Many people like me, who voted for a third-party candidate in 2016 (or maybe even for Trump) but are voting for Biden in 2020 — those of us who are often labeled as “reluctant Biden voters” — are often viewed as cynics and pessimists, merely voting against what we fear and despise as embodied by the Trump administration.
Maybe that’s true for some in this group I am a part of (ok, probably a lot of this group), but not for me. I view my support for Biden as support born out of optimism. Maybe I’m being naive, idealistic, or silly (though I’d contend there are worse things to be), but I genuinely believe that there are many possibilities of a Biden administration that I think are worth looking forward to and working towards in the post-election environment.
A Do-Nothing Administration
One possibility (probably he most likely) is that Biden’s presidency will essentially be a four-year pause on big executive action. Now, while this is not necessarily a great outcome form a progressive point-of-view, I think almost everyone outside of Trump’s hardcore base would prefer four years of milquetoast nothingness to four more years of… whatever the hell this has been.
If the Democrats take the Senate (as I tend to think they will), we must acknowledge the reality that Biden has been an extremely-pragmatic centrist his entire career. He won’t try to do “big things” unless he is convinced that he has the votes and political capital to do so. Even if Biden wins by ten points and the Dems take the Senate, I just don’t know if even in that situation that Biden would act like he had a tremendous mandate. I think he’s aware enough to realize that many votes that have been and will be cast for him are done out of disgust and fear of Trump, not love of Biden and his party.
I also think that Biden will be likely to fall back to his natural inclination towards compromise and bipartisanship, even with a full trifecta of Democratic federal control. This could be disastrous. There’s nothing to indicate that the GOP will suddenly go back to a party that can be worked with in good faith, and if Biden refuses to learn that lesson his agenda will suffer tremendously. Furthermore, if Biden goes too far out of his way to achieve bipartisanship, he will alienate the growing left-wing of the Congressional Democrats and activists. Already, before the election is even done, several of them — most noticeably AOC — have stopped withholding their public criticism of Biden and Harris. Biden could very well find himself in a situation where he tries fruitlessly to work with an uncompromising and extremist right while alienating the left, and ending up with not enough friends on either side to achieve anything meaningful.
And of course, the decent (35–40%) chance that the GOP maintains their control of the Senate — due to that institution’s undemocratic nature and extremely favorable terrain for minority parties — cannot be ignored. If the GOP keeps the Senate, then, at the very least until the 2022 midterms, Biden’s administration will be crippled by gridlock and divided government. Even if Biden wants to do “big things”, it will be extremely hard for him to do so in this scenario.
Biden Goes Bold
Like I said, I definitely think that Biden’s administration will be quiet, uneventful, and a much needed reprieve from the chaos and destruction of Trump’s reign. However, Biden’s extreme pragmatism could possibly, just maybe, be his very trait that makes the Biden administration truly and surprisingly transformational, in the vein of Lyndon B. Johnson.
Biden is unlikely to attempt any policy pushes that he doesn’t believe he has the votes and political capital to fully achieve. But, if the Democrats win the Senate and he can get over his hangup with bipartisanship (let’s face it, the GOP doesn’t deserve a single bone to be thrown their way), he may realize the potential that he has with at least two years of unified government. Especially if the Democrats have a Senate majority a couple votes of wiggle room and Biden wins in a landslide (as is becoming more and more likely), it definitely wouldn’t be implausible to see Biden make serious pushes for several policies from the progressive wish list. Reentering the Paris Climate Accords, forging a new Iran Nuclear Deal, securing civil rights for gender and sexual minorities, preserving DACA and codifying serious immigration reform, passing a new Voting Rights Act — all of these and more could easily (and hopefully!) be on the table.
Of course, there are other progressive wish list items that are less likely to happen (namely statehood for Puerto Rico and DC, expanding the Supreme Court, abolishing the electoral college, starting a Universal basic Income, etc.). But at least under a Biden administration, these items would have a chance and additional exposure in the public conversation.
If Biden has the political capital to make big strides, realizes it, and doesn’t get hung up on compromising with a GOP that is undeniably a bad-faith actor, then it’s not at all unreasonable to imagine him rising to the moment and seizing the big opportunities available to him.
Back to The Court
And of course, there’s the Supreme Court. The GOP is almost certainly going to get away with their theft of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s replacement by adding Amy Barrett to the court. That’s unfortunate but true. However, that does not mean that Biden will not have his own chance to make an impact on the highest court in the country.
I want to avoid sounding morbid, but given the lifetime appointments of justices, that’s somewhat unavoidable. Justice Breyer is 82. He will almost definitely retire or leave due to medical reasons during Biden’s term. Justice’s Alito and Thomas are both their 70s, and the chance of one or both of them retiring or leaving under other circumstances as well cannot be ignored.Biden will have the opportunity to appoint at least one Justice, that much is as close to certain as possible.
While I highly doubt that Biden’s pick(s) will be the next Thurgood Marshall, they are likely to be someone who will protect LGBT+ civil rights, protect voting votes, be favorable towards immigrants, and preserve women’s right to control their own reproductive labor. And that is far, far, far more than we can hope for from another Trump pick.
The GOP Chills Out
I want to start with a disclaimer: I do not think any of what I’m about to say is actually going to happen, but there is a chance no matter how slim.
If Trump loses in a landslide, if Trumpism is totally refuted and smashed into the mud and filth where it belongs, then maybe — just maybe — the GOP will learn it’s lesson and return to the party of the mid-1900s (or hell, even the early 2000s), a party that — while undeniably conservative — at least had a serious and powerful streak of “compassionate conservatism” in it. Maybe they would learn their lesson and become a party that wasn’t dependent on subverting democratic norms and sustained majorities. Maybe they would become a party open to immigration and social safety nets and cultural pluralism.
Like I said, I doubt it. But if they are whipped bad enough in November, there’s a chance. And that’s something to be optimistic about.
I won’t deny that Biden’s administration could end up being a total disaster: for the country, for the Democratic Party, and for progressives. But that is a risk inherent in any administration. I think there is plenty to be optimistic about when looking ahead to the next four years, but all of it is contingent on Biden winning — and winning big — in November. So get out and vote!