April 9, 2020 | Reading Time: 4 minutes
Don’t Worry About the Berniebros
They won't have the influence they had four years ago.
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 is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.