You cannot find a much better example of the central complaint us leftists have with the last 40 years of Democratic policy than this sentence from WaPo about Joe Biden’s new tax plan that he released this week.
Biden’s plan calls for raising the tax rate paid by corporations from 21 percent to 28 percent, still below the 35 percent level in place before the 2017 GOP tax cut law.
When bipartisanship with the most intransigent major party in the western world is a larger motivator than policy outcomes, the policies compromised upon resemble those of the intransigent party. The Democrats have objectively moved right over the last 40 years partially due to this insatiable desire to compromise with the GOP, and this is another example of how letting the GOP establish the terms of the debate can move the party further to the right. Under President Bill Clinton—the man who took over the Democratic Party by openly preaching conservative economics and declaring that “the era of big government is over”—the corporate tax rate was still higher than what Joe Biden is proposing in the year 2019.
To further contextualize this conservative plan: Joe Biden’s proposed top corporate tax rate (28%) is closer to Mitt Romney’s (25%) than Barack Obama’s (35%). This is a perfectly stark visualization of what drives many liberals crazy about the Democratic Party. Our economic vision is popular, and yet we keep trying to find common ground with a party who tells us they have no interest in compromising with our vision of America that they consider to be a threat to everything they hold dear. Biden thinks that Republicans will have an “epiphany” when Trump leaves office, which is the most unrealistic thing any candidate has promised by a country mile, and he almost surely believes this tax plan can function as an olive branch, given that it’s a tax plan Republicans would have enacted in a heartbeat in 1996.
Biden rejects a wealth tax embraced by Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren—a policy that is extremely popular amongst liberals, independents, and conservatives—and he is calling to raise 16% or less the amount of tax revenue proposed by his vastly more liberal rivals. He is also calling for a 39.6% top income tax rate, a 2.6% rise from its current state and back to what it was the last few years of the Obama Administration. This is 30.4% less than what Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez floated earlier this year, and 50.4% lower than what it was under Republican President Dwight Eisenhower in the 1950s.
The notion that the United States does not negotiate with terrorists is a tongue-in-cheek joke because history proves that we clearly do, but that phrase has taken root because the art of negotiation requires it. When you deal with extremists, you much match their fervor, because if you enter the negotiation saying you want to make a deal with them, you will find yourself making a deal with them on their terms. This is Joe Biden’s entire career and it’s why by 1960s standards, he is functionally a center-right Republican.
This tax plan succinctly summarizes the ineptitude within the last 40 years of Democratic rule, as WaPo notes that it “is also likely to meet resistance from conservatives for dramatically raising taxes on firms through a number of measures.” So not only does this plan fail to match the grassroots enthusiasm in the party to tax the rich at pre-Reagan era rates, but it hits just enough wrong notes to anger the extremists he is trying to appease.
Politicians like Joe Biden learned nothing from the fight to pass Medicare. The reactionary right fought that immensely popular policy tooth and nail, producing hyperbolically hysteric ads like this from future Republican presidents.
Two years prior to Medicare’s passage, just 54% of Americans 65 and older had health insurance that covered hospital expenses, and three years later, that figure would rise to 96%. Despite all the cuts President Reagan made to health care during his eight years, he did not get rid of Medicare despite previously claiming that it would bring about a “socialist dictatorship.” The way you deal with Reagan’s Republican Party is not to give inches and hope they will not take a foot—because they will take your entire body then claim you never gave inches, but in fact took inches from them—but the optimal strategy is to simply use political majorities to jam good policy down their throat, and then trap them by the policy’s popularity. Republican candidates have won countless races on a platform of protecting Medicare and Social Security (including our current president), and there is no “bipartisan” plan enacted since then that can even compare to that kind of popular and positive force for good in society.
The best way to deal with an extremist party is to win their voters over with your policy. It is not possible for Mitch McConnell to negotiate in good faith, but when his polling shows that junking Medicare means he’s out on the street looking for a job, you don’t have to deal with McConnell. You’ve already won his voters with your policy, and that is the model that Warren and Sanders are pursuing. Americans—conservative, liberal and all in between—are largely economically liberal despite many falsely claiming to be economically conservative. Joe Biden’s tax plan could have easily made it through Newt Gingrich’s 1994 Congress, but there’s no way in hell it would make it through 2019’s Congressional Progressive Caucus (which comprises 42% of the Democratic House majority).
Joe Biden’s entire campaign is an explicit premise to return to the policies of the past—to retreat to the halcyon days of compromising with a Republican Party led by Newt Gingrich and the longest serving House Speaker in history who was forced to step down because he is a pedophile—and this tax plan is just another data point in this slow death march back to the calamitous Reagan realignment. What Democrats like Joe Biden need to understand is that if they wish to return to 1992 and simply replay the modern Democratic playbook all over again—all they are doing is guaranteeing us yet another President Trump in 24 years. This kind of tax policy only impresses McKinsey mercenaries and other assorted K Street creatures, and no matter what President Biden does, the GOP will decry him as an unhinged socialist as they drag his presidency further and further to the right. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome is the definition of insanity, but such is life in the Biden coalition of the Democratic Party. A Biden versus Trump election really would be the perfect description for what the last 40 years of “bipartisan” rule has ultimately produced in this country.
Jacob Weindling is a writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.