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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 5/10/21

Pramila Jayapal Misses Mark with "A" Grade for Biden

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From LA Progressive

By Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon

Pramila Jayapal
Pramila Jayapal
(Image by Joe Mabel from flickr)
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It's the job of progressive advocates and activists to tell inconvenient truths, without sugarcoating or cheerleading. To effectively confront the enormous problems facing our country and world, progressives need to soberly assess everything -- good, bad and mixed.

Yet last week, the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Pramila Jayapal, made headlines when she graded President Biden's job performance. "I give him an 'A' so far," Jayapal said in an otherwise well-grounded interview with the Washington Post. She conferred the top grade on Biden even though, as she noted, "that doesn't mean that I agree with him on every single thing."

Overall, the policies of the Biden administration have not come close to being consistently outstanding. Awarding an "A" to Biden is flatly unwarranted.It's also strategically wrongheaded. If we're going to get maximum reforms in this crucial period, President Biden needs focused pressure -- not the highest rating -- from progressives.

In school, an "A" grade commonly means "excellent performance" or "outstanding achievement." Rendering such a verdict on Biden's presidency so far promotes a huge misconception and lowers the progressive bar.

Biden does deserve credit for some strong high-level appointments (Deb Haaland as Interior Secretary jumps to mind), a number of important executive orders (many simply undoing four years of horrific Trumpism), and one crucial legislative achievementthe American Rescue Act. The proposed American Jobs Act (a small step toward a Green New Deal) and American Families Act (education/anti-poverty) are also quite progressive.

But Biden has made several major appointments that overtly kowtowed to corporate America -- for example, "Mr. Monsanto" Tom Vilsack as Secretary of Agriculture and former venture capitalist Gina Raimondo as Commerce Secretary. To mark Biden's first 100 days, the Revolving Door Project issued an overall grade of B- in its report card on how Biden had done in preventing "corporate capture" of the executive branch by industries such as fossil fuels, Big Pharma and Big Tech.

In an improvement over the Obama era, the Biden administration earned a B/B+ in keeping Wall Streeters from dominating its economic and financial teams. On the other hand, as graded by the Revolving Door Project, Biden got a D- on limiting the power of the military-industrial complex over U.S. foreign policy: "We are particularly alarmed by Biden's hiring of several alumni of the Center for a New American Security, a hawkish think tank funded by weapons manufacturers like Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman."

Much as "personnel is policy" in the executive branch, the federal budget indicates actual priorities. Biden's budget reflects his continuing embrace of the military-industrial complex, a tight grip that squeezes many billions needed for vital social, economic and environmental programs. The administration recently disclosed its plan to increase the basic military budget to $753 billion, a $13 billion boost above the last bloated Trump budget. (All told, the annual total of U.S. military-related spending has been way above $1 trillion for years.) And Biden continues to ramp up spending for nuclear weapons, including ICBMs which former Defense Secretary William Perry aptly says are "some of the most dangerous weapons in the world."

Meanwhile, Biden is heightening the dangers of an unimaginably catastrophic war with Russia or China. In sharp contrast to his assertion on Feb. 4 that "diplomacy is back at the center of our foreign policy," Biden proceeded to undermine diplomacy with reckless rhetoric toward Russia and a confrontational approach to China. The effects have included blocking diplomatic channels and signaling military brinkmanship.

Biden won praise when he announced plans for a not-quite-total U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan, but he has not committed to ending the U.S. air war there -- and some forms of on-the-ground military involvement are open-ended.

Unfortunately, little attention has gone to the alarming realities of Biden's foreign policy and inflated budget for militarism. Domestic matters are in the spotlight, where -- contrary to overblown praise -- the overall picture is very mixed.

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Jeff Cohen was director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, where he was an associate professor of journalism. He founded the progressive media watch group FAIR.org in 1986.

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