Are they glad to be rid of the Bernie threat? The liberal commentators and the Democratic establishment are certainly showing it. They’re breathing a sigh of relief, without realizing that the “suspension” of Sanders’ election campaign does not amount to a surrender. It does not mean he is leaving the stage. They’re praising his sense of responsibility, in paternalistic tones.
But if the obvious thinking that lies behind their attitude is that Bernie’s presence in the race, even after his recent defeats, was the biggest obstacle in the way of Joe Biden embarking on a path to victory in November, they would do well to assess the many critical issues weighing down the latter’s candidacy and evaluate its real strength more realistically.
Only a superficial reading of current political reality suggests that the former vice president has better “electability” and “likeability” than the senator from Vermont in a direct head-to-head against Trump. Hillary was also considered more “electable” and more likeable than Bernie in 2016. Oddly enough, it turned out the opposite from what had happened four years earlier, when an inexperienced black outsider with a funny name had first defeated the experienced and well-known Hillary and then knocked out the seasoned McCain.
It’s hard to finally dismantle the argument that the presidential election game is won in the middle, according to the canons of the old power politics, with a candidate who is an expression of the white Washington apparatus—and this notion will be put to the test once again in November. One truly hopes that it won’t turn into a repeat of the 2016 fiasco. But Biden offers no guarantees that it won’t happen again.
Two circumstances could avert a defeat. The first would be if the Sanders-aligned political wing were to actively participate in the final shaping of Biden’s candidacy and his platform. It would be the opposite of what happened in 2016, when the Clintonian apparatus did no less than demand Bernie’s delegates give her their votes on the basis of an abstract notion of party unity against the external enemy, offering them nothing in return. All the more reason why Bernie announced the suspension of his campaign, not his full withdrawal from the race.
The second possibility, linked to the first one, is that an important personality would come on board as soon as possible as Biden’s candidate for VP. Could it be Kamala Harris? There’s a lot of talk about her, but her poor performance in the primaries raises questions about her real ability to strengthen Biden’s candidacy.
If Biden is indeed selected as the nominee, Bernie’s weight must make itself felt in building the political platform that Biden’s Democratic administration would commit to, hopefully with a regained majority in both branches of Congress. But the assigning of the key government posts will also count a great deal. With unemployment already exploding—16 million people have lost their jobs in the last three weeks—the cabinet responsibilities for the economy, labor, welfare and healthcare should be entrusted to political figures in tune with the senator from Vermont and his electoral program. But the State Department and the Pentagon will also have to take on a new course. It’s enough to look at the U.S.S. Theodore Roosevelt scandal and the dismissal of its captain, Brett Crozier, to understand how the logic governing the military-industrial complex and national security is dangerously obsolete and needs to be completely revised after the coronavirus crisis.
But any assessment and forecast will have to come to terms with the fact that there are still seven long months to go before the November vote, while it’s not even clear whether and how the Democratic convention in Milwaukee, which has been postponed from July 13 to Aug. 17, will be able to take place. If things continue according to the “format” of recent weeks, the media power gap between Trump and his challenger will be enormous.
As the much-flaunted economic growth precipitously gives way to crisis and mass unemployment, which in turn increases the number of people without health insurance, the White House will be left with the tab. Meanwhile, Trump’s management of the epidemic crisis is certainly not getting high marks in the polls, while other polls are now broadly favoring Biden in a head-to-head against Trump, including in the swing constituencies.
There is still the question of how the cancellation of the election campaign for the remaining months will play out for Biden. It will clearly disadvantage him by not letting him put his best traits to use, as a consummate comedian, full of empathy in his contacts with regular voters, with the right type of eloquence to speak to the working class and minorities, especially African Americans. His appearances on TV via Skype are unforgiving, showing a different side of him from the one he was showing to the public before the epidemic, more in keeping with the reality of him being an elderly gentleman, not comfortable in long-distance communication, no longer dressed in his tailored suit and his fabled Ray-Bans. Not exactly a “presidential” figure, but rather one with the appearance of a dignified retiree. Spending seven months in this position will be tough for him, while Trump rages on, every single day—always on the offensive.
The asymmetry between the two will be larger-than-life. Meanwhile, Barack Obama is still missing from the scene, an absence which Trump is deviously exploiting, with his attempts to insert himself into the fault lines of the Democrats, first with insinuating comments on the Sanders-Warren rivalry, then on Obama’s silence towards his former VP. These tricks could have worked in the pre-virus “normalcy,” but they come to view today as too bluntly manipulative, trying to cover up Trump’s mindless management of the coronavirus emergency.
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