Last week, I cast my vote for Joe Biden. While I never doubted that I would vote for whomever the Democratic candidate turned out to be, among a crowded field, Biden was not my first choice. Or my second choice. (I did prefer him to Bloomberg, but that’s damning with the faintest praise.) The more I’ve thought about what a Biden presidency might look like, though, the more I’ve started to feel something like hope. I have hope that a Biden-Harris administration could transcend its lukewarm promise to Build Back Better, and use the rotten carcass of the last four years to fertilize a radical new country.
I was a strident Bernie Sanders supporter throughout the primaries, largely because I believe Medicare for All is the only humane healthcare system. While Biden’s plan to build on the Affordable Care Act, “giving Americans more choice, reducing health care costs, and making our health care system less complex to navigate,” is, I believe, nowhere near radical enough, I am heartened by the fact that Harris was a cosponsor of Sanders’ healthcare bill. It is not insignificant to me that Biden chose for his running mate one of the few candidates willing to say the words “Medicare for All.”
When it comes to the climate emergency, too, I see reason for optimism in a Biden presidency. He calls the Green New Deal a “crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face.” While he has publicly stated that the Green New Deal is “not [his] plan,” he has pledged to invest $2 trillion over the next four years to combat climate change—a significant increase from the $1.7 trillion over 10 years he initially pledged. This shift reveals something crucial about Biden: his willingness to learn, and to recalibrate. (Just imagine what Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez will be able to accomplish under an administration that listens to her.)
There are plenty of other aspects of Biden’s platform—raising the federal minimum wage to $15/hour! Paid family and medical leave! Defending abortion access nationwide!—that give me hope for his presidency. Biden may have been the moderate choice, but many journalists have pointed out that his perceived centrism belies a surprisingly progressive agenda. But it’s not only Biden’s proposed policies that made me feel genuinely good about casting my vote for him; it’s also the knowledge that there is a critical mass of Americans who intend to hold him accountable.
In a recent speech in support of Biden, President Obama said “Joe and Kamala, when they’re in office, you’re not going to have to think about them every single day.” He was, of course, comparing them to Trump, and making the point that they have, you know, impulse control. The line was played for laughs, because of course neither Biden nor Harris would go on a Twitter rampage, retweeting white supremacists’ compliments. Something the last four years have taught us, though, is to pay attention not just to Trump’s barrage of hatred and lies, but to the less flamboyant misdeeds of politicians.
The past six months have seen unprecedented numbers of Americans protesting the murderous racism of the police as an institution—a position that many white people considered untouchably radical not long ago. That mobilization was not only a symptom of Trump. Yes, there are plenty of Biden voters eager to return to lives of minimal political engagement—the Back to Brunch 2020 Biden voters. But there is a larger number than ever before—and I count myself among them–who will refuse to check out just because the president is One of Us.
In 2008, Barack Obama campaigned on the promise—and power—of hope. Twelve years later, hope can feel like a sign of naïvity, or privilege, or even foolishness. But when that hope comes with an awareness of the action required to carry it to fruition, hope becomes powerful. I wish deeply for Joe Biden’s presidency to prove my early skepticism wrong. I am ready to hope.