55 Comments

This is the best article I have ever read since Biden's inauguration. As a 19-year-old, two-time Bernie voter, I am witnessing this divide amongst my progressive friends and family. I proudly admit that Biden has far exceeded my expectations He is also giving the progressive wing a serious political platform in his administration. However, many are still skeptical and commit to what I believe are petty (and harmful) efforts in order to punch holes in his policies that great overall (1400 vs 2000, etc). I will admit that I am still pretty disappointed by Biden's relatively weak $15 minimum wage push, but to act like the $1.9T stimulus was not one of the most progressive bills passed in modern US history is ridiculous. I believe it is crucial to give credit where credit is due, regardless of the politician, and to not just attack Biden because you're still sore about the 2020 primary results. Thanks for this excellent article Noah!

Expand full comment

19 - and a two time Bernie voter? 👀 Maybe the Republicans are on to something with voter fraud 🤣

Expand full comment

No idea why I said that (i voted for Biden in the 2020 presidental election, did not write-in Bernie) 😂 But yea you might catch my comment on Tucker Carlson tonight as new evidence of radical leftist voter fraud

Expand full comment

"I believe it is crucial to give credit where credit is due, regardless of the politician, and to not just attack Biden because you're still sore about the 2020 primary results."

I believe it is at least as crucial to give discredit where discredit is due, regardless of the politician. And I'm less concerned about the motivations of attacks than the accuracy of attacks.

So criticizing Biden for things like the $1400-as-$2000 lie is (at least) as legitimate as praising him for the good aspects of the relief bill. Such criticism, like criticism of the limp push for a $15 minimum wage in the relief bill, is basically accurate. You needn't admit shamefacedly that you're disappointed by the latter. It's fine to feel that way, and to say so.

Expand full comment

Is the $2000 check really a lie? I would have of course preferred a $2000 check this time around, but had we lost either of the Georgia runoffs that amount would have been $0 (and no massive stimulus). It’s important to recognize that there are a few conservative Democrats that we must compromise with as well (as much as I hate to admit it).

Expand full comment

Yes, it was a lie.

In 2021, after the $600 checks had been passed by the 116th US Congress, signed into law by Trump, and begun being distributed, elected Democrats promised a $2000 check, conditional on electing "Jon and the Reverend" to the 117th US Congress under Biden. I collect the evidence of this in one of my own Substack posts (https://splained.substack.com/p/yes-the-democrats-promised-a-new).

Onto your other points.

• I agree that $1400 is better than $0, but that's not relevant to the distinct factual question of whether "$2000" was a lie.

• $0 might well have been the outcome had the Democrats lost either runoff, but since they in fact won both runoffs, they were/are on the hook for what they promised ($2000).

• The existence of conservative Democrats is potentially relevant, but Joe Biden at the very least should have been aware that, whatever the runoffs' results, some Senate Democrats would be conservative. It was his (and probably other Democrats') responsibility to not promise $2000 without a solid plan for circumventing obstructive/conservative Senate Democrats, and his responsibility to actually fight for the $2000 checks instead of omitting them from his relief plan.

Expand full comment

None of the candidates _actually involved in the Georgia runoff_ promised $2000 on top of the $600. The argument was over whether the checks _in December_ should be $600 or $2000, and when it was settled that they would be $600, Democrats said "if you elect us we'll top that up to $1400".

And handful of people have decided either for Overton window reasons (which would not be completely crazy! -- having some people stake out a left flank against which a still-progressive but more electable-in-red-states bloc can triangulate is actually good strategy), or for petty point-scoring factionalist reasons, to engage in revisionist history. But it's just plainly BS. It was never a promise of folks like Biden or Warnock that they'd add $2k on top of the $600.

Expand full comment

No, that's false. Any honest, intelligent person familiar with the primary sources can see that what's "plainly BS" is your claim that no candidates "_actually involved in the Georgia runoff_ promised $2000 on top of the $600". See the "Democrats really did move the goalposts" section of my tediously detailed post (https://splained.substack.com/p/yes-the-democrats-promised-a-new). (You might also be interested in the following section, "But Biden himself did move the goalposts", where I document that when Biden involved himself in the runoffs' campaigns, he echoed the promise.)

Expand full comment

The argument was always about doing what AOC had proposed, which was $2k instead of $600. If you want to write thousands of words of sophistry and selective interpretation arguing against that, you do you.

Expand full comment

More falsehoods from you. The interpretations of politicians' statements that I've defended have been plain-language interpretations; the only reason "thousands of words" have ever been necessary is to document and spell out the obvious to denialists like you.

Let me illustrate. Raphael Warnock published on social media a graphic saying "WANT A $2,000 CHECK? #VOTEWARNOCK", with a picture of a single, freestanding $2000 check. What I'm saying is that that's a promise of a single, freestanding $2000 check. You deny that straightforward interpretation. The "sophistry and selective interpretation" is you, projecting.

Expand full comment

Blah blah blah. "I interpreted things the way I wanted to and now I say that the people I misinterpreted are lying."

Expand full comment

That was aimed at the aptly-named "Splainer", right? (I keep waiting for him to start one of his rants with, "Well, ACTUALLY...")

The people engaged in this factionalist BS are twisting themselves into knots to re-write history. I didn't vote for Biden in the primary. I am still suspicious of Biden on a lot of issues. But FFS, the bill that just passed is the most important progressive win in like three generations. Just because the president who's signing it isn't ya boy, doesn't change that. Get over it. Get ready for the next fight, to make the child credit permanent, or ban gerrymandering and get statehood for DC and PR, or raise the minimum wage.

Pulling in the text for people that don't want to track through the links, this is an accurate summary.

<blockquote>

In a speech during a rally in Atlanta, Biden urged voters to back the Democratic candidates in order to "end to the block in Washington on that $2,000 stimulus check."

Congress had blocked attempts to pass $2,000 checks. Democrats had pushed for the payments at the end of 2020, however their attempts were thwarted by Republicans.

Lawmakers eventually settled on the $600 sum in December. At the time, Biden insisted that sum was only a "down payment" and he planned to ask Congress to pass another bill including a new round of stimulus checks—the value of which would be negotiated.

Speaking in Atlanta on January 4, Biden said: "By electing Jon and the reverend [Warnock] you can make an immediate difference to your own lives, the lives of the people all across this country... because their election will put an end to the block in Washington on that $2,000 stimulus check.

"That money that would go out the door immediately to help people who are in real trouble."

Later in his speech Biden added: "If you send John and the Reverend to Washington those $2,000 checks will go out the door restoring hope, and decency, and honor for so many people who are struggling right now. If you send [incumbent Republican] Senators [John] Purdue and [Kelly] Loeffler back to Washington, those checks will never get there."

The rollout of the $600 checks had already begun by that point, according to Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, although many Americans had not yet received that payment.

Ten days later, Biden announced his $1.9 trillion "American Rescue Plan," announcing: "We will finish the job of getting a total of a $2,000 in cash relief to people who need it the most. The $600 already appropriated is simply not enough."

</blockquote>

Expand full comment

How was Biden’s $15 minimum wage push weak? The fact is that it couldn’t be attained under budget reconciliation. All he can do is push for filibuster reform, and he’s doing that now. I voted for Sanders in the 2016 primaries as well, so I’m on your side. I would urge people wanting more action to be a little patient. There is a good chance Democrats can gain in the midterms, which could allow a definitive push to abolish the filibuster for good in early 2023. It’s hard to see much else getting done before then. The crazies like Cruz are getting even more irrational by the moment. With cool heads and a bit of patience, we could be in good shape soon.

Expand full comment

Yeah, I agree with you on this point. While I do think Splainer's point regarding the "lie" about the 2000 stimulus checks is accurate, I disagree with his interpretation that Biden's $15 minimum wage push was weak. They simply didn't have the votes for it.

Expand full comment

Noah's post here comes off to me as quite Political Journalist Brained.

It emphasizes inside-baseball questions of political intrigues within US political cliques, instead of the substantive consequences of policy. Sure, there are some references to the latter. But a vibe I'm getting — and I hope it's just in my head, as vibes often are — is basically "can't believe leftists are threatening to discredit themselves in the center's eyes by giving a shit about foreigners' lives".

I also reckon that Noah's overrating Biden's left-wing policy achievements. Supposedly "Biden is bringing the most transformational progressive agenda since LBJ", a claim justified by pointing to:

• "rejoining the Paris climate talks" (a return to the Obama-era status quo ante),

• "canceling the Keystone pipeline" (a return to the Obama-era status quo ante),

• "ending the Muslim Ban" (a return to the Obama-era status quo ante),

• "and much more" (like what?),

• "a huge $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill" (Bush, Obama, and Trump all signed big relief bills into law),

• and a bunch of stuff that hasn't happened yet (permanent, unconditional child allowance; "big immigration bill"; "minimum wage"; "green infrastructure bill").

That is, the Bringing The Most Progressive Agenda claim rests entirely on stuff Biden has yet to do, and on stuff that retreads Obama-era policy! What Biden's done can only be called The Most Progressive Agenda Since LBJ if we pretend the Obama-Biden administration never happened. Noah laughs off The Left's predictions in general based on one Jacobin article, yet the most impressive Biden stuff Noah can cite perfectly fits this left-winger's expectation that Biden'll run a 3rd Obama administration!

I've seen Biden's online defenders cite how briefly he's been in office as a reason why actual left-wingers should hold their fire. Well, maybe, but the flip side is that Biden and his defenders have far fewer accomplishments to point to in his defense. If left-wingers aren't allowed to attack Biden with cynical predictions about Biden's future behavior, centrists aren't allowed to defend Biden with starry-eyed predictions about Biden's future behavior. And his track record to date is Obama 2.0, not LBJ 2.0, if that's all we may go by.

Expand full comment
Comment deleted
Expand full comment

That's just empty smarm. Try your own breathing exercises while you actually read my comment, remember that Biden's a big boy who'll survive me comparing him to past presidents (is Obama "the anti-Christ" in your eyes?), and maybe you'll manage a meaningful response.

Expand full comment
Comment deleted
Expand full comment

Thank you for this perfect distillation of how everyone on the hill from congress critters to staffers have absorbed the concept of their innate superiority to us lowly common folk. Boy, we all look so silly to them with our stupid petty needs like wanting healthcare and jobs. How could anyone possibly be disappointed with the beneficence of beltway common wisdom? It is strip mining the middle class, decreasing life expectancy, and mining new billionaires daily! Just like it was designed to. Calling you a pod person is far too kind.

Expand full comment
Comment deleted
Expand full comment

Yes compromises have to get maid. Sure is odd how every single time every one of those compromises ends up benefiting rich, powerful campaign donors and murdering poor people. Quirk of the system. Well, not really. The system is corruption, if we eliminated corruption there would simply be nothing left. Only in this insane bizarro world would Obama refusing to so much as investigate, much less prosecute the wrecking crew on Wall Street who just so happened to have donated millions to his election campaign, be seen as anything besides blatant corruption. The fact that it didn't even seem noteworthy to all the important opinion havers says loads about their competence, or at least who signs their paychecks.

Expand full comment

I'd tell you to turn your brain on and stop thinking about politicians like they're saviors who mustn't be criticized ("the last thing I’d want to do is denigrate anyone who was elected to make a course correction", really?), but I realize now that you're a pod person. The DC blob ate your brain. Cheers.

Expand full comment
Mar 14, 2021Liked by Noah Smith

Well pulled the trigger and became a subscriber - really enjoying the newsletter - budget be dammed!

Expand full comment
author

Thanks!! Hope I live up to expectations!!

Expand full comment

The left is already splintered. On the one you have people like Jimmy Dore who are grifters. They really don't care about policy, only about gaining a following. On the other hand you have the Squad, Justice Democrats, the Sunrise movement, DSA. They are interested in getting stuff done. They will be disappointed by Biden's foreign policy but will be happy with any progressive victory and will push for more steps towards action on climate change, growth of renewable energy, an increase in the minimum wage, protecting voting rights and labor law reform like the PRO act.

Expand full comment

This is so thoroughly dishonest. I would love nothing more than for racist uncle Joe to prove me wrong, be FDR 2.0 and make democrats dominant for a generation. If you think the average poor voter in Georgia follows politics closely enough to know that "as soon as you elect them, I'll send you $2k checks" actually means that Biden is going to start the negotiations at $1400 and you might get the checks in 3 or 4 months you need to get out and talk to more voters. Speaking of that, I know dozens of people who went door to door in Georgia making promises of $2k checks to their friends and neighbors for voting, who feel completely hung out to dry.

Please tell me where you get your drugs because I would love to be so I high I thought that Biden refusing to so much as try; much less fight for $15 and implying that only Harvard grads have student debt makes him some progressive icon. Rolling out COVID relief would have been a great thing to pair with Student debt cancellation, So of course he didn't. Not to mention he is even failing at trivially easy wins like refusing to follow through his campaign promise to drop the appeal to SCOTUS in which DOJ seeks to continue excluding Puerto Rican's from SSI.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/supreme-court-takes-up-puerto-rico-case-biden-pledged-to-abandon-11614638996.

As usual Democrats will try their too clever by half games and come up with a million reasons why they couldn't just push through wildly popular policies that benefit average people. But I'm sure anything they do pass will be intentionally confusing, means tested, and stigmatizing for anyone who uses it.

Seriously though, I have no tolerance for giving politicians undue praise after sitting through 8 years of Obama hagiography while watching him intentionally maximizing the number of foreclosures on poor people, oversee the largest loss of black wealth in history, expand drone wars, turn the African country with the highest HDI into an open air slave market, and categorically refuse to prosecute his campaign donors for blowing up the economy. If this follows NYT and WaPo into unrestrained Biden boosterism for running the same tired democrat playbook count me out.

Expand full comment

Criticizing Biden is not just for shits and giggles. It's very simple. We just want to push for more change. We would not have made the progress we have already made without criticizing the democratic establishment and pushing for more.

The media in particular should always be criticizing because they should be watchdogs for the powerful

Expand full comment

I agree in principle but at what point does "we should criticize everyone" turn into equivilation, where foibles around "Hillary's emails" get as much or more coverage of the fact that Donald Trump is a rapist and a tax cheat?

Expand full comment

We're not in a general election so I don't see why we would be still conspiring to make sure no one talks about the corruption in the democratic party. This is an obsolete talking point. What happening now is we want to get shit done while we have the house, senate and president. Next step soon will be to elect candidates in democratic primaries that don't have corruption scandals like Hilary's emails so that they don't lose seats to incompetent racists.

Also, there was no issue where people weren't covering what Trump was doing. He actually got so much coverage it ended up helping him even when the coverage was negative. In fact the media's ratings have plummeted since Trump left office.

The equivocation you refer to is just criticizing politicians actions without any partisan bias when were not in a general election. I could understand having partisan bias if you're trying to win an election.

Expand full comment

My point of view is just one data point, but I don't think that as a Leftist my main concerns are spending more on welfare and returning to Obama-era climate and immigration stances. People like me want an actually transformed system. Federal minimum wage will not be raised to $15, because Joe Manchin and others will tank it, and Biden surely knows this and knows that he can safely pitch this policy as "red meat" to people like me safe in the knowledge it won't actually become law. Meanwhile health insurance premiums are still insanely high and if I don't have an employer in the S&P 500 and I'm not poor enough to be on the admittedly excellent Medicaid (that is, in a state that expanded it under Obamacare) then I'm really still SOL for healthcare. The infrastructure thing, if it happens, will certainly earn my praise. But that's a big if. So far nothing Biden has done is remotely stunning to me. Still voted for him though, and I hope the next 3.75 years will change my mind.

Expand full comment

I don't know if triangulation is the right way to think about it. There have been concrete ways that the White House has reached out to progressives to let them have a seat at the table as discussed here.

https://www.thedailybeast.com/inside-bidens-left-wing-brain-trust?utm_campaign=scroll&utm_medium=referral&utm_source=share&scrollvisitsource=share&scrollsharetoken=9tkaie1jehc78a6bo7nl6nph9o

Expand full comment

Yeah, I think Noah's giving less credit here than is due in terms of how Biden has actually brought actual Lefties into the tent, starting with the policy meetings between people from his campaign and Bernie's, which have clearly borne out in practice -- the American Rescue Act is implementing policies that those meetings endorsed.

Expand full comment

Do you know the difference between doing something and getting the daily beast to publish an article that makes it look like you are doing something? I mean WOW, he actually talks to the left instead of mocking them when he has literally no votes he can lose in either chamber? I'm shocked. Literally all but 1 person named in that article as throwing a bone to the left is not that at all. Charitably, most are Biden floating 2 names for some position one mildly left of center and one that would easily fit in a Bush administration and acting like choosing the center left is doing the left a favor.

A sigh of relief over Yellin. Kill me.

Expand full comment

As a card carrying neoliberal, this is the hippie punching I gladly paid for

On a more reasonable note, I don’t think one can emphasize enough that for people who have made leftist activism a lifestyle, there is nothing, nada, zilch that Biden could do in any possible world that would satisfy these people. Based on personal experience interacting with them both online and off, He could abolish private property and guillotine everyone with a >0 net worth and they would still find some reason to complain; it absolutely is a cult of personality

Expand full comment
Comment deleted
Expand full comment

And if that doesn’t work we can march in the streets donning tac gear and three arrows patches. We centrists need our own militia

Expand full comment

A former Republican aide yukking it up with "a card carrying neoliberal" about busting strikes, "hippie punching", and donning an antifascist symbol while forming squadristi — er, sorry, an anti-leftist, anti-antifa, anti-personality-cult, pro-Biden, pure-centrist militia. What could possibly go wrong?

Expand full comment
Comment deleted
Expand full comment

You just blew up my irony meter with your parting shot about other people being "too self-righteous and self-absorbed".

Fortunately, I don't need an irony meter to correct your central fallacy: that (your idea of) the "political center" corresponds to "the vast majority of Americans". Face facts. A "vast majority of Americans" does not share your particular brand of "centrist", anti-union politics. There is no silent "vast majority" that's "becoming exhausted with the constant haranguing from both extremes".

• Most Americans approve of unions (https://news.gallup.com/poll/12751/labor-unions.aspx).

• Trumpism alone accounts for nearly half of voters: he won 46% in 2016 and 47% (yes, more!) in 2020. Trumpism is not a fringe phenomenon, it has basically consumed the Republican Party. As a prescient tweet put things in 2011, "Americans are literally stupid enough to elect Donald Trump president. do not laugh him off".

• Meanwhile, on the Democratic side, self-declared socialist Bernie Sanders won 43% of the primary vote in 2016 against arch-establishment arch-centrist Hillary Clinton, and won 26% of the total primary vote in 2020, in a field of 11 candidates (just counting those who participated in at least one primary/caucus). Sanders's overall favorability has gone up since then (https://today.yougov.com/topics/politics/trackers/bernie-sanders-favorability), may well be higher than that of Biden and Harris (https://www.newsweek.com/bernie-sanders-champion-stimulus-checks-favorability-rating-higher-biden-harris-poll-1571501), and has made Sanders the 3rd most popular Democrat in the US after Obama and Carter (https://today.yougov.com/ratings/politics/popularity/Democrats/all).

• There's no sign that a "vast majority" is "becoming exhausted" by contentious politics. Turnout skyrocketed from the 2016 presidential election to the 2020 presidential election, with both Trump and the Democrats gaining millions of votes. That indicates energization, not exhaustion.

As an aside, did you see the systematic polling data showing that nearly half of Biden voters think socialism is good for the US (https://www.dataforprogress.org/blog/2020/6/10/how-americans-feel-about-socialism)? Almost as if a random comedian complaining about partisanship (which is hardly a pro-centrist sentiment — the staunchest Democratic partisanship tends to come from centrists, not leftists) doesn't show that left-wingers are overplaying their hand.

Expand full comment
Comment deleted
Expand full comment

Well written. However as someone with two young kids who will not be receiving the child credits, let me assure you it's not "unconditional". I get your meaning wrt welfare work requirements though.

Anyway, the bigger question for the future of political cohesion here is which priority the Left actually wants to be tackled first, and whether there's a deal to be made with Manchin and Sinema for it. Is that Infrastructure? Might be the easiest sale, but will it appease? Is it voting rights - demanded by the social Left but not the economic Left quote as much? Some doubt whether Manchin and Sinema would spend their political capital on that. And so on.

Basically, for this analysis to hold value, it needs to be able to predict the ordering of moves of the administration as it attempts to keep its promises. At least in broad strokes. Otherwise we're just retconning the model to fit what happens, and so we haven't learned anything.

Expand full comment

Some people considered me a leftist because I harshly criticized Bill Clinton and more moderately criticized Hillary, and in fact I abstained from voting in 2016 in protest. I regretted not voting for all of 2020. Where do I stand now? I’m very happy with Biden. I think he’s living up to my wishes. I have no criticism as of now. I’d like him to stay pretty harsh on the foreign policy issues, and despite being left out of his stimulus, I applaud him for getting it done. I’m not playing games. Long term I want more viable political parties because I don’t want to get burned again by another Clintonesque opportunist, but Biden is doing well.

Expand full comment

The English aristocracy did this for centuries: wait until the pressure for change became irresistible, then Stop Resisting. Give enough ground to buy a few decades of relative tranquillity. It seems obvious, but as any French or Russian citizen could tell you, is not an easy strategy to pull off in practice. Easier if you have something resembling a functional democracy, but still not straightforward. Biden seems to be using his brain -- either the one in his own head, or the collective thought of his advisers.

Expand full comment

Two Things:

- Admittedly, I was a Bernie-bro who wanted "Biden to lose". But, I gotta say I've done a 180: Bernie's still my dude, but I'm a bit of a Biden-booster now.

- I wonder how much of the factionalism is dependent on whether you went to college or not. There's a pseudo-intellectualism to a lot of the twitter stuff bourn out of learning sociological concepts/ big words in college.

Expand full comment

As Biden's appointments and policy choices have started rolling out, I've kept saying the slogan for the Biden presidency is going to be: "Uncle Joe: Better than you expected!"

Expand full comment

If leftists focus on foreign policy, an issue of waning concern to most Americans, they will continue to write themselves out of any meaningful national dialogue.

They *can* still influence Biden's domestic policy, even if they 'agree' with it. Like AOC said, the $1400 is great; more would be better.

And that's their job -- to push the White House to be more ambitious. As FDR said, "I agree with you; now go out there and make me do it."

So what's their best strategy? I'm not sure, but I can tell you what the *worst* strategy is: to question people's motives; to smear them when they don't align with your preferred policy. It's fine to say that a Biden initiative is not enough; it's not fine to say that this proves they're neoliberal whores for corporations.

Expand full comment

"If leftists focus on foreign policy, an issue of waning concern to most Americans, they will continue to write themselves out of any meaningful national dialogue."

Am I the only one who smells a threat to shaft leftists if they complain too loudly about American mistreatment of foreigners?

Expand full comment

I'm just saying most people don't care, and will care even less, about foreign policy. Leftists can complain as loudly as they want, but most people won't be paying attention.

Unless Biden launches another war (and not just the random drone strike). Then it's a new ball game. I'm guessing he won't.

Expand full comment

Don't hold your breath. He is trying his hardest for a hot war with Iran by making entirely unreasonable conditions for rejoining the JCPOA which the stenographers at various "news" outlets dutifully report as wise concessions.

Expand full comment

Ok let’s make ceiling on refugees go into the millions then

Expand full comment

So much of the justification for providing 1400 to top up 600 months previously which even the most modest familiarity with economics would allow one to perceive is not at all like a 2000 lump sum especially for poor who are often forced to pay usurious rates on loans concern the need to and morality of using the threat of extreme want to prevent workers from withholding their labor for better wages and working conditions. These are ideological justifications that Biden has employed for decades and will continue to do for the remainder of his presidency.

The left would do far better to continue to argue that employment contracts should be voluntary and that the government at the very least should not have as policy to add to the already disproportionate bargaining power of employers.

While the left should add to Biden's voice when he advances our values such as supporting the right of Amazon workers to unionize he still embraces policies that both directly oppose the ability of workers to bargain on an equal footing with employers for truly voluntary contracts and are extremely unpopular. Those should still be our main focus.

Expand full comment

"AOC would have supported sanctions against the Soviet union" Always trust tankies to make AOC look good.

Expand full comment