Archives for category: Biden

Jim Blew was hired by Betsy DeVos for a key role at the U.S Department of Education, having worked at the far-right Walton Family Foundation, which has a strong commitment to privatization, charter schools, Teach for America, and union-busting. He told education writers that the Department of Education was not likely to grant waivers for next spring’s annual federal testing, despite a year of confusion and disruption in schooling.

The American people are likely to tell Betsy DeVos and Jim Blew and the other public-school haters to pack their bags this November and clear out by January 20, 2021. Someone appointed by President Biden will decide whether to inflict the detritus of NCLB on the nation’s students. If the public votes wisely, the whole wrecking crew will be ousted, blown with the wind, so to speak.

An assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Education said Friday that his agency’s inclination is not to grant states waivers from federally mandated tests for the upcoming school year like it did in the spring.

Speaking on a video call with reporters at the Education Writers Association’s National Seminar, Jim Blew, the assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy analysis, stressed the importance of testing beyond accountability. And he expressed support for a recent statement from the Council of Chief State School Officers about the importance of assessments for learning; that July 20 statement said that “even during a pandemic” assessments “serve as an important tool in our education system.”

In March, as schools shut down in-person classes around the country due to the coronavirus pandemic, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos quickly granted waivers to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico from having to administer certain annual exams as required by federal law. But concerns about the pandemic’s impact on the 2020-21 school year have grown, as have sentiments in some quarters that states should get those waivers again, in order to focus on other educational needs…

During a question-and-answer session with reporters, Blew pointed to CCSSO’s statement and said that with respect to testing, “Accountability aside, we need to know where students are so we can address their needs.”

Blew then indicated it would be premature to grant waivers at this time from testing and said, “Our instinct would not be to give those waivers” from the exams, which are mandated under the Every Student Succeeds Act, the main federal K-12 law. “There are so many benefits to testing and it allows for some transparency about how schools are performing and the issues we need to address, that our instinct would be to decline those waivers,” Blew added.

This is an excellent message from the Bidens about reopening schools safely.

They say what most educators and parents say.

We want schools open but we want them open safely.

Job one: lower the infection rate in the community.

Job two: Make sure schools have the resources so that students and adults are safe.

Biden pledges to follow through on both.

Trump demands that schools open in a few weeks regardless of the pandemic, regardless of the inability to provide a safe building and smaller classes.

Vote for Biden.

The Biden and Sanders campaigns created a “Unity Task Force” to make recommendations on important issues.

Here is their report with recommendations. It is 110 pages.

There is much to like in the report, proposing an agenda to reverse four years of savage attacks by Trump on the environment, on the rule of law, on government itself.

The education portion aPears on pp. 22-27.

It contains welcome pledges of increased funding, more equitable funding, universal early childhood education, a commitment to racial integration of schools, a commitment to making higher education affordable (including tuition-free community colleges), debt relief for college graduates, and other worthy goals and policies.

On the two issues where Democrats found themselves committed to Republican strategies, the panel has a mixed record.

It took a clear stand against the high-stakes standardized testing that is a legacy of George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind law of 2001-2002:

The evidence from nearly two decades of education reforms that hinge on standardized test scores shows clearly that high-stakes annual testing has not led to enough improvement in outcomes for students or for schools, and can lead to discrimination against students, particularly students with disabilities, students of color, low-income students, and English language learners. Democrats will work to end the use of such high-stakes tests and encourage states to develop evidence-based approaches to student assessment that rely on multiple and holistic measures that better represent student achievement.

That’s a step forward, especially since so many high-profile DemocratIc Senators voted to retain high-stakes testing when NCLB turned into the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015. So, we can celebrate the fact that the Unity Task Force is prepared to discard the Bush policy based on the non-existent “Texas Miracle.”

The other issue that has been a huge burden for public schools is the Republican claim that competition improves public schools. This faulty idea has spurred the development of privately managed charter schools and vouchers. Charters have a flimsy record. Those that get high test scores are known for their low enrollments of students with disabilities and English language learners, as well as their harsh discipline policies (no excuses). Many Republicans love charters because they are a stepping stone to vouchers. They wean people away from public schools and encourage parents to think of themselves as consumers, not citizens. Thanks to private management, charters have been plagued by multiple scandals involving waste, fraud abuse, and bloated administrative overhead. The teacher turnover rate at charters is very large in some high-performing charters, as much as 50% every year. The virtual charter industry is a disaster that has been associated with multimillion dollar embezzlement.

The Network for Public Education published two reports documenting the failure of the federal Charter Schools Program, which hands out $440 million every year to open new charters and expand existing ones. I have referred to the CSP as Betsy DeVos’s personal slush fund because she has given huge grants to corporate charter chains like KIPP and IDEA. THE NPE reports (Asleep at the Wheel and Still Asleep at the Wheel) demonstrate that nearly 40% of the charters funded by the CSP either never opened or closed soon after opening. During the campaign, Senator Sanders called for elimination of the federal a Charter Schools Program.

Five facts stand out about charter schools:

1. On average, they don’t get better results than public schools.
2. They drain resources and the students they choose from public schools that take everyone, including the kids the charters don’t want.
3. About 90% of charters are non-union, by design.
4. Charters are amply funded by billionaires like the Walton family, Betsy DeVos, Charles Koch, Reed Hastings, and Michael Bloomberg.
5. If charters helped solve the problems of American education, then Detroit would be one of the outstanding districts in the nation, instead it is one of the nation’s lowest performing districts.

Why should the federal government spend $440 million every year on new charters and on expanding corporate charter chains?

Given that background, you can understand why I think the Unity Task Force statement on charters is watery pablum.

Here it is in its entirety:

Charter schools were originally intended to be publicly funded schools with increased flexibility in program design and operations. Democrats believe that education is a public good and should not be saddled with a private profit motive, which is why we will ban for-profit private charter businesses from receiving federal funding. And we recognize the need for more stringent guardrails to ensure charter schools are good stewards of federal education funds. We support measures to increase accountability for charter schools, including by requiring all charter schools to meet the same standards of transparency as traditional public schools, including with regard to civil rights protections, racial equity, admissions practices, disciplinary procedures, and school finances. We will call for conditioning federal funding for new, expanded charter schools or for charter school renewals on a district’s review of whether the charter will systematically underserve the neediest students. And Democrats oppose private school vouchers and other policies that divert taxpayer-funded resources away from the public school system.

Nothing is said here that would displease the hedge fund managers and billionaires who support charters. Even Betsy DeVos must be smiling to see the Biden-Sanders task force endorse school choice, which was birthed by southern governors resisting the Brown decision. It’s very sad to see a task force of Democratic leaders giving their blessing to the southern strategy. (Read Steve Suitts’ new book on that sordid history: “Overturning Brown: The Segregationist Legacy of the Modern School Choice Legacy.”)

Taking a stand against “for-profit charters” is piffle. Arizona is the only state that allows for-profit charters. Nothing is said in this statement about banning for-profit management corporations, which manage large numbers of “nonprofit” charters all over the country.

And notice that the task force says nothing about terminating the federal Charter Schools Program, as Sanders recommended, guaranteeing that the government will continue to spend $440 million (or more) to open more non-union charters to compete with public schools. Excluding “for-profit charters” from the federal CSP is good news for KIPP, IDEA, and other “nonprofit” corporate charter chains that are bankrupting local public schools. This recommendation was made with full knowledge of the long-run failure of this program.

Of course, I will vote for Joe Biden, despite this weak-kneed capitulation to the Republican-dominated charter lobbyists. But I won’t hide my disappointment.

The failure of the task force to challenge the charter industry and stand up for public schools as the foundation stone of our democracy is troubling and is an embarrassment to the Biden campaign.

Randi Weingarten is not only president of the AFT, she is a lawyer. Below is her reaction to the Supreme Court ruling. She calls it a “seismic shock.” She sees the decision as one more step in the relentless rightwing effort to defund and privatize public schools. She thinks the decision set the stage for an even more radical decision, one that requires states to fund religious school tuition as some states (think Florida, Indiana, Ohio) currently do.

Randi is right, but I was actually relieved that the decision was not far worse. I was afraid that the current Supreme Court, with Trump’s addition of two super-religious justices (Gorsuch and Kavanaugh), would overturn all Blaine amendments and require states to pay religious school tuitions in full. But the decision was far narrower. It said that any state that has a program to fund private schools must admit religious schools to the same program. So Montana, which has a private scholarship program, must include religious schools on the same footing as other private schools. That means that the Espinoza family has won $150 per year for all their troubles.

People like Betsy DeVos and her American Federation for Children, Jeanne Allen and her Center for Education Reform must be terribly disappointed that the decision did not tear down Thomas Jefferson’s “wall of separation between state and church,” thus compelling states to pay full tuition for students at religious schools, regardless of their ideology, their quality, or their lack of certified teachers. That didn’t happen, thank God!

The public schools, the schools that nearly 90% of all American families choose, the schools that educated the overwhelming majority of the American people, have survived a close call. If Biden wins in November and Ruth Bader Ginsburg remains healthy until Biden’s inauguration, we will in time have a Supreme Court that supports public schools.

Randi warns:

WASHINGTON—American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten issued the following statement after the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue:

“This ruling in the Espinoza case is a seismic shock that threatens both public education and religious liberty. It is a radical departure from our Constitution, American history and our values. As Justice Sonia Sotomayor said in her dissent, this ruling is ‘perverse.’

“Never in more than two centuries of American history has the free exercise clause of the First Amendment been wielded as a weapon to defund and dismantle public education. It will hurt both the 90 percent of students who attend neighborhood public schools, by siphoning off needed funds, and, in the long term, those who attend religious schools by curtailing their freedom with the accountability that comes with tax dollars.

“The court’s narrow conservative majority joined with Donald Trump, Betsy DeVos, and other wealthy donors and special interests to attack public education and turn the First Amendment on its head. What’s even more disturbing is that some justices wanted to go even further.

“While the court didn’t invalidate the 38 state constitutional provisions that preclude public money from going to religious schools, it came very close. The financial backers of this case will now use it to open the floodgates to litigation across the country.

“I hope the court and the plaintiffs understand that by enabling this encroachment on religious liberty, they are also opening up religion to state control and state interference. With public funding comes public accountability. Upending the carefully constructed balance of free exercise and separation of church and state not only undermines public education, it is a grave threat to religious institutions and organizations.

“In this time of national crisis, we have seen the importance of our public schools. Children across the country rely on public education for far more than just academics: Thirty million kids eat lunch in school, 12 million eat breakfast in school, and schools provide millions more with their healthcare. We should be prioritizing additional resources for public education and other vital social programs, not diverting them to private purposes.

“We are not going to give up. In fact, we are only going to fight harder. Parents, teachers and their unions stood up and fought back—and we will continue to do so each and every day, whether in court, in Congress, in state legislatures or at the ballot box.

“When it comes to Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos’ attacks on public education, we will see them in November.”

Joe Biden seems to be waging a vigorous front-porch campaign.

The Washington Post reports:

WILMINGTON, Del. – Joe Biden doesn’t just want to ensure that every person in this country gets free testing for the novel coronavirus. He wants their treatment covered, too, no matter whether or how they are insured.

The presumptive Democratic presidential nominee also calls for adding $200 per month to the checks of everyone who collects Social Security, temporarily increasing Medicaid funding by 12 percent and expanding food stamp benefits by 15 percent.

Biden, who has mostly stayed in his house here for nearly four months, will venture out Tuesday afternoon to deliver a speech at a local school on his vision for fighting the coronavirus crisis.

As infections and hospitalizations surge, and with the United States poised to surpass 125,000 confirmed covid-19 deaths as soon as today, Biden will recall how President Trump described himself as a “wartime” leader at the start of the pandemic and then accuse him of “surrendering to the virus.”

“Americans social distanced and did their part to bend the curve, but Trump didn’t lead,” Biden plans to say, according to a preview shared by aides.

Biden will argue that the need for federal outlays to contain the worst public health crisis since 1918 and the worst economic crisis since 1933 is only growing – and he wants to guarantee emergency paid leave not just for everyone who gets covid-19 but also those who care for them – “for as long as they need to recover.”

@StanleyKrute shared this story on Twitter, about Rabbi Michael Beals of Delaware and Senator Joe Biden.

About 16 years ago, as a rabbi new to Delaware, Rabbi Beals officiated at the memorial service for an elderly woman, Mrs. Greenhouse. She didn’t have much in the way of worldly goods. She lived in a very small apartment in a high-rise building. Rabbi Beals led a prayer minyan that was conducted in the basement of her building because her apartment was too small to accommodate 10 people.

As the prayer commenced, the door opened and a man quietly entered.

From the tweet:

Toward the end of the service, a door at the back of the laundry room opened; who walks in but Sen. Joe Biden, head lowered, all by himself.

I nearly dropped my prayer book in shock.

Senator Biden stood quietly in the back of the room for the duration of the service.

At the close of the kaddish, I walked over to him and asked the same question that must have been on everyone else’s mind: “Sen. Biden — what are you doing here?”

He said to me: “Back in 1972, when I first ran for Senate, Mrs. Greenhouse gave $18 to my first campaign.

Because that’s what she could afford. And every six years, when I’d run for reelection, she’d give another $18. She did it her whole life. I’m here to show my respect and gratitude.”

Now, the number 18 is significant in the Jewish faith — its numbers spell out the Hebrew word chai, as in “to life, to life, l’chayim!” But it’s also a humble amount. Joe Biden knew that. And he respected that.

There were no news outlets at our service that day — no Jewish reporters or important dignitaries. Just a few elderly mourners in a basement laundry room.

Joe Biden didn’t come to that service for political gain. He came to that service because he has character.

He came to that service because he’s a mensch.

And if we need anything right now when it comes to the leadership of our country — we need a mensch.

I know this is such a simple, small story. But I tell it to as many people as will listen to me.

Character.

I have been watching the polls, and Joe Biden is ahead in all of them. He is ahead in all of the battleground states, except North Carolina. Biden leads in Wisconsin, Florida, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

Trump went berserk when CNN reported that Biden had a 14-point lead on June 5, and he assailed CNN reporters as fakes and frauds, etc. But then FOX News reported that Biden has a 12-point lead, and Trump was briefly silent.

Biden has taken a decisive lead without campaigning. My advice to him is that he should run what used to be called a “front-porch campaign.” That’s a campaign where the candidate basically stays home, sits on his front porch, and gives interviews.

This is not a good time for Biden to hold rallies, as Trump does, spreading the coronavirus wherever he goes.

Biden is doing just fine without going into crowds.

He should give an occasional speech, describing his policies and priorities.

And he should stay home.

Trump shoots himself in the foot on a daily basis. His dictatorial instincts are on display daily. His racism and megalomania will drive voter turnout.

Biden should spend his time planning an FDR-style recovery, priming the pump, reviving the public sector, figuring out a massive infrastructure program that puts people back to work, devising ways to extend medical insurance to the entire population, coming up with a creative plan to cancel billions of dollars of student debt that burdens millions of young people, and of course, honing plans to re-envision K-12 education with new investments in Title I, special education, and a rescue plan for schools that must meet the needs of children in the post-pandemic era with small classes and safe environments for teaching and learning. He must attend to rebuild the civil service and restore the departments and agencies that Trump has endeavored to destroy. And, of course, he must be ready immediately to repair our relationships with our allies, to rejoin the Paris Climate Accord, and to reassure the other nations of the world that the Trump era was an aberration and it is over.

Stay home, Joe. You are doing just fine by presenting yourself to the American people as a man of intelligence, experience, judgment, wisdom, and a readiness to step into the job on day one and replace the nation’s most incompetent and corrupt administration in history.

Now that Joe Biden is assured the Democratic nomination, lots of advisors will clamor to get his ear. As Harold Meyerson of The American Prospect warns, he should be careful about from whom he takes advice. If he cares about rebuilding America’s public schools, he should avoid anyone connected to Race to the Top, which was a hyper-version of George W. Bush’ failed No Child Left Behind. He should certainly avoid a Rahm Emanuel, not only because of his role in covering up the police murder of Laquan MacDonald, but because of his disastrous stewardship of Chicago’s public schools. It is rumored that Rahm wants to be Secretary of Education. Heaven forbid.

Biden: The 21st-Century FDR?

Joe Biden and his campaign are waging a determined campaign to demonstrate he knows that a page has been turned—that the restorative, incremental presidency he promised as a primary candidate is no longer capable of dealing with the crises the nation now encounters. I expect Biden will soon be quoting Lincoln’s annual message to Congress of 1862:

The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves and then we shall save our country.

As The Washington Post reports, however, the president who Biden now hopes to model himself on isn’t so much Lincoln as it is Franklin Roosevelt—specifically, the FDR who tilted public policy in favor of workers and a more and better managed capitalism.

But as my colleagues Bob Kuttner and Dave Dayen have pointed out, some of the eminences now advising Biden are architects of that “quiet past [which is completely] inadequate to the stormy present”—in particular, Larry Summers and Rahm Emanuel. At the same time, Biden has set up policy committees that include left leaders like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and is communicating somewhat regularly with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Which group will have the louder voice in a Biden administration will determine just how transformative—or ineffectually ancient-regime-esque—his presidency could be.

On this question, the history of Roosevelt’s presidency affords us some lessons. In FDR’s first year in office, one of his most important lieutenants was conservative Lewis Douglas, who made sure FDR’s budget was as close to balanced as possible, even as unemployment reached 25 percent of the workforce. Eventually, Douglas’s un-Keynesian counsels of austerity were overridden by liberal FDR lieutenant Harry Hopkins, who saw the need for and persuaded Roosevelt to establish a massive public-jobs program. Liberals like Hopkins, Labor Secretary Frances Perkins, and White House aide Tommy Corcoran held sway until 1937, when Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau persuaded FDR to balance the budget again—triggering a huge and swift rise in the unemployment rate that the administration had until then been steadily reducing, thereby ending the New Deal’s string of systemic reforms.

If Biden is serious about initiating the huge economic reforms and the economic recovery the country so manifestly needs, not to mention the reforms required to move us toward more actual, more lived racial equality, he’ll need to rely on advisers who aren’t the 21st-century versions of Douglas and Morgenthau—who aren’t, in short, Summers and Emanuel. He shouldn’t take my word for it; he should ask what would Roosevelt and Lincoln do?

~ HAROLD MEYERSON

Veteran political journalist reflects on the leftward turn of Biden’s thinking. In this article, which appeared in The New York Review of Books, he says that Biden is no longer dreaming of restoring the Obama administration, but looking instead to FDR as a model of activism in the midst of crisis. He informs us that Biden and Sanders were communicating during the final days of the Democratic primary and preparing the way for Sanders to step aside. Biden, he writes, now embraces policies proposed by Sanders and Warren, yet protects his established credentials as a moderate. We can expect Trump to label him as corrupt, but the public is not likely to be persuaded that Biden is as corrupt as a Trump. Trump will also call Biden a “socialist,” but that charge didn’t help Republicans in the 2018 midterms and is unlikely to hurt Biden.


Bernie Sanders suspended his presidential campaign on April 8. It’s easy to forget, preoccupied as we all are now with the coronavirus and protests across the nation against police violence, what a precipitous fall this was. For a brief period after his smashing victory in the Nevada caucus on February 22, it was almost universally assumed that he would be the Democratic nominee. “Bernie Twitter” was ecstatic. Folks I know in the moderate wing of the party were beginning to make peace with the idea and preparing to support the independent Vermont senator’s bid for the White House.

Then on February 29, exactly one week after Nevada, Joe Biden crushed Sanders in South Carolina. Three days later, in the March 3 Super Tuesday primaries, Biden won ten out of fourteen contests, many by quite large margins. And that was that. I’ve been writing about Democratic primaries since the 1988 race, and I don’t recall a single one in which the apparent end result flipped so emphatically and suddenly.

It’s hard for any politician to make the mental admissions to oneself required to end a presidential campaign; for a candidate like Sanders, who called for political revolution and seemed to have victory so near that he was surely daydreaming about the list of speakers at his convention, I imagine it was particularly hard. The struggle to accept defeat extends to supporters—perhaps doubly so with some of Sanders’s strongest supporters, who vocally detest the Democratic Party, people who call themselves liberals, Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Barack Obama, and basically anyone who isn’t Sanders (or Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez).

But even as some of his supporters were digging in their heels, scrambling to knock Biden out, Sanders himself was suing for peace. Faiz Shakir, Sanders’s well-regarded campaign manager, told me that, as the senator ended his campaign, he made clear that cooperation would be the order of the day. “Senator Sanders asked me and [longtime adviser Jeff] Weaver to reach out to our Biden friends and see what would be available if we were to bring these worlds together,” Shakir said.

The friends in question were Ron Klain and Anita Dunn, two establishment Democrats. There are actually two lefts within the Sanders orbit. One I would call the “outside left,” the hard-shell “Bernie-or-bust” contingent referred to above: younger, more New York–centered, strident, and absolutist. The “inside left,” which includes people like Shakir, who has a Washington pedigree—he has worked for Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid—sees value in urging the moderate (and elected) figures left. This group does have respect for people like Klain, a frequent and fierce critic of Donald Trump on MSNBC who, as Obama’s Ebola response coordinator, showed the world a few short years ago that the United States of America actually knew how to contain a virus.

In fact, the lines of communication between the campaigns predated Sanders’s dropping out. As the virus descended in the first half of March, the two camps negotiated the mutual canceling of events; they agreed before the last pre-lockdown debate, on March 15, to replace a handshake with an elbow bump. Through late March, as the toll of illness rose, they generally kept each other apprised of their actions. After Sanders withdrew, the discussions between the two turned more toward substance—and the extent to which Biden would be willing to adopt pieces of the Sanders agenda. Thus were formed the six task forces that the Biden campaign unveiled on May 13. These eight-member groups cover the economy, health care, immigration, criminal justice, climate, and education, and each is co-chaired by one Biden supporter and one Sanders supporter.

The left-wing presence on many of them is remarkable. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez co-chairs the climate panel with John Kerry. Representative Pramila Jayapal of Seattle, a major Sanders backer, co-chairs the health care task force with Obama surgeon general Vivek Murthy. The economist Stephanie Kelton, a top Sanders adviser and proponent of Modern Monetary Theory, which holds that the government should pay for major new investments like the Green New Deal by printing more money, is on the economic task force. The task forces, I’m told, have a threefold mission: to publicly recommend the policy positions that Biden should run on, to guide the writing of the party platform, and to inform the transition, should Biden win the election (assuming there is an election, or an uncorrupted one). It stands to reason that some of the members of these task forces might also fill important slots in a Biden administration.

Of course, it’s in both sides’ interest to cooperate to defeat Trump. But what a difference this is from 2016, when, after losing to Hillary Clinton in the primaries in early June, Sanders allowed bitterness to fester well into the summer. The difference can be credited to a few factors: Biden and Sanders get along fairly well personally, and Biden understands that he needs to take the left seriously. But easily the dominant factor is the virus. Biden, by most accounts, has been a different man since the pandemic hit. Last year, he sometimes spoke of his presidency as a return to a pre-Trump era. Now, with unemployment nearing 15 percent and calls for change from protesters becoming more urgent—and with the crisis starkly laying bare the economic precarity in which so many Americans were living even before the virus hit—he sees himself in the mold of Franklin Roosevelt, a leader who would rise to the vast challenge history has thrust upon him and introduce sweeping change. The change in Biden has sometimes been overstated. But it is real, and it makes the prospect of a Biden presidency (provided it’s combined with Democratic capture of the Senate) far more intriguing than it was just two months ago.

One of the oldest truisms of presidential politics is that candidates run to the left or right (respectively) during the primary and to the center in the general election. But since he became the presumptive nominee, Joe Biden has moved left. In mid-March, he adopted a version of Elizabeth Warren’s free-college plan. On April 9, partly in response to the pandemic, he announced that as president he would seek to lower the eligibility age for Medicare from sixty-five to sixty, which could extend Medicare to another 23 million people (including at least a million in Florida and at least 500,000 each in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Ohio)

In neither of these cases did Biden fully embrace the Warren or Sanders position. His free-college plan would stop once a family’s income hit $125,000, whereas Warren’s had no income limits (the liberal-left critique of all such “free college for everyone” plans is that they constitute an unnecessary subsidy for well-off children, a critique Biden’s approach avoids). And on Medicare, Biden didn’t get close to Sanders’s version of Medicare for All, with its elimination of private insurance. Even so, these were, for a number of elected Democratic officials and liberal activists I spoke with, head-turning moves—testament both to the left’s increased strength within the Democratic Party, and to a surprising willingness on Biden’s part to play ball with a party faction that for most of his almost half-century in politics has been weak and easy to take for granted.

The rhetorical change has been even more striking. In an interview with Biden on April 7, the day before Sanders ended his campaign (which Biden must have known he was about to do), CNN’s Chris Cuomo asked Biden what kind of economic situation he thought he would face if elected. The former vice-president said:

“I think it may not dwarf, but eclipse what FDR faced…. We have an opportunity, Chris, to do so many things now to change some of the structural things that are wrong, some of the structural things we couldn’t get anybody’s attention on.”

That seemed a signal that Biden’s moves had been more than the usual placating of a constituency whose support he needed—that his very thinking had changed, and in major part thanks to Covid-19. It’s not so much that the virus has moved Biden to the left. Rather, it has nudged reality leftward, and Biden has followed.

More recently, the May 25 murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police and the subsequent protests in cities across America have led Biden to speak with force and eloquence about racial injustice. In a June 2 speech at Philadelphia’s City Hall, he said “the moment has come to deal with systemic racism” and spoke of the need for “long-overdue changes” like a congressional law against chokeholds, ending the provision of military weaponry to police forces, and creating a National Police Oversight Commission. These may not sound dramatic in the abstract, but each would be enormously controversial.

Officially, his campaign denies a dramatic change. “We feel we never got enough credit for being progressive in the first place,” a Biden aide told me, before pointing me to a McClatchy newspaper story from last fall that compared Biden’s and Hillary Clinton’s platforms and found Biden’s “more ambitious and liberal” on health care, climate, criminal justice, and more. “On nearly every major issue,” the article said, “Biden has either exponentially increased the scope of what Clinton proposed or advocated for new ideas that most Democrats would have up until recently considered fringe.”2

That may be. But to many people, and young people in particular, the Biden program didn’t look very progressive compared to Sanders and Warren. And it must be said that Biden is not on his way to capturing the Democratic nomination because of his program. He is the putative nominee because he seemed to the greatest number of Democratic voters to be the safest bet. His ideology, meaning his non-leftism, had something to do with that—there was an undeniable panic among Democratic voters in South Carolina and the Super Tuesday states about sending someone with Sanders’s platform into battle against Trump. But other factors were also important: voters’ familiarity with Biden, his relationship to the beloved Obama, and, let’s face it, his gender and race (it is perhaps inevitable that a primary that started with several women and people of color came down to the two best-known white men).

Democratic voters, pre-pandemic, were content with restoration: trying to clean up Trump’s wreckage and making incremental improvements on Obama’s achievements. But they, and their presumed candidate, appear to see things differently now. Biden’s remark to Chris Cuomo suggests a recognition that history has thrust him into a new role: that his job is not simply to defeat Trump and restore America to pre-Trumpian normality, but to make the case to America that that normality was never good enough.

What’s really important is what this reconsideration implies. Biden might now be willing to depart from the economic principles that have governed policy-making in this country over the last forty years: the so-called neoliberal principles of free markets, little government intervention or investment, wariness about deficits, and more. He might be willing, that is, to cast off the values and policies that have given us our era’s raging inequality, this uber-class of billionaires, this ethos of the deserving versus the undeserving. Republican administrations have embraced those principles fully—except when it comes to deficits, on which the GOP is completely unprincipled and hypocritical3—but our two recent Democratic administrations have also at times done so, as when Obama began talking about deficit reduction in early 2010. The Obama experience was a bitter one for a lot of people who hoped for more public investment in infrastructure, health care, and climate initiatives. “Obama and his team’s acquiescence in—indeed, public endorsement of—the turn to austerity in 2010 was absolutely fucking disastrous,” the UC Berkeley economist J. Bradford DeLong, who served in the Clinton administration, told me.

There is more. Open the link and read it.

Robert Kuttner is editor of The American Prospect. He writes a blog called Kuttner on Tap.

If You Can Stand It, a Little More Optimism.

Now we find out what America is made of. And what we see, a week after George Floyd’s police lynching, is this:

Protests are continuing and they are increasingly peaceful, except for police violence. Protest leaders are working with local governments to contain both police rampages on the one hand and provocations and opportunistic looting on the other.

More than at any time since the civil rights era of the 1960s, white America has some compassion for pent-up black frustrations. A majority of Americans approve of the demonstrations and reject police violence. And 55 percent of white Americans tell pollsters that black anger is fully justified.

Meanwhile, Trump keeps revealing what he is made of, and his own support keeps dropping. And Joe Biden has found his inner Bobby Kennedy and made his best speech ever. I don’t care who wrote it; Biden gave it.

The focus of the election, increasingly, will be Trump’s callous and opportunistic use of a crisis that required healing. He is setting himself up for a landslide repudiation, well beyond the Republican margin of theft.

Also encouraging is the united response of governors and mayors. Trump may have the power on paper to call in the Army and the National Guard. But that is no match for the combined power of an aroused citizenry and resistant local officials. His troops can’t occupy the whole country by force.

We will see more mass demonstrations. They will be peaceful except for the efforts of rogue cops and Trump’s storm troopers to inject violence. And by fall, the consequence will be a mass revulsion against Trump.

As Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, one of America’s finest, wrote in concluding an eloquent New York Times op-ed piece:

“Let us vote against state-sanctioned violence, vitriolic discourse and the violation of human rights. In memory of George Floyd and all the other innocent black lives that have been taken in the recent and distant past, let us commit to registering black people, especially black men, to vote.”

America is stronger, better, wiser than Trump. And America will survive Trump. Then the real work can begin.