The outlines of a Biden administration are taking shape. Over the last week or so, a Biden staffer apologized for referring to Republicans as “f**kers” and calling Mitch McConnell “terrible,” the transition team is reportedly worried they’ll have to fire thousands of Trump supporters in the federal bureaucracy, and Biden is starting to back away from his promises to roll back Trump’s refugee concentration camps.
In short, Biden is hesitating to take even modest measures necessary to restore the totally inadequate pre-Trump status quo. Who better to manage a crumbling nation with an advanced case of imperial decline than this guy?
The staffer in question was Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon, who let slip the f-bomb in a Glamour magazine interview. The report about Trump stooges infesting the government comes from Business Insider, which reports that the Biden transition team is fretting that Trump’s stooges won’t resign and Biden will have to fire them. It “wouldn’t be a good look for Biden, who rode to victory with a promise to unify the country,” writes Robin Bravender.
The news about refugees comes from the Washington Post, which reports that Biden is walking back his promises about immediately halting Trump’s policy of forcing refugee applicants to wait in Mexico or other nations, often in horrendous conditions. It seems he and his advisers are worried that easing up on the brutality will encourage others to apply for refugee status, as they are entitled to do under U.S. and international law. We don’t want “2 million people on our border,” said Biden, though his team promises they will have proper procedures in place after some time.
What gives? The actual content of what Dillon was saying is instructive on this question. As Alex Pareene points out at the New Republic, she was not just ranting about how much she hates the GOP. On the contrary, she was trying to square the circle of Biden’s oft-repeated campaign promise to bring back fabled bipartisan comity with the reality of the Republican Party, which has a voting base largely composed of deranged conspiracy lunatics, is meaner than a skillet full of rattlesnakes, and is utterly in thrall to a mentally-unbalanced criminal who is even now trying to overturn the very election that will put Biden in office.
In other words, there will assuredly not be any return to the 1950s norms of bipartisanship, and Democrats know it — whatever Biden might believe, his top staffers have at least opened a newspaper at some point during the last four years — but it’s politically useful to pretend that there will be. In the short term at least, lying to the public about how broken the country is is apparently a political winner. After all, Biden won both the primary and the general election.
But this creates huge political obstacles for the incoming administration. For one thing, the country very badly needs a complete overhaul to repair the damage of Trump’s appalling misrule. Firing every one of Trump’s stooges is a quick and easy way to start that process. Reversing refugee detention (on which Obama was also terrible, incidentally) overnight would erase one of the biggest stains on America’s reputation, be relatively simple (you really can just let asylum seekers in until they can get a hearing), and fulfill a promise to a core Democratic interest group. Should he do these things, however, Republicans will scream bloody murder, and Biden will burn up the image of bipartisan reconciler he spent so much time cultivating.
More importantly, Team Biden’s stance here hands conservatives a near-automatic political victory. He claims to be the one who will bring Republicans back to sanity, but all they have to do to prove him wrong is continue being intransigent — which, again, is 100 percent guaranteed to happen. The screaming bloody murder is already happening, as conservatives seize on the slightest excuse to throw a hissy fit, then point to their own tendentious dishonesty as evidence that Biden is not serious about unity. Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), for instance, recently accused Biden’s HHS nominee Xavier Becerra of being a “a true radical” because he is pro-choice, and demanded the Senate vote him down. As Pareene writes, “It is trivially easy to sabotage an opponent who promises to bring everyone together by simply refusing to be a party to that great coming together.”
Ultimately, this is all more or less what I would have expected from a Biden administration. He was the most conservative candidate in the 2020 Democratic primary field — a charter member of the neoliberal Democratic tradition, which generally tries to avoid governance and exercising power (unless they are shoring up market institutions). This crew will be stuck in the 1980s until the day they die — certain that every leftist candidate or idea will go down to defeat like George McGovern in 1972, terrified of conservatives, and convinced that the country hates progressive ideas. The things they do most consistently and effectively are a) blocking progressive primary challenges and b) demotivating their own base by explaining why they can’t have the things the party supposedly wants. (The fact that people advocating this kind of politics tend to end up in lucrative post-office private sector careers is no mere coincidence.)
That doesn’t mean leftists, or pro-refugee activists, or advocates of good government, or anybody else should just give up. It just means that if we want the Biden administration to go anywhere good, it will most likely have to be dragged there kicking and screaming.