Opinion | What Biden can learn from Clinton and Sanders

By Julia Kreutzer, Senior Staff Columnist

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Here we are again. It’s time for us to, for the 56th time, decide between two old, white guys to lead our nation.

For many liberals, especially young voters, the pain of having to vote for an old, white guy who is not Bernie Sanders is still fresh. Even those who do not agree with Sen. Sanders’ platform can agree that he had some of the most robust and expansive policy platforms in modern history — universal healthcare, funding for college and debt forgiveness, to name a few.

The same cannot be said for the presumptive Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden. While he has proposed a few ideas on issues like immigration and gun violence, his campaign is largely banking on support for a return to the “status quo” — meaning Joe will take us back to a pre-Trump era of economic prosperity and social progress. 

But there is a reason President Donald Trump won in 2016 — the “status quo” was not good enough for a large number of Americans. Instead of proposing new and exciting policies that can mobilize millions of Americans, Biden is repeating the flaws of 2016 Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. The last presidential election demonstrated that simply saying “I’m not as bad as Trump” won’t suffice. Biden needs actual policies and reforms to unite America against President Trump. Wake up, Joe — it’s time to do some work.

During the primaries, Biden’s strategy seemed to be simply to outlast the others. Riding on a wave of nostalgia for the Obama era, he flung his way to the forefront of the conversation among moderate Democrats and stayed there. He had the funding and grandpa-charm to stick it out until his major opponents, like Sen. Sanders, ran out of money and steam.

He didn’t ruffle feathers, but rather tried to rely on voters’ united interest in defeating Trump. His main strategy seems to be just existing as an alternative to the current administration. He is banking on our sensibilities.

Clearly this strategy worked in the primary, but there’s reason to believe it won’t work in the general election. Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind., articulated in a March 2019 radio interview that this strategy was what ultimately cost Democrats the last election.

“We spent, I think, way too much time on our side talking about him,” Buttigieg said. “Our whole message was don’t vote for him because he is terrible. And even because he is, that is not a message.”

Say what you want about Sen. Sanders, but he truly embodied a movement. He showed radical courage at a time when, clearly, it was easier to simply bask in Trump’s shortcomings. But Hillary’s loss demonstrated that playing it safe can only take you so far, and now more than ever, Democrats must go further.

Biden is almost serving as a lame duck candidate — a passive politician who is more focused on legacy than active policy making. Unlike most lame ducks, he isn’t nearing the end of a second term. Now is the time he should be ramping up his campaign, not sliding further into the shadows.

At the end of the day, an extremely progressive agenda did not win this primary. But no one can deny that campaigns with clear objectives have the ability to mobilize. In order to draw Bernie voters over to the more moderate ticket, he needs to make this objective-based approach line up with his ideals. 

I’m not saying that Biden needs to adopt radical policies like Sanders’, since that would be a radical change of course from the strategies that allowed him to sweep many primaries — but he should take a more proactive approach. There are relatively simple ways for Biden to steer his campaign on the right course.

First, speak out! Biden has been slow to call out the missteps of pretty much anyone but Trump. In an effort not to alienate Republican voters who may be willing to cross party lines in November, Biden has largely stayed silent on the missteps of Republican lawmakers. 

As the Republican-led state legislature in Wisconsin refused to delay in-person voting amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Sen. Sanders protested the decision and did not hold any get-out-the-vote events.

“People should not be forced to put their lives on the line to vote,” Sanders said. “The state should delay Tuesday’s vote, extend early voting and work to move entirely to vote-by-mail.”

Biden, on the other hand, made no such protests, urging citizens to “please vote.” He neglected to call out Republican recklessness and blatant endangerment of their citizens. While this strategy makes sense, as it keeps him from falling on Republicans’ bad sides, it makes him seem unwilling to stand up for himself and the best interests of the American people. Standing up for citizens’ most basic needs amidst obvious wrongdoing is a simple way for him to show he has the chutzpah for the oval office.

Next, Biden should opt for a progressive vice president. The easiest way to show he is willing to work towards reforms is picking a running mate who will ensure it. Former contenders for Biden’s spot, like Kamala Harris and Amy Klobuchar, are consistently in the conversation.

While these names are popular among his moderate base, they don’t have much support among the progressive voters that Biden needs to mobilize. Alternatively, leaders like Stacey Abrams and Elizabeth Warren do have ample support among party members. By picking a running mate who champions reform, Biden can demonstrate willingness to improve the “status quo” and boast about a team that is capable of accomplishing it.

If Bernie Sanders’ campaign proved anything, it is that voters, particularly young ones, want a movement, a rally cry or a mission to unite behind. The shortcomings of Hillary Clinton’s campaign demonstrated the dangers of ignoring these needs. If Democrats want a win this November, Biden needs to come up with a plan that takes him out of the shadows and onto the soap box.

Write to Julia at [email protected].