Uncovering the Biden-Harris Brain Trust

Back in August, the Democratic National Convention closed without saying a great deal about what a Biden-Harris Administration would do if successful in unseating President Trump. 

Speaker after speaker took to the virtual stage, saying the same words arranged in varying order. The theme settled succinctly on America’s soul. Her character. 

Adhering to the theme, guests offered anecdotes attesting to the character of Joe Biden, confirming his seemliness and suitability for the presidency. Without mirth, the DNC presented the air of eulogy rather than the hot-housing of political policy forged after a spiritual battle for the soul of the Democratic Party between warring tribes. There was no bolting of the two collective brains. 

After all, the nomination fight was anything but consensual. In February, the progressive wing of Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) tussled for their seemingly inevitable victory, before losing to the establishment wing and Joe Biden. 

Yet, the convention bore no flicker of its fractious birthing. The motif settled on the character of President Trump, the impetus upon his removal from office in transplant of the congenital mien of Joe Biden. 

The Democratic presidential campaign remains rooted in this theme. Biden has sought to determine this election as a personal referendum on the president’s character by pointing to approval ratings as if such numbers were of a supernatural revelation—God peeling back the clouds. 

In gist: Donald Trump is not likable, and Joe Biden is. 

Talk of character overwrites any meaningful discussion of policy. Such discussion is a sticky tar smudging the clarity of character, and what sort of character is befitting of the presidency. 

Biden presents his offer to the American people in the most primitive of details: Vote for me and return the presidency to an office of decorum and consideration, civility and bipartisan good manners. 

This granular theme flushes through the NeverTrump faction of (former?) Republicans whose desire to remove the president is perhaps hotter than that of their temporary Democratic allies.

Months on from the convention, policy talk remains a vague offering, the detailing strokes owing more to impressionism than the school of realism. 

The Biden-Harris campaign has published its platform, yet mentions little of the content on the campaign trail, not even a hard-boil of its retail elements. 

Perhaps, this is by design. The New York Times in July published an illuminating feature detailing the Biden campaign’s hush-hush surrounding its cognitive influence.  

Biden had entrusted himself to the advice of former Obama-Biden Administration figures, yet membership details of his economic policy team have been concealed in paranoid secrecy. 

Reporters attest the campaign issued a three-page document warning members not to refer to “the candidate or to the campaign” in correspondence. Also forbidden was any disclosure of names among those involved to those outside involvement. 

The selected could tell both friends and colleagues, but the memo warned them not to share any telling details on social media, LinkedIn, or within their professional bios. 

If encountered by journalists, the advice was: “Simply put, do not talk to the press.”

A reporter for the Times, a publication as sympathetic to Democratic politics as any can perhaps get, met this vow of silence. 

Gabriel Zucman, architect of Elizabeth Warren’s tax-the-wealthy platform, bounced the reporter’s email query to an email address matching the one Biden campaign officials disclosed to members of the secretive policy team in event of press inquiries. 

When pressed further, campaign officials adhered to their omertà

What we do know is a Biden-Harris Administration will populate with names deep-rooted in Democratic establishment soil, encouraging the saplings of prominent emerging liberal thinkers. 

Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, joins Ben Harris, another Obama-Biden émigré. The two are Biden’s most trusted advisers. 

Joining that duo is Heather Boushey, president of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. Boushey was also Hillary Clinton’s top economist for the latter’s failed 2016 bid. 

Other names familiar to the Obama-Hillary milieu are said to have the ears of the Biden-Harris campaign, including Indivar Dutta-Gupta, once a senior policy advisor at Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Jake Sullivan, senior policy advisor, has ties with the Brookings Institution, and Yale Center for the Study of Globalization. Anthony Blinken, an Obama Administration foreign policy adviser is said to join the talks.  

What we can expect from a Biden-Harris administration is the steady infusion of policy and personnel from the Obama-Hillary network, and from think tanks such as the well-connected Center for American Progress. 

Kamala Harris, the vice presidential nominee, surrounds herself with names which duplicate among the registers of brain trusts webbing together the Biden-Harris campaign, with Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. 

Her rise has depended on her enmeshment with Democratic powerbrokers, thinkers, and the billionaire backers at the very heart of the party. 

With Kamala, every detail is pressed through her sister, Maya Harris—her former campaign chair and now her closest political adviser. Maya is tipped for an influential role within a Biden-Harris Administration. 

Maya joins her former colleague Heather Boushey from their days at Hillary’s campaign, and at the Center for American Progress. For Hillary, Maya led a team of three top policy advisers, helping shape the 2016 campaign’s domestic agenda. 

Her former fellowship at the Center for American Progress links her with Lawrence Summers, another Biden adviser, and senior distinguished fellow at CAP. 

Maya’s Council on Foreign Relations membership meets that of Jack Lew and Byron Auguste, both members of the CFR, and both reportedly advising Biden. 

The Council on Foreign Relations is a 5,000-member think tank connecting figures across corporate America, the media, the educational establishment, influential nonprofits, and foundations. The globally-minded council is politely virulent against any notion of controlled immigration, fettered free trade, or any tempering of globalization.

Yet, the Biden-Harris brain trust links beyond the traditional realms of the Democratic war machine. 

The Berggruen Institute imagines “Transformations of the Human” in what it describes as a “philosophical study and artistic exploration of the manifold ways in which artificial intelligence and biotechnology challenge our established conceptions of what it means to be human.”

Berggruen is as young in years as its billionaire board members are founders of the social media giants. 

In essence, Berggruen funnels the boundless money of Biden-Harris billionaires, including Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, and Eric E. Schmidt, former Google boss, plowing those dollars into Democratic Party causes. 

Yet, the billionaires at least on paper have not had it all their own way. The Bernie-Warren wing has enjoyed some input, the latter said to be a “shoo-in” for a Biden-Harris cabinet. 

Ahead of August’s convention, the establishment and progressive wings sought to congeal a platform through the Biden-Sanders Joint Task Force, leaving that convention’s character theme unsmudged.

Those meetings fell short of the Bernie-Warren standard yet amounted to more than half a loaf. Bernie’s Medicare-for-All became Biden’s “public option.” Warren’s soak-the-billionaires simmered into Biden’s $3.4 trillion in tax increases. Bernie’s free college for all became free to families earning under $125,000 a year. Biden’s platform promises a “clean energy revolution” and “environmental justice.” 

Indeed, the Biden-Harris Administration would be the most left-wing in recent history, with an extra $5.4 trillion in spending, doubling Hillary Clinton’s 2016 bid, and safely the most progressive since George McGovern’s ill-fated 1972 presidential run. 

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About Christopher Gage

Christopher Gage is a British political journalist and a founding member of the Gentlemen of the Swig. Subscribe to his Substack, "Oxford Sour."

Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

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