In a better world, Elizabeth Warren would be one of the final two (technically three if you count Tulsi Gabbard and her two delegates) candidates in a Democratic Party primary that has seen the field shrink dramatically just since Super Tuesday, if not the front-runner outright. She has the smarts and credentials to be president, not to mention her policy plans were remarkably detailed and she inspired an intense devotion from her supporters.
Instead, Warren, following a disappointing Super Tuesday in which she failed to win any state—including her own, only managing third—has decided to bow out of the race. At this writing, she has yet to endorse either Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders, though both campaigns are eager to add her to their ranks. Hell, if she does decide to back either one, she might earn herself a chance to be a vice presidential pick.
Warren’s departure from a race that already saw most of its women and candidates of color fall by the wayside is deeply disappointing to many observing the presidential race. It all but guarantees that America will have to wait at least four more years for a female president to break apart the stronghold men have had on the office, a reality especially galling when considering that Warren has less baggage than Hillary Clinton and was, by many accounts, the most intelligent and qualified candidate of the 2020 field.
While Elizabeth Warren’s supporters deserve the time and space to mourn their candidate’s exit from the primaries and while she is under no absolute obligation to get behind either of the last two survivors, if her followers are to truly embrace the kind of vision that Warren put forth, the choice of whom to vote for now is painfully evident: they must back Bernie Sanders.
Though not to say that Warren’s and Sanders’s visions for America were identical, there are a lot of similarities to be appreciated. Both candidates put the climate crisis front and center as part of their platforms. Both made ending political corruption, fixing our democracy, and making the wealthiest Americans and corporations pay their fair share central to their campaigns. Both made repairing a broken health care system and addressing the rising costs of college that are plunging scores of Americans into debt critical tenets of their policy fixes. Economic and racial justice for all. Raising wages. Putting a stop to the country’s promotion of endless war. As progressives, Liz and Bernie tick off many of the same boxes.
Such is why it’s disturbing to go on social media and see Warren supporters indicating they will now switch their allegiance to Biden, not Bernie. Granted, not every Warren stan is guaranteed to be a progressive. Within any candidate’s base of support, there is any number of reasons why voters may get on the bandwagon. American Samoa gave its majority of delegates to Mike “Stop and Frisk” Bloomberg and the rest to Tulsi Gabbard (Gabbard was born in American Samoa). Presumably, Bloomberg won there because he inundated the islands with advertisements like he did, well, pretty much the rest of the United States and its territories. Or—who knows?—maybe the Bloomberg campaign slipped money under everyone’s pillow on the eve of the primary. At this point, would you really be so surprised?
Still, Joe Biden’s policies? First of all, do you know what they are? No peeking, either. I admittedly don’t and I doubt you’ve gotten a sense of this from the ten (!) debates the Democrats have had so far. I’ve even been to his official campaign website and still don’t have a solid idea.
Beyond supporting a $15 minimum wage, which should be seen as mandatory for all Democratic candidates in this election cycle, Biden speaks about about restoring the “dignity” and “respect” of work, especially that of the middle class, in broad strokes. He talks more about a “public option” and the Affordable Care Act than universal healthcare even in the face of the exigent need of many. His timelines for ending our dependence on fossil fuels and fracking are too far in the future, if disturbingly undefined. He emphasizes enforcing existing trade laws and vaguely upholding a “modern, inclusive process” for addressing international trade rather than explicitly re-writing these rules with workers and activist groups at the table. He advocates securing our border to the south over reforming our immigration enforcement system and reinstating/expanding DACA. Across the board, Biden’s policy goals fall far short of what Sanders and Warren have asked for. Given his legacy as the quintessential moderate, one gets the sense this is by design, too.
Biden has also been—and I’m putting this delicately—less than forthcoming on his record, if not proliferating falsehoods on elements of his legacy. Despite his insistence otherwise, as part of his identity as a budget hawk in the Senate, Biden repeatedly called for cuts to popular entitlement plans like Social Security. He and his campaign for weeks adhered to a completely fabricated account of his arrest in South Africa en route to supposedly trying to meet with Nelson Mandela. He has a habit of plagiarizing others’ speeches. He practically wrote the book on partisan obstruction of Supreme Court candidates with what some have derided as a “smear campaign” against judicial nominee Robert Bork in 1987. As he has done his whole career, Biden is playing the role of the consummate politician.
His authorship of a disastrous 90s-era crime bill that helped fuel America’s history of mass incarceration. His vote on the Iraq War. His touting of working alongside segregationists. His siding with banks and with predatory lenders on the subject of bankruptcy protection for consumers and siding with the health insurance industry against Medicare-for-all. Anita bleeping Hill. So much is problematic about Joe Biden’s record and this is all before we get to present concerns about his cognitive decline.
Biden has long been regarded as a gaffe machine, but this goes beyond the pale. Forgetting Barack Obama’s name. Mixing up his wife and sister. Forgetting what state he’s in or what office he’s running for. It would be laughable if we weren’t staring at a second term (let’s hope it would end there, the way he talks) of President Donald J. Trump. This is the man who may stand between us and that eventuality. If you’re a Democratic Party supporter, can you honestly tell me you feel good about this?
Sure, no one knows who would truly be “electable” in this race and who wouldn’t be. That’s something that can only be assessed in retrospect after testing a candidate in the general election. Nevertheless, Biden’s baggage, his health, and—hello!—certain Republican attacks on him and his son Hunter’s involvement with Ukrainian gas producer Burisma Holdings, however, ahem, trumped-up they may be all make for significant liabilities in a showdown with Trump.
Bernie Sanders, of course, is not without lines of attack, disingenuous as they may be. He’s a socialist (or communist)! He wants to give away free stuff without regard for the cost! He praises brutal dictators! Unlike Biden, though, he actually has a vision for the United States beyond mere “civility,” a quality championed in the former vice president despite his public rebukes of voters, calling them everything from overweight to lying, dog-faced pony soldiers—whatever that means.
Moreover, if Bernie’s the Democratic Party nominee, he is far more likely to generate much-needed turnout from younger voters than “Uncle Joe.” For all Warren’s insistence on being the “unity candidate” Democratic supporters have sought, Sanders has broad appeal and is well-liked by Americans across the political spectrum. In a showdown with someone in Trump who has his own fervent backers, his coalition could prove pivotal to Democrats looking to regain control of the White House.
One of the biggest knocks I have seen against Bernie Sanders from Elizabeth Warren supporters and fans of other candidates is the supposed vitriol that is unique to Bernie and his ilk. It’s Bernie’s fault for stirring up all that anger! All that sexism! Anyone who disagrees with him is a corporate sellout or member of “the establishment!” The Bernie Bros! The snake emojis! The yelling!
Speaking as a Bernie supporter, I’m not going to deny that there is bad behavior on some of our parts. With Warren in particular, disparaging comments about her appearance (out of bounds for anyone but especially egregious coming from male chauvinists), her claims of Native American ancestry (enough with the “Pocahontas” jeers; it’s a tired line), and even that she used to be a conservative Republican (people do change) do nothing for the creation of a unified progressive front. And seriously—cut it out with the snake emojis. I may not be a fan of how Warren ran her campaign in several respects (the allegation that Bernie said a woman couldn’t be president, her girl-power allegiance with Amy “I Throw Things at My Staffers” Klobuchar, her reversal on taking super PAC money), but she is one of the most progressive lawmakers in the Senate. Full stop.
Personal attacks by users online and in comments sections aside, what exactly would we have Bernie do? Sen. Sanders is not the boss of the Internet. He has condemned his supporters’ “ugly, personal attacks” on Warren and other candidates in the past and recently re-upped on his disgust for this conduct following Warren’s departure from the race. Bernie shouldn’t be expected to police his fans’ posts any more than Warren did or Biden should, at that.
Speaking of the Internet, um, it’s the Internet. Like, you’ve used it, right? I’m not saying I condone sexism and other forms of bigotry, and certainly, death threats, doxxing, and other forms of intimidation are to be roundly decried. People say awful things on social media and in other forums in which public accountability is limited, if not absent altogether. It sucks. It’s not a great reason to abandon one’s principles, however, assuming these beliefs are firmly held to begin with. I don’t know about you, but people being mean to me wouldn’t dissuade me from believing that health care is a human right. It’s a matter of conviction, even in the face of disinformation, misinformation, and hostility.
One thing that is abundantly clear from political campaigning in the era of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media outlets is that enthusiasm among users doesn’t always translate to the real world. Sanders and Warren supporters alike should understand this after a disheartening Super Tuesday that saw Joe Biden leverage an impressive showing in South Carolina days before into a dominating performance.
Biden, likely aided by last-minute dropouts and endorsements from Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg, as well as a seal of approval from Beto “I Eat at Whataburger” O’Rourke, won states he barely even campaigned in, if at all. Sanders went from presumptive front-runner to trailing Biden and looking much in doubt of capturing the necessary 1,991 pledged delegates to avoid a second round of voting at the convention. Warren saw her path to the nomination effectively closed.
In a rather deflating sense, what we see online and what we hear on cable news may not be reality. There’s a reverse to this, meanwhile, and it is much more encouraging. I may be biased, but so many of my interactions with Bernie supporters outside of chats and tweets have been positive. I think this speaks to a larger social phenomenon. I know plenty of Elizabeth Warren supporters who are terrific people and want substantive change. Getting to know and speak to them in person has been critical to my positive appraisal therein. Much has been made of political “bubbles” and “echo chambers” which make all of us susceptible to groupthink and persuasion at the hands of misleading data, and there is at least some degree of validity to this effect.
I get it—Elizabeth Warren didn’t get a fair shake in her presidential run. Sexism definitely played a role for many of her detractors and the coverage she didn’t get enough of during the campaign is bittersweet as part of the flattering postmortem analysis she’s receiving now that she’s suspended her bid. I also get that Bernie Sanders is, yes, another old white guy. On the other hand, let’s not rush to conflate him and Joe Biden. For one, Bernie winning the nomination and/or the presidency would be historic. No Jew has ever accomplished that feat. That’s no small potatoes if he does clinch one or both.
Religion aside, and more to the point, Sanders and Biden are miles apart on policy and vision. Bernie has a movement behind him and his ideas have, to a large extent, shaped the 2020 presidential race. Biden has his association with Barack Obama and a romanticized version of his career to rely on, but no clear path forward for the nation. At a time when real progress is called for, Biden’s incrementalism doesn’t rise to the occasion. Simply returning to a time before the rise of Trumpism is insufficient and illusory now that the proverbial cat’s out of the bag.
Whether you’re a progressive or a moderate Democrat who only wants to see Donald Trump defeated in November, Bernie Sanders, not Joe Biden, is the imperative choice for the Democratic Party come the fall. If you’re not convinced yet, read his stances on the issues on his campaign website. Come out to a Bernie Sanders event. Get to know some of his supporters. He may not be the candidate you envisioned at the start of primary season, but he is our best hope.