Opinion: Why Biden's Endorsements May Not Change Anything
Author: Diana Piper
On Wednesday, our favorite political duumvirate reemerged: Bernie Sanders and Cardi B, on Instagram Live. Sanders had just dropped out of the race, and was explaining to the rapper why his constituents ought to cast their ballots for Joe Biden, among other things — like Sanders’ nails, which Cardi B deemed “very quarantine.”
Sanders’ alignment with Biden, emphatically expressed in the video, was unsettling. He assured his audience that he would continue to push Biden further to the left. Though that does seem plausible (Biden has already incorporated a modified version of Sanders’ free college proposal into his agenda), it feels like a consolation prize. Joe Biden is the antithesis of the Sanders canon.
Biden is a political relic, a symbol of the semi-progressivism of the Obama administration (for young people, at least). This familiarity makes him a safe choice for a Democratic electorate so desperate to remove the inept incumbent that they will choose any candidate who meets their standards for electability: male, white, old and moderate. Biden is inert and unexciting. Though the Democratic party has heaved him to the left, his shift was not of his own volition. Biden wants to go back to a time when the nation was “better,” eerily redolent of Donald Trump’s own rhetoric.
That conservatism is why Sanders’ endorsement is so strange. Cerebrally, it makes sense: Sanders wants anyone more competent than Trump, so he will advise his voters to shift to Biden. Yet Biden is so bland, so moderate. How could Bernie Sanders, who has galvanized a new wave of progressivism, tell his voters to move back to the old, to the past? Sanders can only offer solace in assurances and qualifications: “I will move him to the left,” “He is better than Trump,” etcetera, etcetera.
This visceral feeling of consternation is, I fear, not limited to myself. Some Bernie zealots may, as they did in 2016, vote for Trump (yes, that is true) or abstain. Then, where would we be? Blighted by another four years of the hysterics and grotesqueries of the current president? No, that cannot be. Trump cannot win again. (Though this may be willful self-deception). I must admit that Sanders is duly attempting to prevent this recurrence by conjuring support from his base, unlike what happened with Hillary Clinton in 2016. But what if Sanders’ support is not enough?
Well, Biden’s campaign has been buttressed by another lustrous figure: former president Barack Obama. Beloved by Democrats, a piece of liberal mythos, his is one of the most desirable endorsements. Hordes of Democrats will abide by his recommendations, because he managed to collate the moderates and the progressives into his own ostensibly progressive wing. And yes, Obama was a progressive, no Clintonian neoliberal, but a progressive for his time. However, it is not 2012 anymore. Young progressives do not want to return to exactly what Obama did, they want something new.
Yet that repetition is what Biden is: a pastiche of the Obama era. It was evident in every Democratic debate that he is affixed to the Obama administration, with his constant references to legislation he helped Obama pass, such as the Affordable Care Act. These invocations are an astute way to win over older voters, who want to return to the Obama era, that liberal enclave abutted by two conservative awakenings (Bush and Trump). But young people want their own leftist awakening to recalibrate the country’s trajectory. Biden does not offer that.
Where does this conflict leave the Democratic party? Confused and disoriented. Biden, unlike Obama in 2008 and 2012, is not the ideal candidate. He has no individual thrust; his campaign’s throttle solely relies on endorsements from former leaders of new movements and the people’s aversion to the current president. He is a friendly and familiar figure, but has no energizing electricity.
And perhaps familiarity will win him this election, amidst the uncertainty and tumult of the coronavirus. Biden advocates for returning to “normalcy” (a manufactured term that helped win the presidential election 100 years ago, in 1920). And who doesn’t desire normalcy now?
Although, that desire to go back to normal is a contingent one — it will not last forever. But when we do eventually find a vaccine or develop herd immunity and return to the regular rhythms of life, won’t the cries for a progressive upheaval grow stronger? How will Biden fit in then?