Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Asian-Americans, Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders, China, Code Pink, Democrats, election 2020, Elizabeth Warren, Im-Politic, Jeet Heer, Joe Biden, Judy Chu, labor unions, Larry Summers, progressives, racism, Rashida Tlaib, Sherrod Brown, The Nation, Trade, Trump
I know I just wrote about how dreadful Joe Biden’s China policy record has been for decades. But the former Vice President is the presumptive Democratic Party nominee for President, and he could well be sitting in the Oval Office next January. So it’s eminently newsworthy to report that any hopes that a President Biden would recognize these disastrous mistakes, and generally speaking try to continue President Trump’s policy of reversing them, are now lying in ruins.
Specifically, it’s become clear in recent days that any Biden effort to keep his newly made promise in a political ad to “hold China accountable” for its role in unleashing the CCP Virus on the world is going to prove totally unacceptable to his party’s progressive wing – whose support he’s acting like he needs desperately to win in order to defeat Mr. Trump.
Moreover, it’s been reported that one of the campaign advisers chosen by Biden is Larry Summers, a former Clinton Treasury Secretary and Obama administration chief White House economic aide who has always championed reckless trade and broader economic expansion with the People’s Republic. Worse, during the Obama years, Summers was a major obstacle opposing ideas like sanctioning China for its protectionist currency policies – which would have gone far toward stemming the extraordinary increase in Beijing’s economic and therefore military power that took place while Barack Obama occupied the White House. In other words, the Biden campaign will be powerfully shaped by the Democrats’ centrist wing – and its own long record of enabling China.
If you doubt that Summers still backs coddling China, check out this 2018 post – which shows him turning intellectual backflips trying to excuse Beijing’s massive theft and extortion of American intellectual property, and to claim that the Obama policies succeeded spectacularly in bringing China to heel.
The stances of Democratic progressives are less well appreciated – but at least as important given this faction’s success in pulling Biden and other Democratic centrists to the Left this year on a host of issues. Moreover, don’t forget how if they’re unhappy enough with Biden, many of them will stay at home on election day and, as in 2016, help hand victory to Mr. Trump. At the same time, the progressives’ story it’s a more complicated story than the centrists’.
It’s more complicated because two of the progressives’ favorites – Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont – are definitely supporters of tougher and, more important, smarter U.S. China policies. That’s especially true of Sanders, who has voted against every U.S. effort to integrate the American and Chinese economies more widely and deeply during his long career on Capitol Hill. Nonetheless, it’s also true that neither Senator made China a major issue during their presidential campaigns this year.
And one main reason is surely that none of the progressives’ other leading (and younger) lights seems especially interested in China. Commendably, they have condemned China’s horrific repression of its Muslim Uighur minority. But ask yourself – when’s the last time Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, for example, condemned the People’s Republic for the trade and intellectual property and investment policies that have stripped the United States of much of its manufacturing base and hammered the wages of manufacturing workers? I couldn’t find any such statements.
Ditto for Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib – and she represents a Detroit area district whose economic distress owes significantly on China-related and other trade policy failures. But you won’t even find these words on her website.
But although much of the Democratic Left has had little to say lately about China and trade, signs have abounded that it’s royally ticked off about Biden’s CCP Virus ad – in some cases because of their alleged potential to stoke anti-Chinese bigotry at home, but also because they supposedly blame China for U.S. virus-related losses that they insist are really President Trump’s fault.
Most of this pushback so far has come from Asian-American activists in Democratic ranks who don’t hold political office. But it’s also come from California House Democrat Judy Chu, Chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus. Does anyone believe she’ll face much resistance here from the rest of her party?
And non-Asian American progressives have ripped the Biden ad, too – including influential pundit Jeet Heer (national political correspondent for one of the progressives’ flagship magazines, The Nation); Sanders campaign surrogate Josh Fox; and Code Pink, the women-led progressive grass-roots group.
In theory, the Democrats’ still-powerful labor union base could prod Biden to lay out a credible plan to combat China’s many threats to American interests. But its representatives, at least, have been quiet about the virus and its implications. In fact, judging from this recent op-ed piece, its spokespeople seem at least as determined to blame Trump administration blunders for the country’s CCP Virus woes as they are to blame pre-Trump China-coddling and enabling trade policies. Indeed, one of the labor Democrats’ Congressional leaders, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, seems to adopted a “Biden uber alles” position during this campaign, even on China policy.
Yet although both Democratic centrists and progressives will be strongly pushing Biden to soft-pedal criticisms of China for the rest of this presidential campaign, this approach is likely to flop so badly with the American electorate in general (as shown in a post earlier this week) that it’s a natural for President Trump to exploit. And if a Trump campaign hammering China themes creates even more incentive and/or pressure for the President to maintain his hard and smart line against Beijing, it won’t just be his political career that benefits. It will be the entire nation as well. Maybe even the Democrats will start opening their eyes.