Why the Hell Can’t Leftists Just Get Behind Joe Biden?

I’ve always been a bit of a raincloud. When I was a little kid, adults described me as “somber.” I went 90s-goth as soon as I hit puberty. I’ll admit to thinking that it’s fun, at least sometimes, to be dark and dramatic.

I take absolutely no joy, though, in the utter bleakness of this election. The knowledge that our best possible outcome this November (or December, or January) is Joe Biden makes me genuinely sad and weary. If you, like a lot of my friends, are a proud Democrat, hearing that probably pisses you off. It probably seems utterly crazy to do anything but praise and promote the candidate who opposes Trump, who’s an actual, literal fascist. I get it. In past elections, I have been just like you, frothing with zealotry to get the Democrat into office. Sure, they’re flawed, but blocking the crazy Republican is urgent!

This year, though, when the Republican is the craziest yet, I feel lukewarm at best about this election. How the hell does that make sense? Well:

The Democrats won the popular vote in 2016, and we still got Trump.

It is incredibly difficult to work up any real energy and enthusiasm for casting a vote when it may or may not actually matter. Hillary Clinton got three million more votes than Trump did in 2016, but the votes weren’t cast in the right places, so she lost the presidency. The way our elections are set up, including the Electoral College and district gerrymandering, means that they are not actually representative of our citizens’ wishes.

“Well, we’re going to have to see what happens.”

— the president, in response to a question on a peaceful transfer of power if he loses the election, in a goddamn news conference Sept. 23rd

Trump has been more than open that, in the event he does lose, he will neither trust the election results nor leave without a fight. Given that contested results would ultimately go to a Supreme Court that’s stacked in Trump’s favor, it’s kind of difficult to have a lot of faith in the voting process. “You have to vote anyhow, it’s the only agency we have” may be true, but it doesn’t exactly inspire people to get to the polls, especially mid-pandemic.

Voting for the lesser of two evils is how we ended up with a Trump presidency in the first place.

I’m not just talking about 2016. The Trump presidency is a big, white, smothering avalanche that began tumbling towards us over forty years ago, when neoliberalism was born. Phyllis Schlafly’s regressive STOP ERA movement, the Republicans doubling down on racism with the Southern Strategy, and ultimately the Reagan administration shoved the Republican party, then U.S. domestic and foreign policy, hard to the right. In response, the Democratic party shifted rightward as well, and we got our first blue neoliberal president in Bill Clinton: he slashed welfare and other social programs, he kept deregulating things (like, you know, banks), he signed NAFTA, and income inequality kept growing during his administration.

Then the GOP saw some room to step *even further* to the right, and we got George W. Bush. At the time, he seemed nightmarishly conservative (Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha). But in the 2004 Democratic primaries, we got hope: Howard Dean! He had progressive policies and grassroots support! He seemed like a shoe-in! And then the Dean Scream happened: he made a weird noise at a rally and every major newsmedia outlet told everybody to point and laugh at the silly man. Then, while everybody was busy pointing and laughing, the Democratic Party took a sigh of relief that the left-leaning popular candidate was out of the way and threw their weight behind John Kerry. Kerry wasn’t progressive. He was the most conservative, status quo candidate of the primary: some rich, dour boomer from New England. Maybe the DNC promoted him because they thought he had big JFK energy. Maybe they just thought he was the only candidate with enough money to run a successful campaign. Spoiler: Kerry lost.

Of course, though, Obama won a mere four years later. After George W. Bush, Obama seemed like a big, refreshing jump to the left. Seeing the first president of color was an inspiring progressive milestone. However:

the former president, going back at least to his 2004 Senate race, hasn’t really occupied the left side of the ideological spectrum. He wasn’t a Republican, obviously: He never professed a desire to starve the federal government, and he opposed the Iraq War, which the GOP overwhelmingly supported. But to the dismay of many on the left, and to the continuing disbelief of many on the right, Obama never dramatically departed from the approach of presidents who came before him.

There’s a simple reason: Barack Obama is a conservative.

David Swerdlick, Washington Post

President Obama, during his administration, speaking at the White House. A CNN chyron reads “OBAMA: WE TORTURED SOME FOLKS”
President Obama, during his administration, speaking at the White House. A CNN chyron reads “OBAMA: WE TORTURED SOME FOLKS”
Torture is not exactly a left-wing foreign policy strategy.

I understand why people like him, and I don’t begrudge anyone that, but left of center Obama was not.

In fact, we don’t have a left-wing party in the U.S. We have a far-right party and a centrist party, and both of them creep a bit further right each election cycle. Trump may be the benchmark for how far right we are now, but both parties have been becoming steadily more conservative over the course of my lifetime, and there’s no reason to think that will stop this year. Obama was conservative; Biden was picked as his running mate specifically to “balance out the ticket” with a white guy who seemed like an antidote to all of that progress and change. He’s further right than Obama, and supporting him brings with it the dangers of encouraging our rightward slide.

A vote for Biden is a vote for both harm reduction and further harm.

Beacons of BreadTube Contrapoints and Some More News are exhorting leftists to go vote for Biden despite his conservative policies, because it’s going to alleviate some very real human suffering. That’s not nothing. Leftists overall believe what we do because we believe it will lead to the highest quality of life for the most people. We fight for social justice; we just know that actual justice and equity for all is impossible under the hierarchical pyramid scheme of capitalism. We’re all anti-fascists, so it stands to reason that we really don’t want to see the fascist get reelected.

But. Except.

Jeremy Scahill of the Intercept said it far better than I can:

Electing Biden might solve some problems, but it also could result in a strengthening of the far right in the U.S. and could produce a worse threat than Trump in 2024. A Biden administration, they believe, will undoubtedly be a massive corporate-friendly juggernaut that wages military and economic wars and, for them, voting in the affirmative for that is a bridge too far. And many of these people hold the Democratic Party responsible for Trump because of the terrible campaign it ran in 2016, so trying to convince them to buy into the same strategy twice is a losing battle. They are tired of being Democrats’ cheap dates — treated with contempt, offered few and paltry concessions, and expected to go along. As a strategic matter, at this juncture, they regard supporting Biden as tantamount to telling Democrats to continue to take them for granted.

So that’s where we are. A Biden presidency will alleviate some suffering for the next four to eight years, but there will be another Republican president, and we are still shuffling steadily rightward. The next GOP administration, whether it’s Trump next year or someone else in a few years, can and absolutely will be worse unless we undergo some large, systemic changes. That’s not pessimism — that’s what all available evidence points towards.

Going back to normal is not a comforting thought for leftists, because we know that “normal” is the fertile soil that grew the Trump administration in the first place.

I know that 4chan and Russia both meddled with the election. I know that sexism and racism were factors in 2016. Chalking up the past four years to just foreign interference and “bad actors,” though, is dangerous. Overlooking our steady rightward slide and the systemic issues in our electoral system allows them to fester. Things were not okay prior to Trump. Things will be less horrible if Biden wins, but they will not be okay. ICE will still raid workplaces, and people will still be deported. The police will still murder black people. The planet will still literally be on fire. The electoral college, gerrymandering, corporate money in political campaigns, and a hundred other things will still stand between us as people and an actual representative democracy. Biden is the political equivalent of putting a donut on your car when your tire goes flat — he’s a flimsy, temporary solution that will let us function until we can actually replace what’s broken.

So yeah, I know that this sounds bleak as hell. I know that I sound like some pessimistic, annoying know-it-all. I know how much it sucks to think that maybe our system is broken. If I didn’t have hope, though, I wouldn’t be wasting my time typing this whole-ass essay about it. I’m writing because I DO have hope; my hope just depends on a whole lot more people working alongside me to push real, leftward change. So go vote. Don’t vote. Do what you think is the best choice, but let that be the starting point rather than the end point. We need to organize and come together, and the first step is finding our common ground so we can move forward — and to the left.

Cottagecore communist. Intersectional feminist. Obsessed with issues of food and body, socioeconomic class, gender, and sexuality. she/her

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