Evaluating Joe Biden’s presidential competency
The presidential campaign of former Vice President Joe Biden has, to say the least, recovered from a rocky start. After three disappointing finishes in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, Biden won every county in South Carolina and nine out of 15 states on Super Tuesday, putting the former vice president firmly in the lead in the number of delegates awarded so far. For the first time since the race began, this has crystallized the two wings of the Democratic Party into two solid voting blocs: the center-left supports Biden and the progressive left supports former frontrunner Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
To put it mildly, this turn of events has not favored Sanders. Indeed, the timing of Biden’s support — all the other moderate candidates dropped out and endorsed him within a 24-hour period — invites suspicion of a conspiracy of the “establishment” against Sanders. This makes sense when one considers that the Democratic National Committee more or less openly sided with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton over Sanders in 2016.
While it’s certainly possible that the DNC is scheming against Sanders again, it’s more likely that a large number of Democrats simply see Sanders’ policies as too extreme and many consider Biden as a viable alternative in his own right.
Biden’s experience certainly qualifies him for the role. He served in the Senate from 1973 to 2009 with a largely successful track record. He was one of the co-sponsors of the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act and the 1994 ten-year Federal Assault Weapons Ban. He was mocked for saying in a debate that Americans needed to “keep punching” at domestic violence, but Biden himself was instrumental in the passage of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act, which led to an astonishing drop in intimate-partner violence. Biden has since called VAWA his proudest accomplishment as a senator. After Obama picked Biden for the vice presidency, his relationships in the Senate were essential in securing the necessary sixty votes for the Affordable Care Act.
Of course, after 40 years of public service, Biden has made his fair share of screw-ups. He infamously plagiarized part of a speech in 1987, costing him his shot at the presidency that year. His opposition to federally mandated busing is anathema to the party today, and he was widely criticized for his conduct towards Anita Hill in her 1991 hearings, although there is at least some evidence that he has tried to make amends for it. In short, Biden’s track record is not nearly as consistently spotless as Sanders’. But Biden can be relied upon to deliver a solidly liberal agenda, perhaps even more libral than President Obama’s, and if he ultimately secures the nomination, the Democratic Party will be in good hands.
More importantly for those worried about the general election, the polls so far have suggested that Biden would beat Trump in a head-to-head contest. We’re far enough away from November that anything could happen, but Biden’s approach seems to be far superior to Hillary Clinton’s in 2016. There’s a tendency among some Democrats to consider the white working class in Midwestern Rust Belt states as irredeemable reactionaries and to write them off in favor of appealing to younger, more diverse segments of the population. This is certainly worth doing, but Biden’s been around long enough to understand that elections aren’t won through ideological purity, but through building a winning coalition from all parts of the electorate. As a moderate, he’s better positioned to recapture them, as well as other Obama voters who switched to Trump in 2016.
Biden’s record notwithstanding, he’s opposing Bernie Sanders from the right and this has led some on the left to treat him as though he were a Republican in disguise. Several people I know have promised to stay home in November if Biden defeats Sanders for the nomination. Obviously, this is their prerogative. However, it seems strange to me that the people who would probably be the most outraged by four more years of Trump are also the most willing to bring it about. Toxic brinkmanship — insisting others vote for your candidate, at the risk of everyone losing — might work in the short run, but in the long run, it has the potential to destroy the Democratic Party.
So by all means, continue to support Bernie Sanders as vocally as you can. Sell as many people as possible on his progressive vision. Continue to criticize Biden’s record wherever criticism is due. Above all, though, remember that the Democrats are one party, not two. If you’re a Democrat, whoever wins the nomination needs your support, and even if you would have rather had someone else, the alternative is Trump.