Pundit Puffery

One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share.

— Harry Frankfurt, On Bullshit, (2005), p.1

The opinion pages of our leading newspapers are contributing more than their share, and it is second-rate puffery. The first one is a piece by the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank, “ ‘Moderate’ Joe Biden has become the most progressive nominee in history,” (October 27, 2020) Milbank opens his pean to Biden by claiming that the Democratic candidate travelled to the place where FDR died (Hot Springs, NY) to promise “a new birth of the New Deal,” which attempted to balance  political power between capital and labor.

There is nothing in Biden’s 48-year-old political career that suggests Biden ever dreamed of resurrecting the New Deal, which was old hat and LBJ’s war on poverty its last breath. Biden was a good old Democratic party boy and useful tool to cut deals with the surging Republicans after Carter and the Democratic leaders abandoned the FDR-built base and replaced the now unpopular New Deal vision and programs with identity politics. Both parties, starting with the Reagan “revolution,” were on the same side in the class war won in a breeze by capital.

All that Biden embraced, and for which he was rewarded with Senate committee positions, led to his firm endorsement of the Reaganite status quo and his famous proclamation in 2018 that “nothing would fundamentally change” if he was elected. ((Salon, June 19, 2019.))  And now, Milbank wants us to believe that Biden has, in a short time and at his age, transformed himself into history’s “most progressive nominee.

If Milbank was looking for a genuinely progressive nominee, he could have found him in Theodore Roosevelt, candidate of the Progressive or “Bull Moose” party for the presidency in 1912, coming in second (to Woodrow Wilson (D), but collecting 27% of votes cast. And this Roosevelt thought and talked in a way Biden cannot:

“In our day it appears it (the political struggle) as the struggle of freemen to gain and hold the right of self-government against the special interests. who twist the methods of free government into machinery for defeating the popular will.” ((Theodore Roosevelt, The New Nationalism (New York: The Outlook Company, 1910), 3-34.))

And Biden, were he truly progressive, would have proposed, as Roosevelt did in 1912, to “extend governmental power in order to secure the liberty of the wage workers, the men and women who toil in industry, to save the liberty of the oppressed from the oppressor. Mr. Wilson stands for the liberty of the oppressor to oppress. We stand for the limitation of his liberty not to oppress those who are weaker than himself.” ((“The Liberty of the People,” speech by TR on September 22, 1912.))

Biden is promising the same things that the faux populist Trump promised. He might get the oligarch owners of America to drop a few more crumbs off their table, something Trump never intended to do. But he is unwilling, and would likely be unable, to change the fundamentals of our political system, now the wholly owned subsidiary of the Wall Street-Corporate-Finance oligarchy.

At the Post’s main competitor, The New York Times expressed a long whine as Frank Bruni’s protest against Trump and hope for a Biden victory. He is stunned and saddened that in mid-October 44% of citizens polled voiced approval for Trump’s performance. “How will I ever look at America the same again?” he wondered. He could learn not to. But he has to get over his disappointment with the American people first. And right now may not be the right time, for as he admitted on October 28, the Trump years have been hard on him: “Never have my emotions been so frazzled.” (In his Opinion column) Let us wish him speedy return to his unfazed, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed self.

Onward, if not necessarily upward (yet), with the march of American democracy.

George Salamon lives in St. Louis, MO, where he did not grow up. Read other articles by George.