Editorial: Make America decent again
Super Tuesday was exciting, shocking politics. Vice President Joe Biden’s surge from his seemingly moribund campaign prior to Saturday’s South Carolina’s blow-out to Tuesday’s victory in 9 of 14 states, many of which he had no ground game or advertising presence, was a stunning reversal of fortune for Biden and his chief opponent, Vermont’s Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Why Biden was able to make up so much ground on Sanders’s apparent lead going into Tuesday’s primaries has been the subject of endless political punditry since results came into focus around midnight Tuesday. That Sen. Amy Klobuchar and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg dropped out on Monday and threw their support to Biden was a huge factor. That Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren are still splitting the Progressive vote is another explanation. That former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s campaign nosedived so spectacularly, also benefitted Biden, and that many of the states on Super Tuesday had large populations of African-Americans also helps explain Biden’s surge.
But the most profound explanation for Biden’s spectacular showing on Super Tuesday was that South Carolina’s 20-point win made him the candidate who was most electable in the eyes of Democratic voters. Since the Democratic Primary began with a dozen-plus candidates in the field, the key question has not been about policies, or personalities, or dirt in the closet, but about who could beat Trump. On Tuesday, a majority of Democrats picked Biden as their guy.
But why? Certainly, positive press and the sudden momentum of his South Carolina win was a big part, but Richard Bradley, editor of the Worth Group and a national author, posted a succinct comment on social media that we feel sums up the message voters delivered: “I’ve been thinking that the message of Super Tuesday is that Bernie and Elizabeth supporters really overestimated what most Democratic voters want in this election. We don’t want another revolution, or a massive upheaval in health care, or a pendulum that swings from one extreme to the other. We don’t want four more years of Republicans and Democrats hating on each other. We don’t want a democratic socialist, or a woman president just for the sake of having a woman president (though we’d be fine with a woman president). We want someone who will beat Trump and calm things the f*** down. We are tired of the chaos. We’re tired of being angry — it just wears you down after a while. So…beat Trump. Make America decent again. Restore trust in the purpose and possibility of government. Get some stuff done. Restore America as a force for good in the world and an ally other democracies can count on. End the politics of bigotry and return to social progress. Elect a president who actually is a warm and empathetic person. That’s it. And that’s why Joe Biden had such a good night, and that’s why he can win in November.”
But if that’s true, what’s the best way forward for either candidate? How does Biden take on Bernie without alienating him or his supporters? How does Bernie make amends with a growing number of Democrats who prefer evolution to revolution?
With Sanders appealing to the youth vote and the Hispanic community by large numbers, and Biden appealing to the older voters and African Americans by an equally large numbers, it’s critical that all camps stay engaged in the effort to beat Trump — and that these two candidates help make that possible.
At this point Sanders has the more difficult path. If he continues to press for the overthrow of the status quo and his populist agenda, he’ll alienate all but the Progressive left and drive more moderate Democrats, Independents and Never-Trumpers into Biden’s fold. That’s not a winning strategy. It should be clear by now that there aren’t enough Progressives to ensure a Sanders’s victory over Trump or Biden, and that the youth vote isn’t turning out in the numbers promised. Sanders has to broaden his appeal.
He could do that by becoming more pragmatic. He can champion Medicare for all, but admit that it won’t happen all at once. He could champion free college tuition, but phase it in and add sensible restrictions. Ditto free childcare. Pragmatism gets his $60 trillion of free services down to a realistic number — and one that might actually get passed. That might be a tall order for an ideologue not used to concessions, but as it is he is scaring too many moderates away with his over-zealous agenda.
As importantly, Sanders needs to get over his sometimes-overt disdain for the Democratic Party, as well as the country itself. Conservative commentator George Will noted yesterday that Sanders, saying it as nicely as possible, doesn’t admire America. That’s a harsh and perhaps unfair assessment, but it’s easy to see how millions of Americans view Sanders in that light — and that’s a terrible place for a presidential candidate to be.
Biden has the challenge of trying to attract younger voters, most of whom want substantial change. Sanders speaks to that demographic because he understands that excessive health care costs, exorbitant college debt, skyrocketing housing and prohibitive childcare costs mean too many can’t get ahead like their parents did. He understands they’re angry and frustrated. It’s unlikely Biden can channel that frustration into a political movement as successfully as Sanders has, but he needs to try.
Democrats are not at a point in the primary process where these two political champions can work together. But wouldn’t it be a terrific political statement to see the two debate their differences respectfully during these next several primaries, direct their fire at Trump’s ruinous policies, and unite Democrats, Independents and moderates with a vision of how politics and government can work? If they could, that, too, is how Democrats beat Trump and carry the House and Senate. Plus, it would create a winning legacy for both.
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