Now that the dust has settled from the political earthquake of the Super Tuesday primary races, one thing has become clear: Former Vice President Joe Biden, who has become the new frontrunner of the Democratic Party, was an impulse buy — one that voters may come to regret deeply.
Just a week ago, reality matched expectations. The first few Democratic primary races of the season played out just as polls said they would: with a crowded field of candidates splitting votes several ways and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders drawing pluralities of support in Iowa (where he essentially tied with former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg), New Hampshire and Nevada. Even in South Carolina Sanders appeared to be closing in on Biden until Rep. Jim Clyburn stepped in with an endorsement. Biden’s luck instantly changed, and the stunning speed with which the center-right faction of the party consolidated itself around him between the South Carolina victory and Super Tuesday races was breathtaking.
There was no time to poll voters about a dramatically narrowed field after Buttigieg suspended his campaign just three races after officially winning the Iowa caucuses to align behind the old guard of the party. Following Buttigieg, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who had not long ago been leading all candidates in her home state of Minnesota — ahead even of Sanders and Biden — also pulled out of the race and joined the obedient ranks of Biden backers. Former Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke, who had ended his campaign months ago, waited until the day before the most concentrated set of primary races to show his allegiance to Biden. The timing couldn’t have been more obvious.
Other Democratic Party figures chimed in, including former House Speaker Harry Reid, who wrote an op-ed calling Biden “the Democrat best equipped to oust Trump and stabilize America.” In his opinion piece, Reid effectively said what most Biden backers are communicating: While we are in favor of policies that Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren back, we choose Biden over the progressive candidates because we think he can beat Trump better than anyone else can.
Others in the corporate media openly expressed relief and fawned over Biden. CNN senior analyst John Avlon explained the day before Super Tuesday that Biden was a “known quantity,” “known for his decency and empathy,” and was therefore the opposite of Trump. It didn’t seem to matter to Avlon that Biden’s numerous policy decisions over his long career have been far more right wing and Trump-like than Sanders’ — just so long as his personality is affable.
While Reid can be forgiven for papering over Biden’s record (Reid is a political figure, after all) Avlon, who is a journalist, failed to raise even a single aspect of Biden’s deeply controversial and right-leaning past — a legacy that is expertly documented in Branko Marcetic’s political biography “Yesterday’s Man: The Case Against Joe Biden.” Marcetic explaines how “Biden cast a decade’s worth of votes that turned into political boomerangs,” including on issues of abortion where his Catholic beliefs pushed against the Democratic Party’s stance. Much has also been written about Biden’s attacks on Anita Hill, his authorship of the 1994 crime bill, his support for the Iraq war and so much more. Additionally, Marcetic reminds us of how “little sympathy” Biden had for the economic woes when he was vice president under Obama:
As he told one gathering in September 2010, he wanted to “remind our base constituency to stop whining.” If they “didn’t get everything they wanted, it’s time to just buck up here,” not “yield the playing field to those folks who are against everything we stand for.”
This is the Biden that corporate media outlets are loathe to remind us of as he takes on Sanders’ progressive economic agenda in the remaining primary races. Jake Novak, writing for CNBC.com, went as far as giving Biden’s campaign helpful advice on how best to crush Sanders: “What does he need to do now to make sure he defeats Senator Bernie Sanders and closes the deal this time?”
Has anyone writing in the corporate media yet given Sanders similar advice? There is no pretense about which side the corporate media is on.
With former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg dropping out of the race on Wednesday and promising his financial support to Biden, the image of the dead guy in the 1989 film, “Weekend at Bernie’s,” being artificially made to look alive by his employees comes to mind. Biden’s once-lifeless operation has been resurrected, zombie-like, by a hastily built edifice of power, influence and money to resemble a successful presidential campaign.
Given his lack of a real progressive agenda, the only justification for Biden as the Democratic nominee is the near-unanimous corporate media insistence that he is best poised to beat Trump and Sanders is not. Except that it’s just not true. In a rare instance of The New York Times publishing a clear-eyed view of the election, Steve Phillips, author of “Brown Is the New White,” explained how Sanders had a path to victory. According to Phillips, “Almost all of the current polling data shows Mr. Sanders winning the national popular vote.” Even others like USA Today columnist Jason Sattler, who openly admitted Sanders was not his favorite candidate, pointed out that the Vermont senator, “has generally beaten Trump in head-to-head polls for five years now.” A recent study claiming to prove that Sanders was unelectable, gleefully cited by the pro-Biden crowd to buttress their choice, was thoroughly debunked by Jacobin Magazine’s Seth Ackerman.
But with Biden’s South Carolina win and the centrist candidates’ unexpected endorsements ahead of Super Tuesday, the barrage of anti-Sanders messaging finally paid off, fueling a perfect storm among undecided Super Tuesday voters. The Washington Post explained on Wednesday that “Biden’s victories in Virginia and North Carolina and his competitive showing in Texas were aided by voters who made up their minds within the last few days, according to preliminary exit polls … Biden won about 6 in 10 of the late deciders in Virginia and North Carolina.” In other words, voters who chose Biden were not loyal to his candidacy. Instead, their choice was a spur-of-the-moment decision, an impulse buy. In contrast, “Sanders did better in both states among voters who decided earlier than in the last few days.”
On the day before Super Tuesday, I was invited to join a panel on MSNBC’s “All in With Chris Hayes” alongside actor-director Rob Reiner, who has supported Biden’s candidacy for months. During our conversation, Reiner kept insisting that Biden could beat Trump and therefore was the best choice for nominee. As the program wrapped up, we continued our conversation off-camera, and I said to him that even Hillary Clinton in 2016 had been a far stronger candidate than Biden. Reiner readily agreed but explained, “Now that we’ve had four years of Trump, people will be more likely to choose Biden over him.” In other words, our standards for president are so low thanks to Trump that even a weak candidate like Biden meets it. If that is true, then why would Sanders not meet (or surpass) the same standard?
The answer to that question is that Democratic Party elites and corporate media would rather have a weak neo-liberal capitalist than a strong democratic socialist as president, even at the risk of four more years of Trump. After all, with Biden as the nominee, Wall Street wins no matter the outcome of the race. In a testament to the post-Super Tuesday relief of the moneyed class, stock prices shot up, especially in the health insurance industry.
While Biden may indeed be a “nice guy,” he is quite possibly the worst candidate to challenge Trump. His debate performances have ranged from lack luster to confused, to utterly unprepared. Remember when Kamala Harris took on Biden last June just as Warren recently took on Bloomberg?
Trump’s favorite label for Biden is, sadly, well deserved — Googling “Creepy Joe” brings up far too many photos and videos of the vice president putting himself disgustingly close to women, smelling their hair, putting his hands on their shoulders from behind and more. He is the butt of jokes on late night shows and the focus of right-wing media scorn. Republicans are lining up attack lines against Biden’s role in the Ukraine scandal, and Trump is eager to reflect the humiliation of his impeachment trial back on Biden. Add to that Biden’s 30 years of regressive and right-leaning policy decisions, and what remains is a ready-made punching bag for the sadistic and relentless Trump juggernaut.
Corporate media and Democratic Party propaganda convinced enough voters on Super Tuesday to choose Biden at the last minute. But if Biden does end up as the nominee it is likely that his weaknesses will become more apparent with each passing day and voters may experience “buyer’s remorse.” In just a few weeks and months as the primary races continue, it will be too late to return the damaged goods.
Sonali Kolhatkar is a columnist for Truthdig. She also is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV (Dish Network, DirecTV,…