After their disastrous defeat in 2016, DNC elites finally had an epiphany that they needed to engage the American working class again — or they realized the political expediency of paying lip service to pro-American economic policy. In either case, the “Buy American” plan released by Joe Biden’s campaign in early July is so close, yet so far away from being an industrial policy that puts America first.
In fairness, the plan isn’t without its merits. It strengthens the ‘Made In America’ program by increasing the amount of qualifications that must be met for a product to be stamped with its seal. It also promises to place fees on imports from countries that shirk their carbon-reduction obligation to maintain unfair manufacturing advantages over the United States. Its recognition that organizing unions and bolstering industrial growth aren’t mutually exclusive is refreshing to boot.
Yet when Biden’s track record of more than four decades is considered, it seems unlikely that he would make good on the plan’s key commitments. Beneath the barrage of gritty politicking, (accusing President Donald Trump of “standing up for corporations” instead of workers in negotiations with China) lies the uncomfortable reality that the former vice president has been nothing other than cordial and complacent with the regime’s rise over the years. In 2000, then-Sen. Biden voted in favor of Permanent Normal Trade Relations with China, an adrenaline shot in its attempts to become a global power. As recently as 2011, he was cooing that a “rising China is a positive, positive development, not only for China but for America and the world writ large.” If past is prologue, Biden can’t be trusted to uphold strategic American trade interests in dealings with China.
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The plan’s priorities are concerning on their own. For example, it commits to purchasing “tens of billions of dollars” worth of “clean” vehicles, presumably hybrid and electric autos, to stimulate “clean” energy sectors. Windmills and solar panels (Solyndra, anyone?) come to mind here. Yet the plan ignores any substantive opportunities for energy independence. It ignores hydraulic fracturing, which created millions of jobs, presents astounding growth potential, and is partially responsible for reduced carbon emissions. And fancy cars and windmills offer limited growth potential to rust belt communities and energy-generating states. But they do seem like the sorts of products and technologies that offer lucrative rewards to urban elites who want so-called feel-good energy, regardless of whose job it cancels.
The plan also echoes a cliched vision of so-called innovation. It conveys a single-minded fixation with what a rootless cosmopolitan mind imagines to be modern manufacturing. Stuff of the tech sector, like computer chips, cell phones, and other telecom products have pride of place. While innovation in new sectors is important, more traditional manufacturing outfits have been decaying or disappearing over the years. Biden’s plan speaks little to conserving these kinds of businesses, implicitly writing them off as costs of globalization while turning to more genteel and progressive industries.
In the end, even if Biden’s plan claims to support all of America’s workers and backs it up with rafts of spending, its omissions speak volumes. It reads like a halfhearted reconciliation of economic populism with traditional liberal ideals and posh constituencies. Biden’s own extensive track record of failing to serve as an advocate for domestic manufacturing and American workers does nothing to challenge that reading. Trump would be well-advised to double-down on many of the commitments that made his 2016 campaign such an astounding success, while exposing the Biden plan for the empty promise that it is.