Plata o Plomo: The Trap of Electoral Politics in America

It is never the suburban moderate voter who is called upon in times of crisis to rally behind a progressive candidate offering real change for working people. Instead, time and time again, the party’s left flank is caustically ordered to take its place in the center and bite the bullet for the “less harmful” candidate. It’s what they were told in 2004 to back Kerry after he adopted none of Howard Dean’s positions to court his base, it’s what they were told in 2016 even after Hillary belittled the entire Sanders movement. And it’s what they’re being told today. 

But how many voters can be convinced that there’s enough distinguishing the candidates to make an effort to get out and vote? And will the party’s left flank be convinced they’re “reducing harm,” rallying behind a racist corporatist, pathological liar, like Joe Biden? Perhaps that is the case, but the argument smells a little Orwellian to me. After all, it’s not the first time the left has arrived at this crossroads.

Progressives now possess two options, assuming Bernie Sanders will not be the presidential nominee (he won’t be). Whether he takes it to the convention in Milwaukee this July or calls it quits early, in light of the pandemic and in the interest of public safety and unity and all that, when his campaign is finally suspended Sanders will certainly endorse Biden enthusiastically and implore all of his voters to get behind him in the party’s mission to defeat incumbent Trump. 

Let’s assume that as in 2016, 74% of Sanders’s supporters pull the lever for Joe Biden in the general election and oust Trump. It isn’t inconceivable he would be able to pick up the Rust Belt during the midst of a pandemic, especially considering the last shreds of the automobile manufacturing industry shuttered production domestic because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

But would Biden be able to survive the barrage of attacks that will be hurled at him throughout the election? Trump will relentlessly hammer Joe Biden for his corruption just like he did Hillary Clinton, and he will in no way spare Hunter Biden from his public attacks. He will also blatantly and poignantly point to Joe Biden’s deteriorating mental health, he’ll hammer him for his Iraq War vote, just like he did Hillary Clinton, and he’ll even come after Biden from the left for his horrendous crime record. Trump also comes into the election with all of the advantages of incumbency.

In fact, historical examples of successfully unseating incumbent presidents are sparse. Bill Clinton ousted George Herbet Walker Bush from election, but Texas Independent Ross Perot pulled in nearly 20 million votes in his third party run, eating away at conservative voters who resented Bush for bucking his campaign pledge to not raise taxes. Had the billionaire Perot not run third party, Bush could have certainly defeated Clinton. Previously to that, we must look to GOP poster boy Ronald Reagan, who ousted Jimmy Carter after a single term, in large part due to the Iran Hostage situation and because Americans had changed their minds–they now wanted structure and order, and the Republican Party had absolutely decimated President Carter over his inability to negotiate the release of the hostages. 

Is Coronavirus going to be Trump’s Iran Hostage situation? I think a far more apt counterfactual would be if Hurricane Katrina had happened in spring 2004 during the Democratic primary season, only instead of a hurricane that was isolated to an impoverished area of the country, the natural disaster affected the entire country and  ravaged our healthcare system and economy.

 Fortunately for Trump, it doesn’t seem Joe Biden even has the political wherewithal to fill the leadership vacuum during this total disaster. Instead of seizing the opportunity to show his presidential leadership, Joe Biden has not only failed to release a plan for the pandemic, he’s failed to even be seen in public. 

The Intercept’s Jeremy Scahill joked on Twitter, “We were all told that we desperately need Joe Biden’s leadership and experience. Now all we have to do is find him.” In light of all the pandemic pandemonium, few have seemed to notice that the presumed Democratic nominee is nowhere to be found. It’s like after his public appearance on the debate stage, he was whisked away and kenneled from the public eye.

One botched Facebook livestream aside, Joe has been almost entirely out of the public eye in a time of crisis. Offering no clear plan He should never let a day go by without hammering Donald Trump for his unconscionably poor handling of the entire crisis. Biden needs to be clamoring on behalf of the working people, calling for public bailouts, and putting his money where his mouth is. Instead, he has offered the people nothing but silence. Maybe  that’s all his senial mind can muster.

Perhaps this is a crisis so great that it will be the electorate that Trump’s leadership  was unforgivably poor, and the presidency is almost handed to Joe Biden, if that is the case, it is likely the only situation in which Joe Biden is able to secure the nomination. Recent polls, however, show that the President’s popularity has only increased since the coronavirus pandemic occurred, proving the president’s popularity is stickier than many gave him credit for. Even after the stock market was completely ravaged and he’s offered no clear path forward, his relentless obfuscation and offloading of the blame seem to have paid dividends.  

On the other hand, progressives could take this moment to buck their historical tendency to fall in line and tell the Democratic Party establishment to eat shit. Declining the bribe and opting instead for the bullet: Donald Trump for four more agonizing years. Surely there will be much grandstanding and finger wagging, but then what? Tensions with Iran will continue to escalate, he will almost certainly appoint at least one new neoconservative Supreme Court Justice, and of course he will continue his abhorrent tyrade against the undocumented.  

It is not entirely clear just how different this would be from a Joe Biden presidency, setting aside of course the Supreme Court nominee which the former Vice President has assured us will be a “woman of color” who will uphold Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to access safe abortions, an issue Biden has consistantly dropped the ball on throughout the years, only as recently as 2019 changing his position on the Hyde Amendment, prohibiting federal funding from going to abortions. 

A war hawk in his own right, it is still likely a Biden administration would attempt to mend relations with Iran and return to the previously brokered Iran Nuclear Deal, which was ushered in during the Obama administration. However, it would not be inconceivable for him to continue to impose the sanctions set in place by the current administration, perhaps to some relaxed degree. Biden’s pathological lies, like Trump, make it difficult to distinguish between what he actually believes and how he’d govern behind closed doors. 

If Joe Biden is able to make it through the Milwaukee convention and come out of it the Democratic nominee, he will be faced with a new challenge entirely. Instead of onboarding the consistent Democratic primary voters whose support he inherited, this next group of critical non-partisan voters will take convincing. That’s a tall order for Joe, whose back pocket maneuver throughout the primaries was to tell fence sitting voters to “vote for Trump.” Well come general election, swing voters just may take his advice.

 Even if he does overcome insurmountable odds (perhaps the coronavirus will be enough to erode Trump’s support heavily), it’s unlikely Joe Biden would pick up these voters. What’s more likely is they join the other half of America in dropping out of electoral politics entirely. Unconvinced any of the options are up to the job, why get your hopes up for something that always lets you down?

Given the option between two leaders who refuse to lead, where are voters supposed to turn? Uppity technocrats love to scratch their chins and postulate about why nearly half of Americans don’t even cast a ballot when the answer couldn’t be more obvious. If you offer people two shit sandwiches, no matter how they’re dressed, they’re gonna choose not to eat.

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