The endgame for postal networks: How to win in the age of e-commerce

The e-commerce megatrend is a big opportunity for postal players, but market and competitive dynamics are squeezing incumbents. Three winning tactics can help these companies stay competitive.

Why the future is Asian

Global-strategy adviser Parag Khanna describes the ways that the world economy is increasingly Asia-centric and will be moving even more swiftly in that direction.

Oculus Quest Delivers Quality Wireless VR Gaming, But At a High Price

Using virtual reality can be uncomfortable. VR headsets are typically bulky, fit poorly, and have too many wires.

Facebook set out to solve this problem with its new Oculus Quest, which went on sale this week. Its wireless design sets it apart from most headsets, and the adjustable straps help make it fit more snuggly.

To put Quest through its paces, I used it with several apps and to play several video games. I found that the game graphics shifted smoothly when I moved and turned my head to look around. That doesn’t mean it’s the first high-quality VR headset. But the fact that it can perform at a high level as a standalone device–rather than one that plugs into a computer–is impressive, and the lack of wires made playing feel like I wasn’t weighed down.

I started my test by watching an animated 360-degree YouTube video featuring animals moving between Earth and space. VR really changes how it feels to watch video. As the video shifts to the space scene you can look all around at the sun and stars. The characters also move behind you forcing you to get the full perspective.

But other VR headsets can do this as well. And since I was mostly sitting when watching the video, the wireless feature didn’t make a difference.

I also used Quest to play Beat Saber, which is like a VR take on Dance Dance Revolution combined with lightsabers. It’s a fun game that requires you to duck, move to the side, and swing your arms. It’s really easy to get into the game when the music is playing and you’re not worried about hitting wires.

When playing other VR games, especially ones that force you to move around rather than sit, it’s frustrating to hit a cable or tug one too far. You also don’t need to worry about positioning yourself close enough to your device while also finding a spot with enough room to move around.

Then I played Dance Central, similar to the Just Dance series popularized on motion-capture games like the Wii, Xbox Kinect, and PS Move. It feels very similar to playing on those devices, which took advantage of wireless controllers.

I also used the Wander app, which taps data from Google Maps’ Street View to allow users to walk around the world. With the Wander app you can search an address and then seemingly walk around that area.

The first place I went to was my childhood home in New Jersey, which the Oculus team said is actually a common choice. The app also lets you look through images over past years, so I looked back at my home when I lived there and saw how the area has changed since I left.

I also took a trip to the White House where I learned that it operates best with addresses rather than place names. For example, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue took me there, but simply saying “The White House” did not.

Quest comes with embedded speakers located near the ears. The volume can be adjusted with a button on the headset allowing for sound in both ears without cutting the user off from the room they’re in. Most other headsets require you to use over-the-ear headphones or earbuds. It may seem like a small change, but the ability to use VR and be immersed in the game or video without being completely cut off from reality is welcome.

When trying out the headset, it was easy for me to still carry on conversations with people in the room and to share what I could see in the headset. It makes the VR experience far less isolating without taking away from the game or video experience.

Users can plug in headphone jacks if using your own headphones is preferred.

Quest has two to three hours of battery life, which isn’t long for players who are used to long game sessions. Of course rival models like the PlayStation VR that require wires to connect to other devices can be used continuously as long as they are plugged in.

Quest is compatible with the Oculus app on iPhones and Android devices. The app is free, but games and apps that can be used with Oculus usually cost $30 or less.

That Quest is truly is a standalone gaming device separates it from its wireless predecessor, Oculus Go, which is more for private viewing of movies and short videos rather than for gaming because it can’t run more advanced games. Most importantly, the headset is better for VR newbies because buying a game console or high-powered PC is unnecessary.

The Quest, which costs $399 for the 64GB version and $499 for 128GB, is pricey. But it’s comparable to other VR gaming sets, which typically require additional hardware that jacks up the overall price.

The Quest shows that VR headset design is nearly good enough to attract a broader audience than the current VR fanbase: hardcore gamers and tech fans. It’s still not quite the future of VR some are hoping for, but the Quest is a big step in the right direction.

Brainstorm Health: Novartis $2.1 Million Drug, Brexit Fallout, Jakafi Drug Approval

Happy Friday, readers!

On Friday, drug giant Novartis got the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) green light for a first-of-its-kind gene therapy to treat a rare, devastating genetic muscle-wasting disorder called spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). This victory was largely expected; all eyes, however, were on where Novartis would place the treatment’s list price.

Speculation was rampant. Would it be $2 million? $4 million? Even more? After all, Novartis CEO Vas Narasimhan had taken pains to argue that the therapy, Zolgensma, would be “cost-effective” at list prices nearing $5 million given SMA’s devastating nature and the fact that this treatment is a one-off medicine.

The company decided not to go quite that far in the end. But the number they’ve settled on still gives Zolgensma the distinction of being the world’s most expensive drug (at least by list price) at a $2.125 million tag.

Novartis has continued to assert this is a reasonable price, especially since it’s following it up with a number of unique payment programs. For instance, the company is offering an installment payment program to insurers who’d like to participate (and, technically, it’s “only” $425,000 per year over the course of five years, which is still cheaper than other available options, the firm’s executives say).

So what do the watchdogs have to say? Technically, the price tag falls within the higher range of cost-effectiveness pegged by groups like the Institute for Clinical and Economic Review (ICER), a persistent industry gadfly.

What will be more interesting to see going forward is what actual patients’ experience will be with the proposed pricing system, and what government regulators may do in the meantime. For now, welcome to the era of the world’s most expensive drug. And maybe don’t be shocked that the announcement comes ahead of a long weekend.

We’ll be off on Monday in observance of the Memorial Day holiday and back in your inboxes on Tuesday, May 28. In the meantime, read on for the day’s news and have a great Memorial Day.

Sy Mukherjee
@the_sy_guy
sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com

INDICATIONS

ICER revives Sarepta gene therapy debate. Speaking of drug pricing – ICER handed out another (and less positive) overview of a different pioneering medicine. The asset on the hot seat this time around is Sarepta’s Exondys 51, which became the first approved treatment for the muscle-wasting disorder Duchenne muscular dystrophy a few years back (and to major controversy). ICER concludes that the treatment is not cost effective or, well, just generally all that effective for most Duchenne patients.

FDA approves Incyte drug for graft versus host. Biotech firm Incyte received its own important FDA approval on Friday, an expanded indication for Jakafi in treating a form of graft-versus-host disease. This is the first-ever medicine approved in this particular indication, and Incyte stock was up about 2% in Friday trading.

THE BIG PICTURE

Theresa May is out. What will Brexit mean for health care? With Theresa May announcing this morning that she’ll resign as leader of the U.K.’s Conservative party and her role as Prime Minister, there are renewed questions about what Brexit will mean for the pharmaceutical supply chain. The answers are… Complicated. And they depend on a whole lot of issues that have yet to be settled (will there be an agreement set with the E.U., or a “no-deal” Brexit?) If it turns out to be the latter, public health officials have warned of potential disruptions to the pharmaceutical supply chain in the U.K. (which has already led some patients and drug makers to begin stockpiling medications).

REQUIRED READING

Theresa May Is Quitting Britain’s Top Job. Business Won’t Like What Comes Next, by David Meyer

What’s Wrong With San Francisco, by Adam Lashinksy

The Best Business Documentaries to Watch This Weekend, by Polina Marinova

The Race Is On to Build a Better Battery, by Jeffrey Ball

[ceo_attribution author=”Produced by Sy Mukherjee” email=”sayak.mukherjee@fortune.com” twitter=”the_sy_guy”] Find past coverage. Sign up for other Fortune newsletters.

Out of the Office: Easing the Stress of Packing With Away CEO Steph Korey

Going on vacation should be fun and relaxing. Except when you’re packing. What do I bring? Do I really need all these clothes? Will it all fit?

Away is a travel company that makes suitcases, bags, and other travel products. So what better way to ease the stress of packing than to learn from the pros?

Fortune’s Beth Kowitt and Away CEO Steph Korey stepped out of the office and into Away’s New York City store to go over some tips that will make packing seem like less of a chore.

While SpaceX’s Internet Satellites Launch, a Rival’s Stock Price Blasts Off

Elon Musk’s SpaceX got a stratospheric number of headlines this week for lofting into orbit the first 60 operational satellites for its planned Starlink Internet service. But the startup will need to launch hundreds more satellites before offering even rudimentary Internet service from space–and almost 12,000 satellites to offer global, high-speed coverage.

Meanwhile, almost no one is writing about Viasat, one of the two major companies that already offer space-based Internet, albeit using a small number of traditional, massive satellites in geosynchronous orbit. Despite the lack of press, the company seems to be doing well.

On Thursday, Viasat


vsat



blasted through Wall Street’s expectations by reporting that its fiscal year revenue had risen 30% to $2.1 billion. For the quarter, revenue of $557 million was about $18 million over forecasts.

In reaction, Viasat’s stock jumped 7% on Friday to an all-time high of over $97. It’s now up 60% this year.

“We feel we’re just getting started and that we’ve got good momentum for the long-term,” CEO Mark Dankberg told analysts.

Viasat’s trajectory provides two important lessons for SpaceX Starlink and other similar efforts such as Jeff Bezos’ Project Kuiper and Masayoshi Son’s OneWeb. All of them plan to use large fleets of small satellites in low orbits to provide fast Internet service worldwide.

These new entrants market their services as if there are no existing competitors. Of course, Viasat and its top rival, EchoStar’s


sats



Hughes Communications unit, beg to differ.

Also, the old guard doesn’t provide Internet service everywhere. Rather, they offer service–speedy service at that–where large numbers of people live, like the United States, Europe, and South America.

Last year, Viasat introduced plans with speeds up to 100 Megabits per second though costing $150 per month after a promotional period. Hughes’ Gen5 service has slower download speeds, only up to 25 Mbps, but starts at just $40 a month.

Viasat and Hughes also offer service for planes, boats, and other craft that are beyond the reach of land-based Internet service. That means the newbies will, in some cases, have to steal customers from the two incumbents.

The second important thing to note is that the existing services are improving. Viasat is spending over $1 billion on new satellites with even higher capacities. The first school-bus-sized satellite is planned to go up over the U.S. in early 2021 and a second covering Asia about six months later.

Meanwhile, Hughes plans a new satellite in 2021 so that it, too, can offer 100 Mbps speeds.

To be sure, Starlink and its fellow startups have some advantages over the incumbent providers. Because their small satellites will fly at much lower orbits, there will be less latency for consumers using its service. That’s not an important consideration for watching Netflix or sending emails, where immediate two-way communication doesn’t matter. But it’s crucial for activities like web surfing and, especially, for online activities done in groups like live video gaming.

At the end of the day, the real test in the satellite space race is economic. Can the small satellites offer service more cheaply or to more people? We won’t know the answer for a few more years. But in the meantime, Viasat and Hughes aren’t standing still.

What’s Wrong With San Francisco

This article first appeared in Data Sheet, Fortune’s daily newsletter on the top tech news. To get it delivered daily to your in-box, sign up here.

It is open season on the technology industry and its capital city. And not without reason.

The behemoth tech companies that created so much excitement, value, and utility for consumers everywhere have worn out their welcome for the time being. Facebook abetted the ruination of democracy. Twitter has helped foul the national discourse. Apple has made tech addicts of its users, young and old.

As for the city tourists love to think is charming, quirky, and beautiful, it isn’t much of any of those things lately. Homeless people litter its feces-strewn sidewalks. Rich and entitled techies hide in its nicer neighborhoods and sterile skyscrapers. Traffic is so snarled that it’s difficult to get to the gorgeous nature that surrounds the city.

The world has noticed. The New York Times profiled a man who hunts for treasure in Mark Zuckerberg’s trash. The Washington Post accuses San Francisco of breaking America’s heart. Breakingviews helpfully suggests tech companies pay an employee bounty to attend civic meetings in the hopes of making citizens out of workers. (A glimmer of hope: Google says it wants to help save a comedy club after it was revealed to be the next tenant of the club’s space.)

Then again, this is nothing new. I wasn’t here when the Hippies ruined San Francisco. But I was when the precursors to brogrammers, late 1990s MBAs, spoiled the neighborhood. That was before they all lost their jobs. What’s quaint about San Francisco, despite the smell of urine in the streets, is the city’s ability to reinvent itself.

It will happen again.

Could Ford Buy Tesla? Here’s How Likely A “Doomsday” Scenario Is

Former Tesla bulls have been bailing on the company. The stock continues to drop. Bond prices are at low levels. The auto maker is burning through $1 billion in cash a quarter, the cash from the latest $2.7 billion funding round will be gone within ten months, and demand is falling off.

One of the classic business solutions would be an acquisition. Maybe a white knight with the cash and managerial and operational wherewithal to come in, buy the company, fix the broken parts, and let Tesla become what it had the potential to be. Or for a hostile takeover, where people who see an opportunity scoop up the company, break it apart for its value, sell off the pieces, and discard the remaining empty husk.

As its circumstances drive an ever more expensive cost of obtaining funding, that might be the future for Tesla. There are just two questions: who might be interested in the deal, and would CEO Elon Musk ever assent to such a scenario?

One expensive target

Making a deal work would be a challenge. At the moment, even with the battered stock, Tesla has a market capitalization of close to $34 billion. Many experts say that Tesla has some extraordinary strength in batteries and powertrain, the most basic fundamentals of an electric vehicle, and in artificial intelligence, a key to automated operation. Companies with a current interest in electric and autonomous vehicles include Google’s parent Alphabet, GM, Ford, Volkswagen, and possibly even Apple. Just last year, Apple hired a senior Tesla designer, renewing speculation that Apple might want to get into the car business.

Some of these companies could almost drop that much money from petty cash. Google had about $113.5 billion in cash and short-term investments on its latest published balance sheet. Apple had $80.1 billion plus another $145.3 billion in long-term investments.

Auto manufacturers don’t have that type of wealth. GM has $24.7 billion in cash and investments. Ford shows $26.6 billion in cash and investments, while Volkswagen shows cash, cash equivalents, and time deposits of $22.3 billion. Not enough to write a check but strong enough to do a deal.

If it made sense. That’s the hitch, because at the moment it doesn’t.

“If you add up the technologies where you think they’re strong and say what would it cost to reproduce those technologies on a timeline that would fit a product roll-out of whoever’s acquiring them, how much is that worth?” said Erik Gordon, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. “At a $30 billion market cap, that’s an outrageously expensive price to pay for its technology assets.”

Gordon thinks the price would have to come down to between $10 billion and $20 billion for a company to take an interest. In other words, the stock would have to drop to roughly half its current price to become attractive.

Even that might be a stretch, particularly for GM or Ford, which “would rather try to compete with Tesla than buy it,” wrote David Whiston, equity strategist in U.S. autos for Morningstar Research Services, in an email to Fortune. The chance of either car company acquiring Tesla “could only potentially happen if Tesla’s stock fell well into the single digit billion market cap because it’d be too expensive for GM or Ford otherwise.” That would represent a catastrophic drop of 80% to 90% in value. At that level, the number of other potential investors could include private equity, SoftBank, TenCent, a sovereign wealth fund like Saudi Arabia’s, or possibly even a wealthy individual like Larry Ellison. In a bidding war scenario, the big car manufacturers would be unlikely to win because private equity firms could raise more money than the auto makers would be willing to spend.

Friendly Fire?

A friendly acquisition would need a buyer that could afford the price tag and believe that it could set the operations aright separately or integrate them into its own. At this point, there may not be many that fit the bill.

“If this had been in another era, an obvious one would have been a Chinese company,” Gordon said. Trade wars with the U.S. make that unlikely.

“There’s a lot of other companies with better management doing R&D and putting a lot of money into the electric car sweepstakes,” said Robert Johnson, a professor of finance at Creighton University’s Heider College of Business. Between the financial problems, history of inability to deliver on promises, and recent news of cars going up in flames, a big company either already has its own operations or could have other choices. Ford recently invested $500 million in Rivian Automotive, which is working on an electric pickup and SUV with 400-mile ranges.

What Tesla would need to do, assuming anyone could get a proud Musk to admit a measure of defeat and welcome help, is “create an acquisition,” said Dave Cantin, CEO of Dave Cantin Group, an advisory firm that does extensive work in automotive acquisitions. By that, he means Tesla would have to reform operations, and perhaps drop its own expectations, so that a buyer would have a chance to make a return on its investment.

But getting Musk to step away, or listen to others, would be a challenge.

“How do you get the founder and an individual that is as tied to any company as Elon Musk is to Tesla to agree to give up control and allow others to make those kinds of decisions?” said Johnson. “The biggest obstacle to a friendly or unfriendly takeover with respect to Tesla is Elon Musk himself. And it’s such an idiosyncratic thing. With Elon Musk at the helm, it’s hard to imagine how [possible deals] would happen.”

At the end of the day, “If Tesla got acquired, unless a buyer is willing to let Elon do whatever he wants, I don’t see him being part of an acquired Tesla,” Whiston wrote. “He doesn’t strike me as someone who would tolerate constraints and being told what to do. So he’d have to be willing to sell his roughly 22% stake and in my opinion that’s something he would only do if it was the only way to keep Tesla alive.”

More must-read stories from Fortune:

–The winners and losers in a $1 trillion buyback year

–Too many companies are paying too much for stock buybacks

–This year’s tech IPOs are raising $2.2 billion on average

–How to invest during a trade war

–Listen to our new audio briefing, Fortune 500 Daily

Don’t miss the daily Term Sheet, Fortune‘s newsletter on deals and dealmakers.

A Planned KKK Rally Has Dayton, Ohio On Edge

Here’s your week in review, in haiku

 

1.

One stable genius,

extremely calm, so calm. It’s

infrastructure week!

 

2.

A matter of deep

regret, three times a failure:

Brexit, stage (far) right.

 

3.

Screams from a raging

sky, an Indian landslide,

China clears it’s throat.

 

4.

Harrriet Tubman,

coming to a bill near you:

The latest Stamp Act

 

5.

At some point we all

learn that we have not dated

Natalie Portman

 

 

Have a memory-filled long weekend! RaceAhead returns, tan, rested, and ready on May 28.

On Point

[bs-title]A planned KKK rally has Dayton, Ohio on edge[/bs-title][bs-content]According to an agreement with the city, the Indiana-based affiliate of the KKK, the Honorable Sacred Knights, will hold a rally from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. tomorrow at Dayton’s Courthouse Square. While they may not number more than twenty, they do have permission to wear masks and carry legal weapons. It appears that they will be outnumbered by counter-protesters, including New Black Panther Party for Self-Defense and Antifa groups, which has made “The atmosphere at the rally will be contentious,” Cathy Gardner, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater Dayton, said in a statement. “The threat for potential danger will be high… We know the best option is to stay as far away as possible from Courthouse Square.” Wright-Patterson Air Force Base is prohibiting service members who work there from being anywhere near the rally. “This hate group that is coming in from outside our community want to incite problems in our community and we want to stop that from happening,” Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley told Ohio’s Fox45 on Thursday. [/bs-content][bs-link link=”https://www.newsweek.com/ahead-kkk-rally-dayton-ohio-mayor-urges-rival-protesters-stay-away-thats-what-1433941″ source=”Newsweek”]

[bs-title]Philadelphia District Attorney wants Meek Mill to get a new trial[/bs-title][bs-content]The legally beleaguered rapper is finally getting a break after the Philadelphia D.A.’s office issued new documents in favor of giving Mill getting a new trial with a new, unbiased judge. Judge Genece Brinkley,has been accused multiple times of discriminating against Mill, who sentenced the rapper to prison for a “technical violation” of his probation. His original incarceration in state prison ended in April 2018. Meek’s lawyer, Jordan Siev, said in a statement that this action “marks the first time the DA has publicly outlined in writing that it supports Judge Brinkley’s recusal based on her ‘appearance of partiality’ and ‘public perception of unfairness and bias.”[/bs-content][bs-link link=”https://www.complex.com/music/2019/05/meek-mill-new-trial-different-judge” source=”Complex”]

[bs-title]Sometimes other things happen on Capitol Hill[/bs-title][bs-content]Rapper T.I. and radio host Charlamagne tha God were among the bold-faced names who attended a Congressional Black Caucus meeting on “opportunity zones,” this week. Opportunity zones are an under-discussed part of last year’s tax overhaul bill that’s designed to spur investment in low-income communities; Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) hosted the forum which invited participants from numerous industries. “Spent my day with a few good men, discussing quite a few good things,” Charlamgane posted on Instagram. David Gross, the late Nipsey Hussle’s business partner was there representing as well. [/bs-content][bs-link link=”https://www.washingtonpost.com/arts-entertainment/2019/05/23/ti-charlamagne-tha-god-talk-with-lawmakers-about-investment-black-communities/?utm_term=.0dbb72cd55c9″ source=”Washington Post”]

[bs-title]Allegations of racism levelled at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston[/bs-title][bs-content]The alleged incident came after students from a Dorchester charter school visited the museum. The principal of the Helen Y. Davis Leadership Academy complained that one museum employee told students “no food, no drink, and no watermelon,” and a separate visitor told one female student that she should pay attention so she could avoid ending up as a stripper. When asked about the allegations, Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh told reporters,”We can’t have institutions in our city, in our state, in our country, being disrespectful like that. It’s just uncalled for.” Allegedly. [/bs-content][bs-link link=”https://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2019/05/23/outrage-dismay-after-allegations-racism-museum-fine-arts/TjGpWTSBo2vZYFKl9nalBN/story.html” source=”Boston Globe”]

On Background

[bs-title]I wonder if a more diverse workforce could have seen this coming[/bs-title][bs-content]Most AI assistants have voices that sound like young women, and are often used to do helpful things, like check traffic and weather, help with tasks, play music or tell jokes. They’re also programmed to be polite and laugh off any abuse or inappropriate requests. Accommodating! A new United Nations report finds that this gendered presentation reinforces harmful stereotypes that women are “docile, eager-to-please helpers without any agency, always on hand to help their masters.” While a “Black Mirror”-tinged world where AI assistants don’t take any crap from anyone sounds appealing somehow, a better solution might be to make AI bots with genderless voices and personalities. The report also found that women are 25% less likely to have basic digital skills than men and are only a fourth as likely to know how to program computers.[/bs-content] [bs-link link=”https://www.technologyreview.com/f/613569/female-voice-assistants-fuel-damaging-gender-stereotypes-says-un-study/” source=”MIT Technology Review”]

[bs-title]Reclaiming a nearly lost language[/bs-title][bs-content]Long before Europeans arrived in North America, the Ye Iswa lived along the banks of the Catawba River, along what would now be the border between North and South Carolina. Their name means “people of the river.” The tribe is now known as Catawba, but their language, from which their original name is derived, is nearly lost. The last fluent speaker died in 1964. DeLesslin “Roo” George-Warren, a young member of the tribe has been given a grant to launch the Catawba Language Project, and hopes to use modern technology to bring the language back. “I’m creating a learning app for the language and bringing Catawba words into material culture for the tribe,” he told NBC. But he also hopes the project will address an immediate emergency, the epidemic of suicide in Native communities. “Study after study has found that in Native communities, having a sense of culture is one of the best preventions of suicide.”[/bs-content][bs-link link=”http://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/native-american-two-spirit-fights-keep-tribe-s-language-alive-n755471″ source=”NBC News”]

[bs-title]The time that Isamu Noguchi visited a Japanese internment camp to be helpful and was then forced to stay[/bs-title][bs-content]INoguchi was already a well-known and highly sought-after sculptor and designer, working on large scale public projects like one in NYC’s Rockefeller Center, and sculpting portraits of the Hollywood elite. But when a Bureau of Indian Affairs official suggested the Los Angeles born artist set up an art center at the newly constructed Poston War Relocation Center, he agreed. It was only after he arrived that he realized that he too, was under suspicion, and the authorities would not let him leave. A fascinating profile of a profoundly optimistic .[/bs-content][bs-link link=”http://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-japanese-american-artist-who-went-to-the-camps-to-help?mbid=social_twitter” source=”New Yorker”]

[bs-content]Aidan Taylor assisted in the preparation of today’s summaries.[/bs-content]

Quote

[bs-quote link=”https://www.myfrugalbusiness.com/2012/05/impact-of-sears-catalogue.html” author =”–Richard W. Sears”]Many a hundred-dollar man remains a fifteen-dollar subordinate because he is not given any latitude and is not allowed to develop… The surest way to gain unswerving loyalty of employees is to show them from the start that they will be allowed to make the most of themselves. A man wants to stay with the firm with which he can reach his greatest efficiency.[/bs-quote]

Why Joe Biden Is the Only True Progressive Candidate

As the beneficiary of simultaneous attacks by both President Donald Trump from the right and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from the left, former Vice President Joe Biden could not have orchestrated it better. The good fortune of being caught in the crossfire of the polarized partisans defines Biden for who he is–the real progressive, just as he claims. And this may explain why Biden, with his unique reach across constituencies, towers over rivals in the latest polls.

To the consternation of Trump’s advisors, his made-for-TV taunts have accelerated Biden’s transcendence over his two dozen Democratic primary rivals as Trump seems fearful Biden is the sole candidate who can beat him. When Trump targeted Biden during a rally in Pennsylvania, asserting that Biden had abandoned Pennsylvania for Delaware, Biden responded that he had to move from Scranton at age 10 because his father needed to find work. “I’ve never forgotten where I came from,” Biden wrote in a fundraising email, adding that Trump “doesn’t understand the struggles working folks go through.”

Days earlier, Ocasio-Cortez seemingly blasted Biden for being too centrist on climate change, charging, “I will be damned if the same politicians who refused to act then are going to try to come back today and say we need to find a middle-of-the-road approach to save our lives.” This 29-year-old freshman Democrat helped market the Green New Deal and celebrated helping to drive Amazon HQ2–with its 25,000 new jobs–out of New York. She decried the $3 billion in tax incentives, insisting that money should be spent elsewhere (perhaps not realizing that such funds were not cash piles to Amazon but rather projections of tax reductions in anticipated future revenues from Amazon). A survey of 700 voters in New York showed that more than a third of New Yorkers polled blamed her for this needed lost investment with the so-called progressives behind her truly being the minority.

New York Times columnist Bret Stephens suggested that Biden should welcome such attacks from Ocasio-Cortez, Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and the voters supporting them. Stephens identified such opportunities as Sister Souljah moments–harkening back to when candidate Bill Clinton in 1992 rebuked singer and activist Lisa Williamson (Sister Souljah) for reverse racism. As Stephen writes, Clinton seized this opportunity to distance himself from his party’s fringe and win the election, including with 83% of the African American vote.

While Biden is neither a Trump Republican nor an Ocasio-Cortez Democrat, is it fair for him to claim he is genuine progressive? Yes, because the term is often misunderstood and misused. New age Democrats cannot simply redefine the term “progressive,” an existing political brand. The Progressive movement in American politics, which grew out of the Progressive Era a century ago, was defined by centrist unifying social activism across communities–and it spanned Republican and Democratic parties.

In examining Biden’s record as a senator from 1973 to 2009, Biden was consistently ranked among the 25 most liberal senators and in the middle of the Democrat’s ideological spectrum. His progressive initiatives have had a lasting impact: Biden promoted the first bills fighting climate change and supported clean energy investment, authored the Violence Against Women Act, triumphed over the NRA with an assault weapon ban, and provided the diplomatic skill to get the Affordable Care Act ratified. While he has been widely decried for his Judiciary Committee chairmanship of the Clarence Thomas hearings, Biden expressed regret for how Anita Hill’s case against Thomas was handled.

Progress through common ground is real progressivism and, most importantly, Biden knows how to bring disparate parties together to achieve progress. In 2011, President Barack Obama and Senator Mitch McConnell were in a stalemate over debt financing with the government approaching default. Just as Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner prepared for the certain market crash to follow from the breakdown, Biden was called in to triumphantly negotiate the deal.

When Bernie Sanders criticizes top performing Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger over executive pay standard for his industry, what progress does that grandstanding produce? And when media darling Ocasio-Cortez drives away coveted jobs and prestige from her own district, what does that accomplish except more personal media attention?

At best, when we move beyond the grandiosity, there is a social change agenda of today’s self-styled progressives. They often address virtuous workplace, education, healthcare, and income disparity concerns, but then indiscriminately finger corporations and government as villains, over larger structural issues in society. This parallels the early 20th century institutional attacks by Eugene V. Debs, a proud socialist–not a progressive. Trump’s base also channels anti-institutional themes laced with racism, isolationism, anti-northeast, and anti-intellectualism in what echoes Millard Fillmore’s xenophobic No Nothing political party and the agrarian populism of Georgia’s Tom Watson of the same period.

Authentic 20th century progressives, by contrast, were centrist reformers and included moderate Democrats and forward-looking Republicans like Wisconsin Senator Robert LaFollett and Democrats like Montana Senator Burton K. Wheeler. They were running mates as President and Vice President candidates nominated at the Progressive Party’s first national convention in 1924. As progressives, they transcended party differences to champion the construction of highways and bridges while protecting forests, cleaning up pollution from cities, improving unsafe workplaces with efficient factories and scientific management, and celebrating technological inventors. This was done while also welcoming new immigrants, offering settlement houses to orient them, and giving new arrivals a shot at the American dream. Rather than drive wedges between groups based on their backgrounds, the progressives stood for national unity and shared values.

Biden is neither socialist not populist. He is the true American progressive.

Jeffrey Sonnenfeld is the senior associate dean and the Lester Crown professor of management practice at the Yale School of Management.

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