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Boardman writes: "As the result came in on Super Tuesday, March 3, Joe Biden told his supporters: 'Make no mistake about it. This campaign will send Donald Trump packing. This campaign is taking off.'"

Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden. (photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden. (photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Biden and Bernie, the Democrats' Binary Choice for Our Future

By William Boardman, Reader Supported News

10 March 20


s the result came in on Super Tuesday, March 3, Joe Biden told his supporters: “Make no mistake about it. This campaign will send Donald Trump packing. This campaign is taking off.”

Later that same evening, Bernie Sanders told his supporters: “When we began this race for the presidency, everybody said it couldn’t be done. But tonight I tell you with absolute confidence, we’re going to win the Democratic nomination, and we are going to defeat the most dangerous president in the history of this country.”

The message from each candidate is essentially the same: Dump Trump. But the tone is strikingly different. Biden makes it sound like politics as usual, insider politics as he’s known it since 1972 when he first won his Senate seat. Bernie draws a starker vision of the stakes in 2020, reflecting the drama of a outsider’s career beginning with his 1981 election as mayor of Vermont’s largest city (which became affectionately known as the “people’s republic of Burlington”).

To win the Democratic nomination for president, a candidate needs 1,991 or more delegates on the first ballot. Neither Biden nor Bernie is quite a third of the way there yet. Bloomberg reports Biden with 664, Bernie with 573, and the only other candidate still in the race, Tulsi Gabbard, with two.

In their Super Tuesday speeches, each about 12 minutes long, Biden and Bernie avoided talking about each other by name, but provided an informal basis for comparing and contrasting each other’s campaigns. Both called for inclusion. Biden mentioned “revolution,” only to back away from it:

BIDEN: “We need you. We want you, and there’s a place for you in this campaign. People are talking about a revolution. We started a movement. We even increased turnout. When the turnouts turn out for us, that can deliver us to a moment where we can do extraordinary, extraordinary things. Look, our agenda is bold, it’s progressive.”

SANDERS: “We are going to win. We are going to defeat Trump, because we are putting together an unprecedented grassroots, multigenerational, multiracial movement. It is a movement which speaks to the working families of this country who are sick and tired of working longer hours for low wages and seeing all new income and wealth going to the top 1%.... We will not give tax breaks to billionaires when a half a million Americans sleep out on the streets. Will not allow 49% of all new income to go to the 1% when half of our people live paycheck to paycheck.” 

Biden makes dog whistles to Sanders (and Elizabeth Warren) supporters when he uses “revolution” and “progressive” without specificity. Sanders has talked about social revolution in the past, but here he simply described one aspect of it, his intention to shrink the anti-democratic distribution of wealth that has distorted American politics for decades. This is something of a pattern, with Biden offering glossy, soft-focus pretty pictures and Sanders calling for harder-edged realities. 

On health care:

BIDEN: “It’s a vision, where health care is affordable and available to everybody in America, where we bring drug prices down under control with no more surprise billing, access to hospitals in rural areas as well as urban areas, access to care. A bold vision. We’re going to invest billions of dollars to find, and I promise you, cures for cancer, Alzheimer’s and diabetes….

SANDERS: “It is a movement which says the United States will have healthcare for all as a human right…. What makes this movement unique is we are taking on the corporate establishment, we are taking it on the greed of Wall Street. The greed of the drug companies who charge us the highest prices in the world. The greed of the insurance companies.”

On climate change:

BIDEN: “… leading the world to take on the existential threat of climate change. I’m going to start by rejoining an outfit I helped put together, the Paris Climate Accord, and we’re to move it a long way.”

SANDERS: “And given the existential crisis of climate change, we are saying to the fossil fuel industry… We are saying to the fossil fuel industry, their short-term profits are not more important than the future of our country, or the world.”

On education:

BIDEN: “A country where the quality of education will not depend on your zip code, where they triple funding for low income school district providing raises for teachers, full-time school for three, four and five years old, and increasing exponentially the prospects of their success. Free community college providing credentials for every job for the 21st century, and significant reduction in the cost of going to college and your student debt. If you volunteer, you pay nothing.”

SANDERS: “It is a movement that says we will bring major reforms in education, making sure that all of our kids can go to college without coming out in debt.”

On immigration:

Neither candidate addressed immigration in any detailed way. Biden said only: “and by the way, every dreamer, have hope, because I’m coming and you’re not going anywhere. Now, we’re going to provide a pathway, a pathway for 11 million citizens. If the other guy had voted for the, well, I don’t know if she can get into that. I won’t get going….”

On the political establishment: 

Biden had nothing to say.

SANDERS: “But we are not only taking on the corporate establishment, we’re taking on the political establishment. But we’re going to win because the people understand it is our campaign, our movement, which is best positioned to defeat Trump. You cannot beat Trump with the same old, same old kind of politics. What we need is a new politics that brings working class people into our political movement. Which brings young people into our political movement. And which in November we’ll create the highest voter turnout in American political history.”

On the myth of American exceptionalism:

BIDEN: “Trump has fanned the flames of hate and sought to divide us…. He doesn’t have any compassion, no regard for the values that made this country who we are…. He doesn’t believe that we’re the beacon to the world. He doesn’t believe we’re all part of something bigger than ourselves. That’s why I’ve said from the moment I announced for this candidacy, we are literally in a battle for the soul of America….

“There’s nothing we can’t do. This is about the future. It’s not about the past. It’s about our children and our grandchildren. It’s about leading this country and leading the world once again. Folks, we just have to remember who we are. My Lord, this is the United States of America, and it’s time for America to get back up, and once again, fight for the proposition that we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men and women are created equal, and that by the creator with certain inalienable rights. We say it so often in school, we don’t realize how profound it is. We’ve never lived up to those words, but up to this President, we’ve never walked away from it….”

In a stark contrast of styles, Sanders hardly even alluded to American exceptionalism, but chose a tactic Biden hardly employed at all. Sanders made several direct, head-to-head comparisons between himself and his unnamed rival:

SANDERS: “One of us in this race led the opposition to the war in Iraq – you’re looking at him. Another candidate voted for the war in Iraq.

“One of us has spent his entire life fighting against cuts in Social Security and wanting to expand Social Security. Another candidate has been on the floor of the Senate calling for cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and veterans’ benefits.

“One of us led the opposition to disastrous trade agreements, which cost us millions of good paying jobs. And that’s me. And another candidate voted for disastrous trade agreements.

“One of us stood up for consumers and said, ‘We will not support a disastrous bankruptcy bill.’ And another candidate represented the credit card companies and voted for that disastrous bill.”

In another stark contrast, Sanders demands justice, especially economic justice. And Biden, while gesturing toward justice, puts more emphasis on healing, without quite explaining what that’s supposed to mean in the real world: “We need a President who can fight, but make no mistake about it, I could fight, but look, we need this badly, as badly, someone who could heal…. We need a President who can heal the country as well, and that is what I will do as your President. I promise you.”

These two speeches represent the candidates’ freely-chosen issues that they consider important, for one reason or another. It’s hard to argue that the chosen issues are not important (with the exception of exhortations to American exceptionalism, which is mostly an exercise in self-flattering denial). But are the chosen issues of March 3 the most important issues of the day? What about endless war, Afghanistan, war crimes, Yemen, more war crimes, the nuclear war-fighting escalation, the trillion dollars spent on “defense” every year? The only other candidate still in the race, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, with two delegates, has built her campaign on those issues. And the Democratic National Committee (DNC) has just excluded her from the next Democratic debate. The Gabbard campaign sort of predicted as much on March 4: 

We can’t count on the DNC, the corporate media, super PACs, or name recognition to move us to the next phase…. The corporate media and the establishment they serve decided a long time ago that they’d do everything in their power to silence Tulsi’s voice, distort her platform, and dismiss our movement.

They don’t want Tulsi on the national debate stage taking on the military industrial complex, speaking the truth about the cost of war. They don’t want her calling on [DNC chair] Tom Perez to resign and talking about how to reform the party. They don’t want her to, once again, become the most Googled candidate of the evening. They want to starve her of oxygen, and our campaign of momentum. Silence us. Count us out.

Maybe that March 15 debate will bring up some of the omitted or under-explored issues, such as immigration, impeachable offenses, failure to uphold the Constitution or the law, COVID-19 preparedness, nepotism, interference in judicial proceedings, dark money in politics, voter suppression – especially voter suppression with its bipartisan history and Supreme Court blessings – or some other egregious offense to the public welfare.

So that’s where we are now. Barring some spectacular surprise, the Democratic presidential nomination has come down to a binary choice between Biden and Bernie. How is that good news?

That’s the tragedy of a party where, no matter how you define it, the only real Democrat in the race isn’t a real Democrat.

William M. Boardman has over 40 years experience in theatre, radio, TV, print journalism, and non-fiction, including 20 years in the Vermont judiciary. He has received honors from Writers Guild of America, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Vermont Life magazine, and an Emmy Award nomination from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

Reader Supported News is the Publication of Origin for this work. Permission to republish is freely granted with credit and a link back to Reader Supported News. your social media marketing partner
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