“Moderate” and “centrist” may have worked on Biden during the Democratic primary, when the label was implicitly comparing him to the rest of the field. But it’s telling that these labels are the press’s preferred descriptors for the presumptive Democratic nominee and his running mate. The media, of course, exists in the same cultural bubble as powerful Democrats, meaning they lack awareness of the range of mainstream views outside elite enclaves.
Progressives are right to be frustrated with Biden and Harris, neither of whom is interested in any sort of proletarian revolution. On the other hand, their actual policy platforms, rather than their FEC records and posturing, are solidly left-wing, and their cultural agendas are too. This conundrum is an indictment of our current understanding of the left-right spectrum, but also raises a serious problem for the press from now until November. It’s simply not fair or accurate to refer to this ticket as moderate.
Donald Trump’s patchwork of beliefs defies labels too, and for a million reasons. But Biden and Harris defy these labels because their cultural inclinations are normal to elites, so they are categorized as “moderates.” Elites are not “moderate” on cultural issues, yet their ignorance of that reality is boosting the far-left’s efforts to mainstream and normalize its agenda.
Biden and Harris will be referred to as moderates from now until November, and likely long after ballots are cast. But their establishment politics should push us to question the limits of our political language and make improvements.