Andrew Sullivan has some concerns about the Biden administration

March 13, 2021 • 12:00 pm

It may be my “glass half empty” view of the world, but Joe Biden, while proving an infinitely better President than Trump, still is doing some things that disturb me. And I don’t feel that we have to praise everything Biden does now that he’s been elected on the grounds that we should just shut up—after all, Trump is worse. Kvetching is always justified, no matter who’s President, for we haven’t had a perfect President.

One of Biden’s bad moves, mentioned very briefly by Andrew Sullivan in his column below, is the new administration’s proposal to dismantle the Title IX provisions for adjudicating sexual-assault cases, provisions strengthened by Betsy DeVos during the Trump administration. (This is one of the few good things I can mention about Trump’s changes.) DeVos’s changes, which I described here, included the following:

1.) Schools would now be required to hold live hearings and not closed-door adjudications.

2.) The “single-investigator model,” in which one person adjudicates all the evidence and passes judgment, would go out the window. All collected evidence would now have to be presented to a (presumably) objective third party or parties.

3.) Both accusers and accused will be allowed to cross-examine each other through an advisor or a lawyer. However, those who accuse someone of sexual assault or misconduct cannot be directly questioned by the defendant, which seems fair and protective of people’s psyches. They can, however, be questioned by a third party like a lawyer or adviser. This was something that was missing in the Obama regulation, but was recently mandated by a federal court ruling in Michigan.

4.) A “rape shield” protection will remain in place, so that a complainant’s sexual history will remain strictly off limits.

5.) Hearing, like court cases, will be conducted with the presumption of innocence of the accused.

6.) Instead of relying on the “preponderance of evidence” standard mandated by the Obama “suggestions,” schools can use either that standard or the “clear and convincing evidence” standard, which is stricter but still not as strict as the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used in courts.

You may recall that the standards, as I explained last year, are these:

  • Conviction requires guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt”, which of course means that the bar is very high for conviction.
  • Conviction requires “clear and convincing evidence”, that is, it must be “highly probable or reasonably certain” that harassment or assault occurred. This is conventionally interpreted to mean a likelihood of 75% or higher that the assault took place.
  • Conviction requires a “preponderance of the evidence” for assault or harassment. This means that it is more likely that not (likelihood > 50 %) that the offense occurred.

7.) The legal responsibility of colleges and universities would change: previously schools would be legally responsible for investigating complaints if they had “actual knowledge” that an assault had happened. Now they have legal responsibility only if a victim files a formal complaint. (If the victim doesn’t, schools are still encouraged to provide “supportive measures.”)

8.) Exculpatory evidence cannot be withheld from the accused. It could previously, which was one of the most unfair parts of the Obama-era guidelines. Further, those accused will be able to review all the evidence against them, which wasn’t previously mandated.

9.) Finally, colleges and universities can investigate conduct only if it occurs in the school’s own premises, programs, or activities, or in a location over which the college or university exercises oversight.

This now appear to be going the way of the dodo, as Biden is calling for a review of these changes and, as per a campaign promise, will probably undo them. As NPR reports, this has caused joy on the part of some and dismay on the others. I’m on the “dismay” side because an accusation of sexual assault is a very serious matter, and if you’re convicted you could not only be thrown out of college, but it could ruin your life. It seems to me that if colleges are to adjudicate these matters—and most of our readers think they should go first to the police, with colleges acting only after there’s a judicial finding—the accused and accuser should enjoy the same rights they have in a courtroom. By erasing the DeVos changes, Biden is ensuing that the accused person’s rights as outlined above will be weakened.

Another organization viewing Biden’s proposed changes with dismay is the Foundation for Individual Rights in education (FIRE):

“It’s certainly an opening salvo,” says Joe Cohn, legislative and policy director for the civil liberties advocacy group, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. “But the administration will not be able to easily ditch the regulations, and we’ll fight tooth and nail to make sure that they don’t.”

Because federal courts have affirmed students’ due process rights, Cohn says, the Biden administration will be limited in how much they can change.

“Institutions will hear from us that they can’t just disregard what the courts are saying,” Cohn says.

Others, however, think that Biden’s rollback is great:

“This is going to be a long march,” says Terry Hartle, senior vice president, Government Relations and Public Affairs for the American Council on Education, a trade group of colleges and universities.

The group is among those who object to the Trump administration rules. Hartle says they not only work against survivors, but they’re also unworkable for schools who are not equipped to be turned into pseudo-courts.

“We’re not judicial bodies,” he says. “Campus officials [are] not trained to navigate these sort of quasi-legal disputes.”

Note that they say the rules “work against survivors”, assuming that accusers are survivors. In fact, they work the same way for everyone, survivor or false accuser, perpetrator or falsely accused. And if schools aren’t equipped to be “pseudo-courts”, either throw the accusations to the police and real courts, or give everyone the same protections they get in real courts.

Another issue I object to, but only in small part, is Biden’s executive order on gender discrimination. While in the main it’s a great thing to have to protect transgender and “other-gender” people, it also regards transsexuals who have not undergone any kind of medical treatment as identical in every respect to someone of the sex they claim to be. For most moral and legal issues that’s fine, but when it comes to sports, prisons, and rape counseling, they should have carved out some reasonable exceptions.

At any rate, like me, Sullivan argues strenuously that criticizing Biden is not the same as approving Trump, which should be obvious. If you subscribe, click on the screenshot below.

Sullivan, who apparently knows a lot more about economics than I, also has a lot more to be worried about. I won’t go into his concerns about the spree of government spending, and I don’t know enough to weigh in on them. But here are some of his other worries (I don’t share all of these):

Step back some more, and look at the rest of the Biden agenda. It’s pretty similar in scale and ambition. HR1 — reforming democracy — has some good parts, but it is also a Christmas tree of hyper-progressive goals. On “social justice” questions, Biden mandates “equity” as a core principle in all policy-making, and Ibram Kendi indoctrination sessions for government employees; he is likely to end due process for college men accused of sexual assault or rape; he wants to legislate that sex-based rights are trumped by gender-based rights, and to repeal the Religious Freedom Restoration Act when it comes to gays, lesbians and transgender people. After a lifetime of opposition, Biden now backs full public funding of abortion. On immigration, Biden’s goal appears to be facilitating as much of it as possible, while granting a mass amnesty. Am I missing something? Is there a policy area where the left is not in control? (Seriously, if you can find an area where they’re not, I’ll post it, and recalibrate.)

He finds a silver lining, though:

Liberal democracy itself is threatened by the extreme gulf between rich and poor — and rebalancing this is vital. The lack of real economic gains for the vast majority for decades requires a major adjustment — and if sending people checks is the easiest way to do this, so be it. The resilience of low inflation and the persistence of a financial crisis recession suggests that a bigger stimulus in 2009 would have been preferable. Finding a way to support greater inclusion of minorities and women in every sphere of life and work is the right thing to do. Expanding healthcare to those most excluded it from it should not be a controversial question. In all these areas, the Democrats have their hearts and minds in the right place. A shift to the left in 2021 is completely defensible. Even the British Tories are economic lefties now. My 1980s self would look at my 2021 politics and be amazed how far I’ve come.

But a capitulation to the far left is something else.

Is Biden capitulating to the far left? I think he is—at least a lot more than I suspected. And below are some more concerns:

What I fear is that economic history has not ended, and that uncontrolled borrowing, spending and printing will lead to inflation that destroys people’s savings and livelihoods. What I fear is the next recession, when our staggering debt could render the government incapable of mitigating it. What I fear is an assault on the very ideas of individual freedom, merit, objective standards, hard work, self-reliance and free speech that have long defined the American experiment — in favor of crude racial engineering.

I’m with Andrew on the ones below:

What I fear is a generation’s rejection of limited government, and color-blind liberalism. What I worry about is a press whose mission seems increasingly devoted to enforcing elite orthodoxies, rather than pushing back on all forms of power. I fear an educational establishment that instills critical theory’s racism and sexism into the hearts and souls of children from the start, an establishment that regards the very idea of America as indelibly evil, and its founding ideals a myth and a lie.

In the main, of course, things are looking up. A detour into lunacy has been corrected. Now if we could just keep the left from becoming the Looney Left.

20 thoughts on “Andrew Sullivan has some concerns about the Biden administration

    1. I do not read Sullivan so I am not familiar with his politics so much. Much of what I hear simply does not interest me that much. The moderate democrat that he seems to like or to be has been a failure in the democratic party for many years. But just to handle one subject at a time, the Title 19 school experiment with operating their own justice system is simply a bad idea to me. Sexual assault and rape can only be handled properly by the police, not a pack of college administrators. If indited it would go to the normal court system with real judges and juries. Sexual harassment is not a crime for that type of prosecution. If anyone here knows of a large corp. or company who handle their own in house rape and assault please let me know. As for sexual harassment, I have previously explained how this works and works well in a large company so I will not repeat it here. However I can assure you that the proper investigation does not include the parties to the sexual harassment questioning each other. That is insane. If you required such a thing you would never have any sexual harassment reported. Think about the current accusations against Cuomo. If investigation of these women included questioning of each one of them by Cuomo, that would be a circus. It simply makes no sense. That is not the way you do sexual harassment.

      I mention the Cuomo case because it is classic sexual harassment. A guy with power over women repeatedly acting unappropriately. The investigation usually shows a history or pattern by the guy doing such things.

  1. I still don’t know what the “far left” is. Certainly this label can’t be applied to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Bernie Sanders. Those two, along with some others, are, generally speaking, proponents of social democracies of the kind we see in Scandinavia. Or maybe I should use the term “democratic socialism.” I’m not sure. Anyway, I’m not aware of any “far left” person in government or of any “far left” proposals that are under consideration.

    When it comes to universal healthcare, gun control, eliminating prisons for profit, ending the federal prohibition of marijuana, and rolling out an aggressive Green New Deal, I see none of these as “far left” goals. It just seems to me that making the United States of America a bit more like Scandinavia hardly seems like a “left” turn to me.

    1. I so agree these objectives are far more important and will have a huge impact on improving the vast majority of people’s lives. The question is why are they not tackling these? It makes no sense, a bit like a lot of Ameican politics lol

    2. proponents of social democracies of the kind we see in Scandinavia. Or maybe I should use the term “democratic socialism.”

      The two are very different (the word “social” is much weaker than “socialism”):

      “Social democracy”: Capitalist, market economy, with redistributive taxation to fund a welfare state.

      “Democratic socialism”: All aspects of the economy are collectively owned (by the state or worker cooperatives).

    3. I agree, Barry. What “centrist” Democrats are now is really right wing compared to other European democracies.

    4. None of the Scandinavian countries follow the tenets of socialism. They have strong economies, which allow them to provide strong social benefits. They thrive because of a culture of very high literacy and workplace participation, and a strong work ethic. Scandinavians tend to thrive anywhere they have established communities.
      The DS logic of pointing to Scandinavia as an example is sort of backwards. If you want to be successful in the model of Andrew Carnegie, you don’t start by building libraries. You have to start by tirelessly building a steel industry. The libraries come afterwards.

    5. Demographics of a few Scandinavian/Nordic countries:
      Sweden….pop 10.4 million, around 80% white
      Norway…..pop 5.4 million, around 84% white
      Denmark…..pop 5.8 million, around 87% white….

      (Norway, btw, I believe owns the largest sovereign wealth fund in the world.)

      Compare these demos to United States…)

      1. IIRC, Norway has spent only from the investment income from their large accumulated oil wealth, not any of the capital. Also if my memory serves me, about 4 years ago, my 2nd last time there, the amount in the fund came to something like $200,000 for every person (age >0) in the population, maybe $CDN. (Sweden had way back turned down a deal for half oil share in return for something or other—maybe the same Swedish government moron who designed their Covid response.)

        If correct, 200,000 x 5 million would be a cool trillion dollars (easy: 1/5 times 5; each a million). Boosted up to the population of the US, that would come to about $65 trillion. But US, and Canada, and Britain basically just hand the corresponding cash over to Exxon, etc. AFAIK. If it’s socialism, it’s my kind of socialism.

        A small amount of the investment spending probably goes to encouraging children to ski fast (as opposed to over here using tax $ to build pro sports stadiums for multimillionaire pro team owners). Norway only got about half the medals in the recently finished World Nordic Championships, more than half the golds. The remainder of the world, population about 1400 times larger, got what remained, including usually no gold in the team sports. Fortunately for the latter, each country could only enter one team. In separate biathlon, again Norway won both relay golds, men and women, so they shoot straight as well, at near maximum heartrate!

        Veering off topic as usual, but just rewatching Klaebo leave everybody in the dust–oops, in the snow.

  2. Not only are these ideas I mentioned in my second paragraph not being tackled (or at least not with any gusto), they’re being labeled, by some, as “far left” ideas. Maybe I’m not hip to the current lingo. Maybe these ideas do fall under the “far left” umbrella and I just don’t know it.

    So what is this mysterious “far left” I keep hearing about? Are the ideas I mentioned “far left”? If they aren’t, can someone give me an example of a “far left” proposal being discussed among Democrats?

  3. I’ve been wondering if Biden hasn’t loaded up his proposals with a few items that will thrill the left but that he suspects will get dumped during the inevitable negotiations. The $15 minimum wage was one such item and the ones mentioned in this post are others. Their presence will thrill the Far Left but they probably won’t make it into law.

    Reviewing the Title IX changes made by Trump’s administration is something everyone should expect to happen. I suspect the Biden administration will review everything the Trump administration touched. Such a review may not result in actual policy changes. It is also a chance for both sides of the issue to get a hearing. I haven’t looked at the DeVos changes in great detail but they sound right to me.

    I totally agree that we should scrutinize Biden’s statements as with any politician.
    They know if they let anything slide, Republicans will cry “double standard”. They also want to be thought of as fact-based rather than biased toward the Left. Still, they go a bit far. Biden said:

    “A year ago we were hit with a virus that was met with silence and spread unchecked. Denials for days, weeks, then months. That led to more deaths, more infections, more stress, and more loneliness.”

    CNN and others have noted that Trump wasn’t really silent. Clearly Biden was exaggerating a bit here but I doubt any normal person would regard it as a lie.

  4. Biden’s executive order on gender discrimination and the related bill passed by the House of Representatives are laudable in their goals, but dangerous in their implementation. The normal way to protect a group of people from discrimination is to create a new protected class, but that does not seem to be the approach taken here. Instead, the bill (and, implicitly, the executive order) proposes to eliminate gender discrimination by redefining sex to include gender. In doing so, it prioritizes gender rights of rights based on sex. Every hard fought accommodation available to women, including schools, scholarships, prisons, shelters, athletic teams, etc would now be available to anyone who claims to be a woman. There is no need for surgery or any other treatment or even to present oneself as a woman. Most people agree that transgender individuals should have equal rights with respect to employment, housing, education, etc., but most people also think that there is a difference between a biological female and a trans woman.

    1. Right. The Equality Act defines “gender identity” as “the gender-related identity, appearance, mannerisms, or other gender-related characteristics of an individual, regardless of the individual’s designated sex at birth” — but there’s no definition of “gender” anywhere in the bill. That means “gender identity” isn’t just circular, but incomprehensible, since it obviously isn’t supposed to be the same as “sex.” Gay rights doesn’t introduce any new metaphysical and epistemic concepts, nor does it change any existing rights. It’s hard to say whether it’s radical, or regressive, elements being snuck into a human rights bill.

  5. The way Biden caved in to an unelected Senate Parliamentarian on the $15 issue convinces me that he is not Far Left. In fact, many leftists are quiet disappointed about this.

    1. I don’t understand why the $15 minimum wage was tacked on to the end of the COVID relief bill in the first place. It’s got nothing to do with COVID relief.

      I came to the conclusion that it was just there to draw the fire of the Republicans so they wouldn’t do too much damage to the rest of the bill.

      1. It was in there because the Democrats were using the reconciliation process and they could do it without Republican votes. To get it through as a stand-alone is a much steeper hill to climb.

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