I advocate voting strategically for Joe Biden for president, especially for those voters for whom their vote potentially stands to make a difference in a so-called “battleground” or “swing” state. I feel as though anyone who can vote should, barring legitimate concerns about one’s health or risk of infection specifically from voting.
What I won’t do, however, is lie for Biden or try to bully or shame people into voting for him. Furthermore, I won’t try to sugarcoat the position of many who will be casting their ballots for the former vice president: they are voting for Biden specifically to prevent Donald Trump from winning a second term, to avoid disaster and not because they truly engage with Biden’s vision for America—full stop.
For some Democratic Party supporters, however, this stance seems insufficient. It is not enough merely to cast one’s ballot for the Biden-Harris ticket—you get the sense that they want you to “bend the knee,” as Jon Snow would bend the knee to Daenerys Targaryen, too. The time for raising concerns about policy goals has passed, at least until after the election (to be picked up again at an unnamed and mythical future occasion). It’s time to be ridin’ with Biden. Any negativity about the Democratic candidate evidently goes into the political aether, to be immediately absorbed by the opposition and added to his life force or vote tally or something. Don’t ask me—I’m trying to understand the same as you.
Leftist YouTubers inhabiting the space colloquially known as BreadTube have lent their voices and influence to coaxing their American viewers into voting for Joe Biden, and increasingly so now that Election Day is fast approaching (early voting has been underway for weeks, but some remain undecided or haven’t voted). The political satire channel Some More News, hosted by Cody Johnston, produced by Katy Stoll, and written by David Christopher Bell, recently published a video essay titled “Vote! (For Joe Biden (Who Sucks!)).”
As the name implies, the segment is a frank discussion of the importance of voting for Biden in this election, as unpalatable as it might be. It also reinforces the ideas that A) even if Biden wins, he should be held accountable for his campaign’s promises at a minimum and that B) we should not accept a return to “normal,” whatever that looks like this year and at this point in history.
In the aftermath of the video’s release, Johnston related that it wasn’t Trump supporters who reacted the most harshly to the video, but rather those on the left and center-left. On October 16, he tweeted the following:
Made a video that observably persuaded people to vote against Trump by voting for Joe Biden, a guy that I think sucks, and the most aggressive and obnoxious reaction has been from liberals whining that I didn’t persuade people in a way that they liked.
The reactions to Johnston’s reaction to, ahem, his post’s reactions were intriguing in their own right. Many defended him because, at the end of the day, he still comes to the same conclusion as full-throated Biden supporters, but some chided him for making it seem that voting was a “disgusting” act when it should be regarded as the very least an American should aspire to as a means of civic engagement. Others suggested that, well, you said their candidate sucks, so what else did you expect? Or they insisted that viewers were just as likely to not vote having watched the video—if not more so. Or kids in cages, kids in cages, kids in cages. You can probably fill in the blanks with your own examples of liberal refrains which vary to their degree of legitimacy.
This debate over the merits of Some More News’s effort to encourage its viewership to vote for Biden are a microcosm of a tension between wings of the Democratic Party that has existed for some time, but has really gotten a jump start in the post-Obama era. Do robust primaries help or hurt the eventual winner (which isn’t always but frequently is a more moderate incumbent)? After the primary, is it fair to continue to criticize the nominee in good faith, pointing out their shortcomings so as to shore up potential weaknesses in the general election as well as to highlight important issues to address after the votes are counted, or should critics hold their tongues indefinitely for fear of providing the opposition with a line of attack?
I specify good-faith criticisms of Democratic Party candidates by leftists under the assumption these critics don’t actually want the Republican Party candidate to win. Of course, I would be naïve to think there aren’t some lefties who believe that we might as well vote for the worse candidate to add fuel to an activist fire that has been burning for decades but has seen its intensity grow in the wake of the recession of the 2000’s and the progressive movement spurred on by the likes of Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Or they believe that by voting Republican, they’re somehow sticking it to the Democratic National Committee, an entity which well merits scorn.
In this particular case, though, we’re talking about Donald Trump, someone who not only would seek to stamp out that activist fire, but the activists who started it and anyone who dares to cross him, at that. The accelerationist argument, for any and all positive long-term intentions, loses luster when considering this position’s short-term consequences, of which the brunt is to be borne by the most vulnerable among us.
As for the DNC “learning its lesson,” I would point to Joe Biden in 2020 being the nominee as reason enough to think voting for #45 as a protest vote is an exercise in futility. The Democrats haven’t learned anything from 2016, or if they have, they’re actively ignoring it. If you want to protest what you perceive to be poor stewardship of the Democratic Party, I submit your best option is simply to tighten up those proverbial purse strings. Whatever you do, don’t vote for Trump. Don’t cut off your nose to spite your country.
To reiterate, for the majority of discerning American lefties, a Biden victory is the desired outcome of the 2020 presidential election, a reality seemingly lost on some Democratic Party loyalists who see valid criticism of their nominee as tantamount to helping the enemy or imagine that “Bernie or bust” types represent a larger part of the electorate than they actually do.
On the former count, if progressive criticisms of Biden have been weaponized by the right, um, Trump and his team are doing a poor job of utilizing them. Instead, despite obvious evidence to the contrary, the bad orange man has doubled down on the assertion that Amtrak Joe is a tool of the “radical Left” and has tried to tie Hunter Biden’s business dealings and personal failings to his father’s supposed unsuitability for the presidency, a move which has failed to garner traction if polling numbers are any indication. For that matter, it may be actively hurting Trump and his campaign, making Biden all the more sympathetic for treating his son with dignity and love.
On the latter count, Democratic supporters—and even the nominee himself, who has told people at various points in the campaign raising objections to his plan for America to vote for the other guy if they don’t like it point blank—have treated dissenters to the party platform as all but heretics, castigating them for wanting more than the “most progressive presidential party platform in history,” (which may or may not actually be implemented—fingers crossed!) pointing out much to their chagrin that “their guy lost,” (gee, we had forgotten Bernie lost—thanks for reminding us!), and telling them not to be such stupid, uncompromising babies and suckle at the teat of incrementalism. Amid the beating drum of vote shaming and lame pro-Biden slogans (what the hell is “build back better” anyway?), there is the refrain that not voting for Joe Biden is a vote for Donald Trump.
First of all, from a logical standpoint, this is not true. The only vote for Donald Trump is—not to be a dick about it—a vote for Donald Trump. By this logic, not voting for Trump could be considered a vote for Joe Biden. In turn, belaboring Biden’s susceptibility to losing due to poor turnout is a bit of a tell that true enthusiasm for your chosen candidate is lacking. It’s also an admission that you need the Left’s votes if you want to win—despite, you know, telling them they’re not welcome all the time.
The solution, therefore, is apparently to browbeat progressives into submission rather than genuine voter outreach, even when they’re not suggesting people shouldn’t vote, because it’s easier than coalition building. In fairness, progressives often struggle with this in their own right. There are so many problems to solve, so little time, and so many individual groups formed around specific geographical regions or pet causes. So, so many groups. And re turning out the vote, might progressives be similarly not so charitable to their closer-to-center counterparts were the roles reversed? Perhaps. Without the historical precedent, though, who’s to say?
In his closing, Cody Johnston makes this point about the motivation to vote for Joe Biden:
Every attempt I’ve seen to be, like, “Vote, and vote for the not-fascist!”—it has just seemed obnoxious or condescending or, like, not honest about Biden or about the situation. ‘Cause it sucks. We should be able to say that it sucks, and hold the nominally left party to not the lowest bar ever. Criticism is healthy. F**k Joe Biden, but f**k Donald Trump way more.
Alas, some liberals don’t agree. They want to have our vote and eat it too, as mixed a metaphor as that is. But a vote is not necessarily an endorsement and there’s a reason why people invoke imagery of holding one’s nose and pulling the lever or choosing between the lesser of two evils when describing the voting process. For those who can and do vote, many do it begrudgingly, without a strong attachment to either candidate. Pretending otherwise only makes it harder, and in a year which has seemed to have no limit to the perils it has thrown us, that’s harder than it needs to be.
Ever-present concerns about COVID-19 and hurricanes and poisonous hairy caterpillars (yes, that’s a thing now, apparently) notwithstanding, the subtext of the enthusiasm gap for prospective Joe Biden voters is glaring.
The people most enthusiastic about Biden as their nominee of choice tend to be those for whom the failings of either major-party candidate won’t matter all that materially or those who already have positive associations with the Democratic Party and voting in general. Less psyched about casting their ballots for Biden are the Americans who have struggled regardless of the party affiliation of the president and/or who hold the Obama-Biden administration in lower esteem than those fervent Democratic cheerleaders.
Herein, matters of age, class, and race are all highly relevant. For Gen Z and millennial voters especially, and those of a progressive mindset especially especially, Biden’s legacy as vice president doesn’t hold the same positive connotations as it does with liberals who swoon at Barack Obama’s smooth talk or who regard the Obamas as something closer to royalty than to the family of a former president.
These are voters who are living through a pandemic, a recession, and a period of social and political unrest, and, in some cases, came of political age during another recession. These are also voters who understand that, despite glowing visions of hope and change, Obama’s track record didn’t match his rhetoric. The Obama administration largely eschewed the energy from progressives which helped its namesake reach the White House and populated its ranks with the same kinds of neoliberal hacks that led us to a financial crisis in the first place. It’s no wonder, favorable comparisons to his successor and predecessor aside, a relic of the Obama years like Biden should be regarded with distrust.
This is all before we get to Biden’s history as a legislator prior to receiving the vice presidential nomination, a checkered history to say the least. Particularly on the topic of race, Biden’s legacy as an author and strong advocate for a crime bill that did discernible harm to communities of color as well as a centrist who has extolled his ability to work amiably among Southern segregationists does him no favors as the head of a Democratic Party trying to separate itself at all costs from a Republican Party plunging full tilt into a white supremacist agenda.
To his credit, Biden has at least acknowledged that supporting the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act was a “mistake.” For some, however, this apology is weak sauce, as the kids say. Moreover, amid calls to defund and demilitarize police departments across the country, Biden’s team, while embracing some aspects of police reform, have been clear that Joe doesn’t support defunding the police, despite Donald Trump’s protestations that he has called for this measure. If anything, Biden wants more financial assistance for police forces. Progressive on this issue, he is not.
I get it—Joe Biden is a charmer. The warm smile, the working class appeal, the ability to convey a sense of empathy. His profile is tailor-made for a career in politics. For many voters rightfully skeptical of leadership across the political spectrum, meanwhile, appeals to “decency” aren’t enough. We’re in the midst of societal upheaval on top of global climate and health crises, and Biden’s milquetoast centrist policy stances are less than ideal to meet the challenges of this moment in time. Biden, in upending Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Party primary (with a lot of help from the other candidates and Barack Obama himself), boasted that voters don’t want a “revolution”—they want results. For the primary voters who fueled his comeback in the primary, that may well be the case.
For a growing number of Americans, however, a revolution is not just desired, but needed. It’s something that would benefit all Americans, not just the socioeconomically downtrodden, too. Unfortunately, Biden either doesn’t get it or pretends otherwise, and at the end of the day, that’s not on everyday people should he lose the election (though, to be clear, they should vote if ready, willing, and able)—that’s on him for not making the stronger case to elect him.
So you’ll have to excuse us if we don’t endorse Joe Biden or even like him all that much. It’s strategic voting, after all, and even if he wins, as Cody Johnston emphasized at the end of his aforementioned video, brunch is still cancelled. Sorry, liberals.