You might have thought that Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, had nothing threatening his bid to secure America’s political center ground. If you did, you were mistaken.
Last week Mr. Biden made a huge concession to the man he defeated, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and the Vermont socialist’s wing of the Democratic Party. The two men announced six “unity task forces” to “explore possible policy initiatives” on climate change, criminal justice, the economy, education, health care and immigration. Mr. Biden selected five members for each group and Mr. Sanders three; both men named a co-chairman for each committee.
The two of them portrayed this as an effort to unify Democrats, which Mr. Biden called “key to defeating Donald Trump.” He said the task forces “will be essential to identifying ways to build on our progress” and “transform our country”—a hallmark phrase of his party’s left wing. In turn, Mr. Sanders stressed the importance of soliciting the best ideas so Democrats can “create an agenda that the working class of this country desperately needs.”
The two working together wasn’t a complete surprise. In a joint statement last month they committed to ensuring “Sanders supporters and delegate candidates” were represented at the Democratic convention “both on the floor and in committees.” What’s unusual is how far this latest move goes. The task forces will write Mr. Biden’s policy agenda for the election.
It’s an unwise concession by the former vice president, which could lead to months of intrigue and posturing. Followers of Mr. Sanders will pressure Mr. Biden to adopt their views, policies and radical sensibilities.
These working groups could sow discord if Mr. Biden doesn’t shift far enough to the left. Before Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez agreed to be a co-chairman of the climate task force, she consulted with “the Climate Justice community” and pledged to be “fully accountable to them and the larger advocacy community during this process,” according to a spokeswoman. Note to Mr. Biden: AOC’s loyalties are with her “social-justice warrior” friends, not you.
Many of the members picked by Mr. Sanders have extreme views. Varshini Prakash, a co-founder and executive director of the Sunrise Movement, which has led the push for the Green New Deal, serves on the climate committee. Sunrise wants to end fracking immediately, ban drilling in federal waters and on federal lands, prohibit exports of oil and natural gas, and set a 10-year timetable to phase out all oil and gas drilling permanently. This is a political middle finger to not only Texas, but Pennsylvania, too.
Other task-force co-chairmen are drawn from groups such as the National Immigration Law Center, which favors full access to welfare benefits for illegal aliens, and Demos, the think tank that works to make it harder for states to purge registration rolls of dead voters and former residents. The task-force chairmen and members also include outspoken advocates for Medicare for All, “free” college, student-debt forgiveness, defunding the Border Patrol and the bizarre but trendy Modern Monetary Theory. (Sanders appointee Stephanie Kelton says having its own printing press means the government doesn’t have to “worry about going broke.”)
Typically, a candidate’s advisers help hash out positions on major issues long before primaries begin, not after they’re settled. That Mr. Biden is allowing ideological rivals and, in some cases, antagonists, to define where he stands on six big issues signals that he doesn’t know why he’s running for president except to be president.
Mr. Biden won the nomination as a traditional Democrat who could, like Warren G. Harding, return America to normalcy. His general election message—such as it was—seemed targeted at suburbanites who sent Mr. Trump a message by voting Democratic in the midterms. By contrast, the model favored by Mr. Sanders and his supporters would raise a bold banner of left-wing populism to awaken a sleeping progressive majority of the young, people of color and the disaffected. That agenda will inspire socialists and scare everyone else.
Mr. Biden is surrounded by a smart team, led by campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon and longtime adviser Mike Donilon. They’re making a risky, possibly unnecessary bet to give their recently defeated adversaries on the left a large role in defining Mr. Biden’s agenda. We’ll see how their experiment in party unity works out.