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Joe Biden will almost certainly be the Democratic presidential nominee, but Bernie Sanders and his far-left allies could be the biggest winners as the former vice president adopts positions that seemed fringe and radical just four years ago.
That Biden is described as a “centrist” or a “moderate” candidate relative to the current and former Democratic rivals shows how far left the party lurched in just four years in large part due to the Vermont senator’s rise in national prominence. Biden campaigns on increasing taxes, a public option for health insurance, and a $15-per-hour minimum wage, among other initiatives.
Biden has not only evolved his positions to fit into a new baseline Democratic Party ideological standard, but he has dramatically shifted key positions over the course of his campaign, further demonstrating Democrats’ race to the left.
On Sunday, hours before his first one-on-one debate against Sanders, Biden adopted two policy proposals championed by his far-left rivals.
“Today, Biden is adding to his agenda by adopting Sen. Sanders’s proposal to make public colleges and universities tuition-free for all students whose family incomes are below $125,000,” the campaign said. Previously, Biden advocated making only a two-year community college education tuition-free.
He also adopted Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s proposal to reform the bankruptcy system, a stunning change and acceptance of Warren’s views after a decade and a half of standing on the opposite side of a 2005 bankruptcy reform bill that he helped shape in the Senate, representing Delaware, home to the nation’s largest credit card companies. Meanwhile, Warren, then a Harvard Law School professor and a bankruptcy expert, strongly opposed the proposal, which eventually became law.
Biden’s campaign tried to downplay his role in the bill that made it more difficult to file for bankruptcy. “Biden worked hard to add progressive reforms to a bankruptcy bill that was going to be passed with or without him,” it said. “Today, he agrees firmly with Sen. Warren that we need to fundamentally reshape our bankruptcy system.”
The most recent shift in positions could be part of a Biden strategy to try and unite far-left factions of the party as Biden takes his role as the Democrats’ presumptive nominee, but this is far from the first time Biden obviously adjusted his policy platform and veered left.
Biden’s leftward lurch started in the early months of his campaign with a flip-flop-flip on the Hyde Amendment, which prevents government funds from being used on abortion.
Biden, a practicing Catholic, long held that abortion should be legal but that the federal government should not fund it. He touted his consistency on the issue in his 2007 book Promises to Keep: “I’ve stuck to my middle-of-the-road position on abortion for more than 30 years,” Biden wrote. “Those of us who are opposed to abortion should not be compelled to pay for them.”
But, in May 2019, just weeks after launching his presidential bid, Biden told an ACLU volunteer that he supported repealing the Hyde Amendment. Weeks later, his aides said the opposite.
The former vice president resolved the debacle by denouncing the amendment at a campaign event in Atlanta.
“Circumstances have changed. I’ve been working through the final details of my healthcare plan like others in this race, and I’ve been struggling with the problems that Hyde now presents,” Biden said.
Biden last summer also reversed his decadeslong support for the federal death penalty, joining nearly every one of his competitors in opposing it.
The pressure to showcase a leftist liberal position appears to have led the former vice president to say falsely that, while he voted for the Iraq War in 2002, he opposed the effort from the moment the March 2003 U.S.-led invasion started. “I voted to go into Iraq, and I’d vote to do it again,” Biden said in a Senate floor speech that July.
Biden was unable to stick with one key new leftist standard. Despite initially disavowing support from outside super PACs, the former vice president accepted help from one starting in October once his campaign struggled to raise as much money as his competitors.
The former vice president, however, was not the only candidate unable to banish super PACs for his whole campaign. Warren also reversed course on super PAC help in the last weeks of her campaign.
While Biden does not support a dramatic “Green New Deal” or go as far as abolishing private health insurance in favor of a single-payer “Medicare for all” healthcare system, the Democratic field’s “moderate” establishment candidate will be the most liberal nominee in modern history due to pressure from far-left candidates and activists creating a new standard of normal.
Though Sanders and Warren lost the Democratic presidential race, they may have won the party’s ideological war.