Trailing in the wake of a devastating pandemic, its subsequent economic crisis and mounting racial unrest, the road to the White House has been markedly different from its predecessors. As voters become increasingly desperate for solutions, support for progressive policies have grown, with many calling for major healthcare reform and an overhaul of the criminal justice system. Consequently, the Democratic Party has worked tirelessly to package Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden as a reformer rather than a moderator to win over disillusioned progressive voters.
Biden has attempted to integrate progressive policies into his agenda to woo the left, taking on bold initiatives to combat everything from climate change to criminal justice reform. He’s even recruited the famously progressive former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders for help in creating a task force chock-full of progressive undertakings. While many may tout these policies as evidence of a progressive Democratic Party, they are still ways off from the reformers they proclaim themselves to be.
Occurring against the backdrop of the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, 62% of registered voters cite the coronavirus as one of the most pressing issues to them right now. While the issue of healthcare has always been a high-profile topic, the pandemic has brought it to the forefront by exposing the extensive shortcomings of the American healthcare system. Battling the coronavirus is a double whammy — with nearly half of all Americans relying on their employer to provide healthcare coverage, a job could quite literally mean life or death.
As unemployment numbers skyrocket, millions have found themselves without a job, subsequently stripping them of their health-insurance and leaving them vulnerable to the virus. The signing of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act by President Donald Trump did little to alleviate the burden of medical debt, failing to eliminate cost-sharing for the treatment of COVID-19. As healthcare costs increasingly prove themselves to be the source of anxiety for many Americans, Democrats have overwhelmingly expressed their support for Medicare-for-all, with a whopping 87% of Democrats in support of the policy.
However, Biden’s agenda has called for the creation of a public option that preserves privatized healthcare instead. Americans will be able to choose between private insurance or opt into a Medicare-like option funded by the government. Proponents of the policy claim that it will offer much-needed competition to private insurers, ultimately driving down costs. While it is still ambitious in its own right, it steers clear of the single-payer healthcare system supported by the majority of his base.
Democrats can’t keep relying on being the lesser of two evils — they need to offer something of substance to disillusioned voters who have time and time again been betrayed by promises of radical change.
Even though the proposal of a public option may appear progressive at first glance, it barely makes a dent in reducing the amount of uninsured Americans. To boot, a public option would fail to eliminate the influence of Big Pharma, meaning Americans would still have to pay exorbitant prices for lifesaving drugs. Because a public option does not eliminate co-pays as a single-payer plan would, pharmaceutical companies would still be able to price gouge necessary drugs like Lantus (used to treat diabetes) or albuterol (used to treat asthma). Additionally, Biden’s plan to lower Medicare eligibility age to 60 is actually less ambitious than Hillary Clinton’s proposal in 2016, which would have lowered the age of eligibility to 55.
With COVID-19 both exacerbating the health and economic disparities of African Americans, the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minnesota police served as a catalyst to widespread nationwide protests. Citizens across the country called for a thorough examination of the racism pervading the system and protested for sweeping reforms across the board. Non-black Democrats across the nation scrambled to show solidarity with the African-American community — profile pictures were changed, black screens were shared and sidewalks were hastily painted.
While a vast majority of Democrats were quick to condemn the actions of Derek Chauvin, the murderer of George Floyd, they were slower to support policies like defunding or demilitarizing the police. Instead, they proposed lackluster bills proven to be ineffective in practice and posed in kente cloth stoles on Capitol Hill. A swift dismissal of lip service and performative activism prompted them to introduce the Justice in Policing Act of 2020, a bill that would close loopholes like qualified immunity and ban chokeholds like the one that killed Eric Garner.
However, activists claim that these proposals are watered-down versions of the sweeping changes they demand. Both the proposed bill and Biden’s proposed agenda fail to address defunding the police, a policy calling for the redistribution of funds from police departments to community-based resources like mental health services and education. These are not radical notions — cities like Minneapolis have vowed to disband their police departments, and New York and Los Angeles have begun to cut funding from theirs. Although Biden’s policy does support bolstering funding for community-based resources, it disregards the root cause of the epidemic of premature Black deaths in the United States: a dangerously militarized police force. In fact, Biden hasn’t just denounced the movement to defund the police, he’s proposed siphoning more money into police departments. Like his approach to health care, the proposal is a tentative step in the progressive direction, but nowhere near the systemic overhaul that this country desperately needs.
While it is imperative that we vote out Donald Trump, a Joe Biden administration does not deliver the sweeping changes that the nation desperately needs. 56% of registered voters claim that they’re casting their ballot for Biden simply because he’s not Trump — only 19% cite the reason as his policy positions. Democrats can’t keep relying on being the lesser of two evils — they need to offer something of substance to disillusioned voters who have time and time again been betrayed by promises of radical change. Dying Americans unable to afford healthcare, Black Americans sick of waiting for equality, and unemployed Americans wondering where their next meal will come from cannot afford a moderate president. Joe Biden cannot just be the antidote to the Trump administration — he must serve as the cure for a fractured nation.
Kristen Wu is wondering why you’re reading her article instead of voting out Donald Trump.