Biden’s debt relief is actually a win for the left-leaning organization


Before becoming Vice President, Joe Biden was known as “the senator from MBNA”. Biden was representing Delaware: a state with a low human population but a high corporate density, especially banks. During his 36 years in the Senate, Biden has remained a staunch servant of these banks, eager to rewrite the laws to make life harder for debtors.

So it’s a real twist that one of the hallmark achievements of Biden’s presidency will be an executive order providing student debt relief to millions of Americans. Like filmmaker Astra Taylor, co-founder of the Debt Collective, who has been agitating on the issue since 2012, wrote in The New Republic“Ten years ago, if you had told me that Joe Biden, a man who during his long career as a senator helped develop the student loan industry and worked to deprive student borrowers of the bankruptcy protection, one day be president, and eliminate hundreds of billions of dollars in student debt, I would have scoffed — even as I pulled out all the stops with the movement that would fight hard to make that happen.

While Biden’s policies fell far short of the complete cancellation of existing student debt that activists have been calling for, it still represents a massive improvement over the status quo. A majority of debtors will see all of their outstanding student loans disappear.

Taylor is justified in doing a victory dance. She writes, “Make no mistake, this represents a historic victory for student debtors. Through years of tireless and often thankless organizing, borrowers and their allies pushed a reluctant administration to deliver large-scale student debt cancellation – to bail out ordinary people, not big banks or corporations. Around 20 million people will have their balances completely wiped out, and many have shared emotional messages of shock and jubilation online. »

This narrative of activists forcing action from a dragging Biden is supported by reporting by The New York Timeswho published a detailed information document under the title “Biden bowed to pressure on student debt relief after months of doubt.”

It’s no surprise that some centrists are reluctant to give credit to activists, though it’s perhaps more shocking that at least one prominent voice on the left shares this denigration of mass mobilization.

Responding to the Time articles, Stuart Stevens, former Republican political consultant turned Never Trump activist, tweeted“There has never been a single decision by a POTUS that there weren’t different sides and differing opinions. Describe @POTUS a ruling on student loans as a “gender” is like declaring that FDR finally gave in to the elderly and created Social Security.

In the August 25 episode of the popular leftist podcast Chapo Trap House, co-host Matt Christman also wanted to give Biden full credit, without so much as a nod to activism. “At the end of the day, we’re all waiting at the bottom of the ravine for Joe Biden to come unleash the waters and we’ll all gather our cups full until he does it again,” sniffed Christman. ” He is responsible. We have no control. We won’t get anything out of it. It’s not just any type of transaction. We just hope that charity falls on us.

Stevens and Christman have very different political histories. Stevens is a pre-Trump GOP figure, a conservative horrified by what his party has become but remains an instinctive right-winger. Christman is putatively a leftist, though he has a defeatist mentality that insists nothing can ever change, creating a political passivity that is functionally identical to conservatism. It’s fascinating to watch them both settle into a narrative where presidential whims determine the story regardless of grassroots organization.

Stevens’ reference to Franklin Roosevelt and Social Security actually teaches a different lesson. When Roosevelt ran in 1932, he had no intention of creating anything like Social Security. Roosevelt’s preferred solution to the Great Depression was a corporatist alliance of government, capital, and labor under the National Industrial Recovery Act. But as the Depression lingered and the problem of poor elderly people whose savings had been wiped out grew ever more acute, grassroots activism began to push for new solutions. Some of these solutions, like the Townsend Plan (named after activist Francis E. Townsend) were utopian: Townsend wanted to give each senior $200 a month, paid for by a 2% national sales tax. But the explosive popularity of the Townsend plan…over 3400 Townsend clubs across the country began lobbying Congress – helped push politicians like New York Senator Richard Wagner to tackle the issue, which eventually found favor in the White House thanks to sympathetic insiders like Labor Secretary Frances Perkins.

The political trajectories of Social Security and student debt relief are quite similar: in both cases, grassroots organizing helped create the political environment that made change possible, even in the face of an indifferent administration. or hostile. In this case, the role of Robert Wagner was played by Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.

Washington Post journalist Jeff Stein provided a helpful overview of how student debt relief happened: “1. Started as a fringe idea 2. Pushed relentlessly by committed activists 3. Picked up by some politicians 4. Adopted by a larger section of the party leadership 5. Adopted by the president. This is a more accurate insight than Stevens and Christman’s focus on Joe Biden’s alleged “beneficence.” Unlike Christman, Biden is not completely “in charge”. Biden is a transactional politician sensitive to pressures from within the party. If leftists can organize to put pressure on the party, they can change presidential behavior. This is a lesson that applies to more than just debt relief. This is the model that goes forward for the progress of national politics.


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