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Lessons From Virginia


Joe Biden will be the Democratic nominee for president. ( I will never forgive Elizabeth Warren for forcing Bernie Sanders to campaign on the assumption that there would be 12 viable candidates to split the African-American vote.) But there is more than one way to move the party left. Biden had made a career out of being in the middle of wherever the party is, and as Jamelle Bouie says you can get policy victories out a politician lie that if you win the legislature and work after the election:

Northam is still governor and most of the caucus is either moderate or conservative. But for the first time, progressives have a major say in policy, and they have used it to push an unabashedly liberal agenda through the Legislature, raising the minimum wage, legalizing collective bargaining for public employees and expanding the right to vote. Just last week, Virginia lawmakers — led by Lee Carter of Manassas, a member of Democratic Socialists of America — passed one of the nation’s lowest caps on the price of insulin.


There’s every chance for the progressive left to make this happen on a national scale. It looks like Biden will secure the nomination, but Sanders won the policy argument. Democrats in Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina support Medicare for All; Democrats in California, North Carolina, Texas, Tennessee and Virginia support free college. And the future of the Democratic Party — the youngest voters — are with Sanders.

If Biden goes on to win the White House, there’s real space for the pro-Sanders left to work its will on policy. It can use its influence to steer Biden toward its preferred outcomes. It can fulfill some of its goals under the cover of Biden’s moderation, from raising the minimum wage nationally to pushing the American health care system closer to single-payer.

This may sound a lot like wishful thinking. And if Biden were a different politician — if, like Sanders, he was strongly ideological — I might also doubt his malleability. But Biden, like Northam, is a creature of the party. He doesn’t buck the mainstream, he accommodates it. He doesn’t reject the center, he tries to claim it. You saw this during the Obama administration, when Biden reversed himself on a career of moderation to embrace and champion the former president’s most liberal policies.

In related news, Warren was obviously right to maintain her potential influence over Biden’s executive branch appointments rather than endorsing a candidate with no chance of winning the nomination no matter what she did.

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