Establishment Democrats Have It Wrong, Joe Biden Can’t Unify the Left

by Oly Durose

14 March 2020

Joe Biden walks in front of an American flag that occupies the entire background
Gage Skidmore / Wikimedia Commons

“We share a common goal. Together we’ll defeat Donald Trump. We’ll defeat him together. We’ll bring this nation together.” Listening to Joe Biden’s speech on Tuesday, you’d be forgiven for thinking he’d already been awarded the Democratic nomination. 

Despite the fact that roughly half of delegates are still up for grabs, there have already been calls from senior Democrats and media commentators for Bernie Sanders to drop out of the race. On one hand, Sanders’ supporters should not resist the reality that Biden’s mounting victories leave him with a very steep and narrow path to the nomination. What they should resist, though, is the subsequent instruction from establishment Democrats to rally behind Biden as a matter of unity

With a growing delegate advantage, the Biden campaign touts that they have earned the right not only to demand unity, but to define the conditions of harmony. Democratic strategist James Carville demanded to “Shut this puppy down…and worry about November. This thing is decided. There’s no reason to keep it going, not even a day longer.” Just like 2016, democratic socialists are being hounded to concede and endorse the frontrunner. Anything less, it is claimed, enables the re-election of Donald Trump.

In this sense, the narrative of unity is as much a mechanism for covering their tracks as it is a sincere request. By this logic, if Trump wins, it will be the left’s fault for not uniting behind Biden, a conservative politician who appears to be in rapid cognitive decline

Of course, when the presidential race begins, the left should make the strongest possible case against Trump. That case must be a socialist, anti-fascist one – not one that promises, as Biden does, that “nothing would fundamentally change” and represents the kind of structural stagnation that Trump was able to exploit to win the presidency in the first place. If Trump wins again, liberal moderates cannot – with any integrity – shift the blame onto those who were prepared to fight for a tangible alternative. 

Ultimately, the notion that Biden has any kind of mandate to command the left’s support ignores the fact that many of us reject the foundation of his success: neoliberal solidarity. When Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Andrew Yang fell into line – some of whom were forced to reverse scathing denouncements of the former vice president – it became very clear what unity truly meant for them; the unconditional commitment to do whatever it takes to keep the left out of power. 

The Biden campaign frames unity differently. To them it is merely a powerful electoral strategy; Biden has convinced predominantly older Democrat voters that he is “going to unite this party and unite this country.” In doing so, he disguises ideological conservatism as a noble willingness to make the tough but necessary compromises for power. 

Compromises like 2050 carbon-neutrality – a ‘happy medium’ between Trump’s climate-change denial and Bernie’s 2030 target; like the pledge to use military force where necessary to protect the country’s oil supplies, in order to end so-called forever wars without undermining US global hegemony; like protecting abortion as a constitutional right – but not a publicly funded one; or like his preference for a competitive market between private insurance and a public option, reconciling his condemnation both of Trump’s Coronavirus response and Sanders’ ‘pie in the sky’ Medicare for All plans.

Biden, then, represents a position that sentences the global south to certain death, colonises victims of warfare, enables patriarchal violence and profits off sickness – consequences that Biden himself will most likely never be a victim of. Nevertheless, as the self-ascribed unity candidate, he takes the moral high ground, standing on those he has condemned to the scrapheap. 

In many ways, Sanders stands up for the victims of compromise and rejects the coercive terms of the negotiation. That’s why he will always be the true unity candidate, bringing together people across countless intersectional divides. For him, unity does not mean compromising working-class interests, but expanding working-class consciousness so that people like Biden can’t compromise on their behalf. 

Maybe it’s too late for Sanders to win the nomination. Or maybe his movement will do what they do best and defy the odds. Regardless, democratic socialists should never surrender their platform. 

In 1992, a congressman tried to intervene while Sanders was denouncing excessive military spending. Sanders famously raised his voice to say, “No – I will not yield.” Neither should we.

Oly Durose was the Labour candidate for Brentwood & Ongar and worked for the Bernie Sanders campaign in Nevada.

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