by Steven Monacelli
I rarely write about politics. It’s not that I’m not interested in the discussion—it’s an all too common topic of conversation for me, to the chagrin of my family at dinners—but rather, I lack the desire to play pundit on a stage that already feels overcrowded, bloated even. When I do, it is once in a blue moon, whenever a mood strikes me: either in the jouissance of a hopeful moment—which was captured in my piece My Home, My Family—or when politics reaches a fever pitch of absurdity and my blood runs hot. It’s that time once again. Already so soon!
After months in the wilderness, we’ve effectively reached a fork in the path, a clear decision between two alternatives: Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders. Warren has just dropped out, having effectively split the progressive vote on Super Tuesday, but has yet to endorse either candidate. I’m certainly frustrated that she remained in the race in the face of centrist consolidation, and I question the strategic value of any vote for Warren on Super Tuesday.
Whether we must beg and plea with former Warren supporters, or welcome an endorsement with open arms, will depend on what she does next. But it’s not yet time for that. It’s time for me to release my black bile and write something which I despise writing: a takedown of Joe Biden, and on my birthday! Frankly, it is something I never thought I would have to write, because I foolishly believed that it couldn’t ever come to this—that the old guard, in its great wisdom, would attempt to foist a candidate as flawed as Joe Biden upon the electorate.
Biden’s Appeal: What’s The Deal?
Before I unleash myself, I must take account of why Biden may be an appealing candidate. For many, he evokes nostalgia for the Obama years and signifies a return to a past when politics was perceived as civil and decent. He has the tacit support of the Democratic establishment and is positioned as the safe bet, the candidate that won’t rock the boat too hard. He says he wants to protect what few public programs we already have, and he would keep much else the same. That’s considered a positive. And for some, though not many, he is a bare minimum: both #NeverTrump and #NeverSanders, but nothing more—these are the Karl Roves of the world, Republicans who for whatever reason think they have any idea what the hell they are talking about.
Ultimately, for all but the #NeverSanders contingent, the argument boils down to one magical word: electability. If issue polls are to be trusted, a large portion of Biden voters are in agreement with Sanders’s policy proposals, and yet, many just don’t believe Sanders will be able to get elected, or, if elected, will be able to get his plans implemented. This is a prevalent narrative in the mainstream media, but when interrogated, is just that—a narrative. And so we are in the midst of a battle of perceptions, fighting along two key fronts: Biden’s perceived safety, and Sanders’s perceived risk.
I leave it to other writers and official campaign surrogates to make the positive case for Sanders, as many have done so well. Moreover, the dogged positivity of the official campaign—unless you consider highlighting an opponent’s record of supporting war or cutting Social Security as negative campaigning— is more often an asset than a liability, particularly given the shameful persistence of the Bernie Bro narrative in the face of an increasingly diverse, issue-focused coalition. And as much as I would like to see the Sanders campaign engage in scorched-Earth politics with Biden, I know Bernie does best when he focuses on the issues that have popular support in the polls: universal healthcare, debt free college, legalizing cannabis and ending mass incarceration, to name a few.
So, with my blood still boiling, I will take a deep breath and set the emotional tone for the rest of this essay: Are you kidding me?
A Relic of the Past
Joe Biden represents everything about the past of the Democratic party we should leave behind. He blunts every effective line of attack the Democrats have against Trump in 2020: cozying up to Jim Crow segregationists, corruption and cronyism, cuts to Social Security, sexual misconduct allegations, deportations, supporting endless war, waffling on abortion rights, and more. He is yesterday’s man, as Branko Marcetic has so aptly described, vying in vain to be the man of the future. Perhaps he’s evolved, but at a glacial pace—slow enough that the metaphor no longer holds its meaning—compared to Senator Sanders, who has been on the right side of history for over 30 years.
Trump will not be afraid to take Biden to task for hypocrisy and wrestle with him in the mud until he cries Uncle. It’s easy to imagine the lines of attack.
“I wouldn’t let Creepy Joe near my mother. The man is a creep. A creep! Do you know how many women have accused him of sexual assault?”
“Remember Ukraine? Quid Pro Joe got his son a cushy board position. Very corrupt, very corrupt stuff.”
“Lyin’ Joe says he didn’t try to cut Social Security folks, but let me tell ya, he did!”
Pause for a moment, dear reader, if your reaction to these hypothetical attacks is indignation, rooted in the notion that Trump can’t effectively criticize Biden for crimes of which he himself is guilty. It didn’t stop him in 2016, and it won’t stop him now. And Trump won’t stop there. As he drags Biden deeper into the mud, he won’t be afraid to tack to the left of Biden on a few key issues—legalizing cannabis, ending war, and protecting Social Security come to mind. Others have imagined more. And to make matters worse, he is certain to frame the Democratic primary as a rigged process, which, regardless of its veracity, is an argument that preys upon a deeply held perception among voters. (I certainly believe that widespread voter suppression has plagued the primary process, particularly in my home state of Texas, but also in Alabama, Virginia, and many other states across the South and Midwest).
Trump will not play nicely with Biden, and neither should we while the nomination is still up for grabs. Some may decry this approach, arguing that a gloves-off fight will give Trump ammunition in the general election if Biden wins the nomination. But believe me, it did not take more than a single afternoon for this humble writer to put these arguments together. It’s inevitable that the Trump campaign machine will do the same, to a far greater degree, with even more bite and vitriol.
These risks are all glaring without even examining the flaws in Biden’s policy proposals, or addressing the elephant in the room—his troubling signs of cognitive decline. Despite his much-criticized, highly erratic, free-associating style of public speaking and the widespread concern about his general intellectual capacity, Trump seems to know where he is after 3:00 p.m. on most days, which is more than one can say of Biden as of late. I do not bring this up flippantly—my grandmother suffered from and died of dementia—but out of sincere concern for a man who I fear will not be able to handle the rigors of the highest office.
Even if Biden manages to defeat Trump, this concern stands out in relief when we consider what is potentially in store in the next four years: a stock market correction, a biological pandemic, escalations in war tensions, and climate catastrophe. It’s not just that Biden confused his wife and his sister, or forgot the beginning of the Declaration of Independence, or said Super Thursday, or claimed he was arrested while trying to visit Nelson Mandela—we cannot afford to have a President whose mental capabilities declining in the face of such crises.
No Time For Malarkey
Moreover, we are running out of time. Our window of opportunity for halting catastrophic climate change is rapidly closing—if not already passed—and we cannot afford half-measures. The stakes are high—our collective future as a species—and if we are to weather the worst of the coming storms, we need a candidate that will commit to transformational policies that will dramatically increase our societal resilience, and fast: a Green New Deal, universal healthcare, the expansion of public education, and broad infrastructure investment. Biden does not propose that vision, and based on the scope of his climate change program alone—which the Sunrise Movement gives a 37.5% rating, compared to Sanders’ 91.5%—he doesn’t share the sense of urgency. He doesn’t seem to believe the challenges we are facing are existential, or that we can build a better world together. At worst, he simply doesn’t care, because him and his fellow Democratic leaders already have what they need.
Whatever the reason for Biden’s “middle-ground” policies, one thing is clear: it’s no time to bide our time. Thousands die every year due to lack of health insurance, and we are only seconds from the midnight hour on the Doomsday Clock. It’s no time for Biden or his malarkey: “[we] know what it is and he’s full of it.” It’s no time for a craven political strategy whose only animating force is stopping Bernie Sanders in the primary and defeating Trump in the general. What we need is a positive, constructive program that will help us face the twisting, bumpy road ahead, instead of setting the car on cruise control until it drives off the next precipice. Biden represents staying the course, no matter what cliff edges might lay ahead. We cannot afford to vote at our own risk. At this point, it imperils us all. We need to band together and change the direction of this country—and the world—before it’s too late.
Now tell me, dear reader. Which side are you on?
Steven Monacelli is the publisher and editor of Protean Magazine.