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writing for godot

Why Joe Biden Is Not a Safe Choice For 2020

Written by Tom Herman   
Monday, 20 May 2019 16:13

Why Joe Biden Is Not a Safe Choice for 2020

By Tom Herman (MOXA)

Choosing who should be the 2020 Democratic nominee for president requires asking two questions: One, who would make the best president? And two, who can beat Donald Trump? The consensus among Democrats appears to be that beating Trump is by far the more compelling issue. Many people are willing to compromise their own values if only it means that Trump will be defeated. “I don't care who the nominee is, as long as he or she can win,” they say. They are quite prepared to reject a candidate they actually prefer, if there is someone else they credit more likely to beat Trump.

Even if you accept this strategy, however, it is easy to fall into certain traps when determining who this most-likely-to-succeed candidate is. I am troubled by the trend, as evidenced by recent polling, of Democrats' marked support of Joe Biden's candidacy. I would caution that Biden is being credited with the ability to defeat Trump, on the basis of assumptions that are not true. I think that the passion to get rid of Trump is so strong that analysis and clear vision are being sacrificed in a desperate desire to consolidate around a single candidate who seems to promise success.

Yet if the grounds for this support are faulty, it could spell disaster in the 2020 election. It was considered heresy by many to question Hillary Clinton's sole right to the Democratic nomination. Even her ultimate victory in the presidential election itself was taken as an article of faith. But then, right before our eyes on election night, in mere moments, the whole false narrative came crashing down. All the lies of inevitability (telegraphed for months by consistently inconsistent polling results) were replaced by the cold light of reality.

The whole campaign was based on assumptions, and the assumptions were wrong. One assumption was that people would favor a centrist over a progressive, even though the progressive (Bernie Sanders) offered what people wanted and needed while the centrist did not. Another assumption was that people were satisfied with the status quo. A third was that “not being Trump” was sufficiently compelling to win Clinton the election. So we have to ask ourselves whether we are not making the same mistakes again, with Joe Biden. Can a centrist win if the public is demanding progressive policies?

While voters may not think of themselves as progressive, the great majority of them favor progressive policies like Medicare for all, free public college, getting big money out of politics, making the rich pay their fair share of taxes, infrastructure overhaul and a radical program to combat climate change.

It is peculiar on the face of it that so many people believe that the politician with the policy ideas they actually prefer will have a harder chance beating Trump than one whose ideas are far less compelling, less transformative. This is the belief that to win you must be centrist. It sounds reasonable, until you actually look at it closely and also ask yourself where this belief comes from.

What is a “centrist” candidate? Conventionally defined, it is one who supports policies in the middle of the Overton window, the spectrum (from left to right) of policies considered to lie within the acceptable range of political discussion. Thus, Medicare for all, which is thought to be far left within the Overton window, was, only a few years ago, considered too radical to even to fall within its range. Obamacare, by contrast, would be considered centrist, at least among Democratic politicians.

Another and more accurate definition of “centrist” would refer to a candidate whose policies reflect the will of the majority of Americans. Yet in terms of the Overton window, this would be one who is considered “far left.” For in fact, the majority of Americans support the most progressive policies being put forth—Medicare for all, $15 dollar minimum wage, the Green New Deal, drastic reduction in fossil fuel production and use, free public college tuition, higher taxes on the very rich and corporations, ending endless wars, etc.

By this criterion, Bernie Sanders would not be considered far left at all, but actually centrist, since most Americans, including many Republicans, favor almost all of his policies. The vast majority of the other candidates would fall at various points to the right of Sanders. In other words, the views of the insiders—the DNC and the “liberal” news media—are tightly held within the center of the Overton window; but the views of the public are decidedly much further left. Yet it is the establishment view that we are constantly bombarded with, and which sets the parameters of what is “possible”—indeed, what is classified as “centrist.”

The media are constantly telling us that Bernie is too far left to win. People are hypnotized by this repeating mantra, and so there are millions who, despite liking his policies, decide to “play it safe” and go with a candidate they like less—say Biden—because they have been told he has a better chance of winning since he is more “centrist.” As we have seen, he is not more centrist in terms of what people actually want, only in terms of what the insiders want.

Here is an interesting demonstration of this. In a May 14th Emerson College poll comparing all the major Democratic hopefuls, Biden came out eight points ahead of Sanders. Yet, Emerson also ran head-to-head polls on the same date, pitting Biden vs.Trump and Sanders vs.Trump. Voters were asked which candidate they would vote for if the election were held today. In this poll Biden and Sanders each bested Trump by eight points. Observe that there is a remarkable discrepancy here: If Biden is so much more popular than Sanders, why isn't that reflected in a greater margin of victory for Biden in the head-to-head match-ups with Trump?

I think the answer is that a great deal of Biden's popularity is not that people think Biden is a better candidate than Bernie, but only that they believe that Biden has a better chance of beating Trump than Bernie has. Yet the results for the question of whom they would vote for if the election were held today reveals the fallacy in their thinking. For if given the choice of voting only for Biden or Trump, or only for Sanders or Trump, the poll says Biden and Sanders would have an equal chance of winning.

So how did it become conventional wisdom that Joe Biden has the better chance of winning? We must examine this premise, for if it isn't true—and we actually want to beat Trump—it would behoove Biden supporters to reconsider their choice, based on more reliable information. Getting on the bandwagon for a particular candidate might insure that he wins the nomination of their party. But it doesn't at all insure they he will win in the general election.

I have already commented on the perception of Biden as a centrist, and the disconnect between “official” centrism and the actual will of the voters, which is far more left. Biden's “centrism” is the centrism of the establishment Democrats and the “liberal” media.

But there are other factors which have helped Biden's candidacy thus far. Probably the strongest are his name recognition and his association with Barack Obama, having served two terms as his vice president. Like most vice presidents, Biden remained in his boss's shadow. Most people have only a sketchy idea of who he actually is. They have a perception of a collegial relationship between himself and the president, and they know that he lost his son, Beau. Both of these facts—with otherwise little context—confer a sympathetic image of the man. The association with Obama is particularly compelling for some. Obama is a person of charm, intellect and style—the opposite of our current president. Yet that assessment leaves out many inconvenient truths about the underbelly of the Obama administration—the bombing of at least seven different countries; escalation of drone attacks killing mostly civilians; unprecedented use of the Espionage Act against whistle blowers, to name just a few of its darker enterprises. Even the president's signature accomplishment—Obamacare—is a corporate-driven system offering high premiums and a failure to cover many millions of Americans. The Obama years also featured the bailing out of banks, even as they were stealing the homes of hapless citizens. Indeed, the rich were getting richer, the poor poorer, while climate devastation was continuing apace.

What people do miss now is the seeming normalcy of political life and a politeness of discourse in the Oval office. This makes for a nostalgia which, to many who have been horrified by Trump, is the alluring promise of a Biden administration.

This perception is strengthened by Biden's friendly and confident disposition. And his long experience in politics adds to his “presidential” affect. But, given Biden's seemingly benign persona and his years of political life, many people will assume that his politics must be similarly benign and well-grounded. The problem is that most people don't know what his policies are. Many may not care. But many would care if they knew what they were. Furthermore, his policies, his financial relationships and his voting history may be definite detriments to a victory over Trump. And that should be of concern to all Democrats.

Here are some facts you should know:

Joe Biden is deeply connected to big money interests. Though he has publicly admitted to the corrupting influence of big donors, he is nevertheless their beneficiary. He kicked off his 2020 campaign at the home of a Comcast executive, pulling in over $500,000. This was followed, on May 4, by a South Carolina fund raising event bringing in over $100,000. On May 8, a Hollywood event including donors from across the country took in about $700,000. And it goes on from there.

During his Senate career, his top donor over two decades was the financial services company MBNA. During that time he voted to overturn Glass-Steagall, the law which separated commercial and investment banks. This eventually led to banks that were deemed “too big too fail”, to increased risk-taking in the banking system, and ultimately to the crash of 2008.

He voted to weaken bankruptcy protection for consumers (in a bill heavily promoted by MBNA). And he was one of only four Democrats who sided with Republicans to defeat the effort to shift responsibility from debtors to the predatory lenders who helped push them into bankruptcy.

He voted for welfare reform in 1996. This added work requirements for welfare recipients and also created a 5-year lifetime limit. This lowered the number of people on the welfare rolls, but increased poverty rates. Today 40 million people live in poverty in this country. We have the highest poverty rates in the developed world.

He fought against busing to end school segregation in the 1970's.

He wrote the 1994 crime bill. This allocated $10 billion dollars to construct new prisons, and contributed to rising rates of incarceration, especially in communities of color.

He voted for harsher drug laws which disproportionately affected African-American communities. The laws called for minimum sentencing of five years for possession of just five grams of crack, while the same sentence was given to possession of five hundred grams of powder cocaine, a substance favored by more affluent whites. He also co-sponsored legislation for mandatory minimum sentencing for marijuana possession.

He voted for the Iraq war.

He voted for the Patriot Act, which increased the power of the government to surveil American citizens and allowed for the indefinite detention of non-citizens.

He has not supported net neutrality, playing down its importance, while accepting lobbyist support of Comcast, a foe of net neutrality. It should surprise no one that MSNBC, so enamored of Biden, is owned by Comcast.

He voted for NAFTA, causing a major outsourcing of American jobs. He also supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership, another job killer and give-away to multi-national corporations, which even Hillary Clinton had to back away from to escape condemnation from traditional Democratic allies, including labor unions.

He allowed Anita Hill to be silence and shamed, simultaneously aiding the confirmation of right wing Justice Clarence Thomas.

His recent call for a “middle ground” approach to climate change, ignores the fact that we have only eleven years left to avoid the most catastrophic effects of this unstoppable scourge. His milquetoast proposal shows a complete failure to understand the gravity and urgency of our global dilemma.

He is against Medicare for all, and would keep intact the insurance industries that have kept health care out of reach for millions and bankrupted millions more.

By conflating the goal of defeating Donald Trump with the need to elect a candidate who upholds the status quo, one ignores the fact that it was the ineffectiveness of the status quo which led to the rise of Trump. Both Trump and Bernie Sanders promised change that would help the average American. Trump was lying, of course, while Bernie was speaking the truth. But both made promises to make people's lives better, while Hillary mostly promised more of what we already had and didn't like. Unless our candidate represents something radically different—not just in style but in substance—then even if he is elected it will solve no entrenched problems and will lead to more problems and more authoritarian (Republican) presidents down the road.

“Draining the swamp” does not mean simply getting rid of the corrupt politicians who are currently in positions of power, but changing the political environment itself. In an actual swamp, you can kill off the disease-bearing mosquitoes all you like, but unless the swamp itself is drained, they will come right back, because it is their natural habitat. Our plutocrat-bought government, a system ruled by the rich for the benefit of the rich, is the swamp that we must drain by getting big money out of politics. Only a politician who is willing to challenge the status quo by taking on these interests can prevent the continued devolution of our society as well as our natural physical environment.

What's more, the candidate who represents the status quo will likely lose. Hillary was such a candidate in 2016. It was Bernie Sanders who rallied the base and got people to vote who had never voted before. It is not necessary to compromise our desire for visionary leadership and a saved planet in order to get rid of Trump. Indeed, by nominating a person who stands for the things we want and need, a person who inspires us to do better than we have been doing, we increase our passion to vote and so achieve our goal. Biden may seem to be a safe choice to many. But he inspires few. And that lack of inspiration is the reason why he is not a safe candidate.

Say what we will about Trump, his supporters are passionate. We cannot afford to be timid. We cannot afford to put up a candidate whose “centrism” is not a strength but a fatal weakness. Trump delights and excels at bringing down such mainstream politicians. It is the corporate media that have drummed into us that revolutionary change is risky and to be avoided. But their interests are not our interests. They are the one percent. Stop and look around you: The world is on fire. The status quo is not enough. We need bold action, now. your social media marketing partner
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