I just sent in my mail-in vote in the New York State Democratic primary. I voted for a loser.
We know, of course, that Joe Biden will be the Democratic nominee for president, but I voted for my favorite, Elizabeth Warren. If you have a similar opportunity in New York or elsewhere, and if you broadly share my political views, I would urge you to do the same. Or else vote for Bernie Sanders. I would urge you to vote for Warren or Sanders even if you had supported one of the other candidates because of concerns about electability. After all, electability is no longer an issue—neither Warren nor Sanders is going to be the nominee. The issue is what kind of nominee—and what kind of president—Biden will be. A vote for one of his progressive opponents sends a message, however small, about the direction he should be taking.
I am reluctant to talk about Biden’s shortcomings, because for better or worse we are stuck with him—he is the only thing that stands in the way of four more years of Trump, and I wouldn’t want to distract anybody from that harsh reality. But I do feel the need to acknowledge, maybe for the last time, that from a progressive point of view, Biden leaves much to be desired. As a senator, he generally positioned himself in the center of his party, if not a bit to the right of center. Egregiously, he supported the terrible right-wing idea of a balanced budget amendment. Weirdly, he liked to say that his state of Delaware was on the Confederate side in the Civil war, which of course it was not. More hopefully, his record suggests a pragmatic ability to move with the times. It was a public prod from Biden that outed Obama on the issue of marriage equality. And Biden’s rhetoric and stated policy positions since clinching the nomination do signal a shift to the left, for example by endorsing Warren’s bankruptcy bill, in sharp contrast to his positions as senator from Delaware. His already appointed transition team leader, Ted Kaufman, is a solid progressive, as is Jared Bernstein, his chief economic adviser as veep and still on his team.
The twin crises of public health and racial justice have magnified the ongoing crisis of inequality in America. We need a president committed to a wide-ranging attack on structured economic and social injustice. Can Biden rise to the challenge? I have my doubts, but neither would I rule it out. FDR certainly didn’t look like a transformative leader when he first ran for president in 1932. The progressive pursuit of a bolder Biden is a worthy endeavor: we should do whatever we can to push him in the right direction.