April 9, 2020 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Don’t Worry About the Berniebros

They won't have the influence they had four years ago.

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I’ll say this for Bernie Sanders. His was the only campaign to contact me. I live in New Haven. Connecticut’s primary is in June. The Democratic nomination is, by that time, all over but the shouting. It’s nice that Sanders didn’t take us Nutmeggers for granted.

That said, I couldn’t help noticing something about his campaign’s last text message to me. “This pandemic has underscored the essential need for Medicare for All, which Bernie has been fighting for his entire adult life,” it said. “Are you in for Bernie?”

Joe Biden does stand for something other than a welter of liberal policies. He represents the civic virtue that most Americans do not recognize in the current president.

This is plain-vanilla campaign rhetoric. Normally there wouldn’t be anything noteworthy here. But we don’t live in normal times. When I got this message Monday, my first thought: Most Democrats like his policy proposals. They just don’t like him.

It seems he finally figured that out. Sanders dropped out of the running Wednesday. He will endorse Joe Biden. He will probably campaign for him. Biden, in return, will most likely dovetail, or absorb entirely, many or most of Sanders’ ideas in a bid to bring around Sanders’ supporters. Biden will do what party nominees do—open the door to unity, offer a carrot or two, build as wide a coalition as possible, and then move on.

To be sure, some so-called Berniebros will never walk through the door. Some of them are already saying they’d rather vote for Donald Trump. Some of them even have a financial incentive to accelerate the president’s carnage in the false hope that doing so will hasten the coming revolution. This is ridiculous but to be expected. Some people’s wounds will never heal. Some people make a living pretending to be oh-so-wounded.

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Will they do to Biden what they did to Hillary Clinton? Maybe. But bear in mind the single biggest difference between 2016 and 2020. This time, there’s an incumbent. Last time, there wasn’t. In that difference, you’ll find Democrats behaving quite differently.

Democrats were eager to search for the soul of the Democratic Party four years ago. Very few if any Democratic voters desire soul-searching this time around. The stakes are too clear, because the stakes are so high. Democratic voters were willing to give Berniebros a hearing last time. Very few if any are willing to repeat the exercise.

Will they be loud? Indeed! The volume will be deafening thanks in part to Russian saboteurs and Republican operatives hoping to shatter Democratic unity. The president will accuse Biden of corruption (because his son worked for a Ukrainian gas company) and the Kremlin will magnify that allegation, and all the while Berniebros will second-guess the wisdom of nominating a former vice president with baggage.

Let ’em. Joe Biden isn’t Hillary Clinton, and that’s another fundamental difference. As hard as it is to say, the presumptive Democratic nominee will benefit from the sexism that kneecapped the former secretary of state. White working class bigots who voted for Sanders in the previous Democratic primary won’t hesitate to vote for Biden. They won’t have to choose between Trump, or a third-party spoiler, and that woman.

At the very least, Biden would be a perfectly fine, though perhaps boring, president who treats Americans equally.

That most Democrats liked Sanders’ policies more than they liked him personally should tell us something. Character matters. Civic virtue matters. This isn’t to say Sanders isn’t virtuous. It is to say he didn’t foreground virtue as much as he did a revolutionary spirit. He didn’t think modeling virtuous behavior was needed. What was needed was knocking down impediments to freedom, equality and justice for all.

(And yelling. What was needed was lots of yelling.)

Again, most Democrats don’t disagree. But I suspect they want more than good ideas. Berniebros are quick to make fun of Democrats for choosing a nominee for “no reason” other than that he’s not Donald Trump. But Biden does stand for something, in addition to the many liberal policy proposals he brings to the table. He stands for—indeed, models—the kind of civic virtue most Americans expect from a president.

At the very least, Biden would be a perfectly fine, ordinary, though perhaps boring president who strives to treat Americans equally, so that when a viral pandemic strikes one part of the country especially hard, he won’t exploit the moment to reward friends and punish enemies, or personally profit at the expense of mass suffering and death.

But a President Biden would do more than the very least. Political scientist Josh Chafetz wrote this morning that “it’s entirely possible that a Biden presidency could lead to a more actual, lasting progressive policy movement than a Sanders presidency would have.” Even if a Sanders presidency would’ve had more progressive goals, he said, a Biden presidency would likely lead to more progressive and enduring results.

I think that’s right. Biden would be receptive to the party’s left flank while at the same time continuing to model anti-Trump civic virtues needed to won over legislators. He would, I hope, govern from the moral high ground—consensus-seeking, solutions-oriented, with an eye on the common good with protections for the least among us.

That’s not transformational. That’s not revolutionary. That’s not yelling.

But that’s not nothing either.

—John Stoehr

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.


  1. realsaramerica on July 30, 2021 at 8:10 am

    I have absolutely ZERO patience for Berners this time – and I voted for Bernie in the primary in 2016. It’s truly bizarre to see intelligent friends saying they can’t vote for Biden. I tell them in two words why they should: SUPREME COURT

  2. Geoff G on July 30, 2021 at 8:10 am

    I saw a great joke on Twitter: Now that Bernie’s out, all of the young people who didn’t turn out to vote for him won’t turn out to vote for Biden.

    What the next president will accomplish will be determined by what he can accomplish, which will be determined by the strength of the Dem congressional caucus and “presidenting” skill. It’s impossible to know how good someone will be at presidenting until they occupy the office, but experience is one factor that can be known in advance. Biden is as experienced as anyone ever elected.

    As far as the Dem caucus goes, it should be even more united behind Biden’s platform than it was behind Obama’s. Remember, healthcare was a slog, and passed by the skin of its teeth. Not enough votes for cap and trade or comprehensive immigration reform. Not enough votes for a stronger version of Dodd-Frank (though Dodd-Frank wasn’t bad as it was). In 2021, a strong public option, expansive climate change legislation and immigration reform are all doable. Hopefully, corporate reform along the lines proposed by Sen. Warren is in the cards too. And democracy reform along the lines of HR 1.

    If Biden and congress get some or most of that passed it will be as revolutionary as any other administration in history.

  3. Beau Porden on July 30, 2021 at 8:10 am

    You lost me. While I hope and pray that Biden wins, he is a corporate tool with dementia. He is liable to be destroyed by Trump in the general election. If by some miracle he actually gets elected there is no way he is going to effectively deal with the serious economic problems that led to Trump in the first place. That would require taxing the shit out of his donors. Economic inequality will only worsen as our economy is currently rigged to do just that. 10s of millions will still be uninsured or underinsured and 10s of thousands will die because they can’t afford to get medical help. And in four years we can undoubtably look forward to another Trump, but this time one of the explicitly Christo-Fascist variety, whether it’s Mike Pence or another one of his ilk.

  4. Sondra Gail Adam on July 30, 2021 at 8:10 am

    You lost me too. Biden never was and is not a Progressive. Have you researched his history before writing that Biden is progressive because it’s propaganda, not truth. He is an affable handsy, windmill politician brought along to where the wind is blowing. I have never seen any core values from him. He is Republican light. As someone said, we’re now looking down the barrel and have the choice of DJT and Citibank.

  5. Ann on July 30, 2021 at 8:10 am

    I’m a progressive supporter of Bernie’s policies. I’m also a Navy vet, active & reserve. I’m also a retired Public Health Service officer. I’m also a mom, daughter, & sister. My family is working class, nearly all are considered “essential” and none is able to “telecommute”. None of my family is excited to vote for Biden. I will do my very best to convince them all to vote Green Party. Seems like your smug defamation & erasure of a significant (and growing) number of people may be a bit premature. There will be fewer in your “class” after this is over.

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