The anxiety, uncertainty, and adjustments occasioned by the looming dangers of COVID-19 play havoc with one’s sense of time. It has only been three days since we learned the results of Tuesday’s primary races in Michigan, Missouri, Idaho, North Dakota, Washington State, and California, which seem to have put Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders out of the running for the presidential race in November, but it already feels like weeks ago. The competition for the top of the Democratic ticket pitted more than 20 candidates against each other for months. Now it’s down to just two men in their late 70s. For Sanders’ supporters, Tuesday’s primary results were devastating. How former Vice President Joe Biden came out on top, easily winning Missouri and Michigan without a good ground game or campaign troops out in force, and lacking the finances Sanders was able to raise from millions of middle-class Americans, is mystifying.
Compared to Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Kamala Harris, and Sanders, Biden is intellectually lackluster. Just eight weeks ago, former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg entered the race—spending half a billion dollars of his own fortune in under a month—because Biden looked likely to lose to Sanders, a candidate the wealthiest Americans (whether Democrat or Republican) do not want to see in the White House. Senator Warren dispatched Bloomberg neatly in the debate last month, but then she, Buttigieg, and Klobuchar found themselves out of the race days later. So how and why is Biden now the presumptive nominee?
The mainstream media were pulling for him, so that explains some of his success. Wall Street definitely prefers him, too. Sanders did much better against Hilary Clinton in the Michigan and Missouri primaries in 2016 than he did against Biden on Tuesday, despite Clinton being a stronger candidate than Biden, and despite a lot of people being more responsive to Sanders’ message now, after three years of Trump. One possible take-away is that having a penis is still a crucial requirement for being a viable presidential candidate in the USA. America is not ready to elect a woman candidate for the highest office in the land. This is hard to face, but it’s true. Warren didn’t do poorly because of Twitter posts from mean “Bernie Bros.” She never had a chance, lacking the aforementioned penis.
All of our presidential options this year are white men nearing 80 years of age. It’s possible Biden or Sanders or Trump might not even live to see Election Day (particularly in the shadow of COVID-19). Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans have done a good job of growing a new leadership. Maybe term limits for the House and Senate would ameliorate the dearth of new blood and talent in both parties. But stellar people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are waiting in the wings, so there’s hope for change by 2028, when Ocasio-Cortez will be old enough to run for president. (Oh, but wait: she doesn’t have a penis, so maybe we shouldn’t hope?)
Whether Sanders or Biden are at the top of the ticket in November, neither has a chance of swaying the 35-40 percent of the electorate who are passionately supportive of Donald Trump. The margin of error for the Democratic candidate will be frighteningly narrow. He will have to win the support of at least 45 percent of American voters to decisively defeat Trump. If Democrats and Independents don’t feel motivated enough to go to the polls in November, particularly in important swing states like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois, Trump is guaranteed to win a second term. The low turnout among 18–30-year-old voters in the primaries is alarming in this regard. Where were those huge crowds of young people who attended Sanders’ rallies when voting day arrived in last Tuesday’s key primary battles? Exit polls from all of this year’s primary races indicate that most young people who bothered to vote supported Sanders. If he is not on the ticket in November, a lot of them might just stay home on Election Day. Biden will have a tough time garnering 45 percent of Americans’ votes. He’s a very weak candidate, and it’s hard to explain why he is probably going to be the Democratic nominee in November.
One reason that Biden came out on top on Tuesday is that he reminds people (particularly the Democratic Party’s important African American voting bloc) of the Obama years; Biden is comforting and familiar. The nostalgia factor might be helping him win primary races more than anything else. But he’s a candidate for yesterday, not tomorrow. And where our survival as a species is concerned, tomorrow is a very bleak place, indeed. Addressing the climate emergency, which is much more terrifying than the COVID -19 crisis, means addressing the unsustainability of a hyper-capitalist system that’s devouring ecosystems and leaving hundreds of millions of us behind. The Democratic party is supposed to care about such huge social justice issues, but only Sanders and Warren addressed this stark reality with intelligence and serious policies. Biden doesn’t have the intellectual chops or the political backbone to address the climate crisis. And since he is in thrall to Wall Street, there’s little chance that he’ll bring people into his administration who will tell hard truths and advance policies that require people to radically rethink their hyper-consumerist, fossil-fueled life-styles. Biden would probably rejoin the Paris Accord and pursue foreign policies that support it, but the irreversible damage being done to the planet by the hour means that it will be too little, too late.
Although the Democratic party leadership and mainstream media pundits are urging Sanders to drop out of the race, he is holding firm, if for no other reason than to influence Biden and his advisors and supporters to adopt some of his ideas and to have more time to galvanize those segments of the Democratic party poorly represented among its elite leadership: the working poor, college graduates struggling under huge loan debts, young people of all ethnicities, climate activists, and millions of Americans without adequate health care. And now the health emergency we all face gives a new context and impetus to Sanders’ campaign platform.
Just three days ago, COVID-19 was not a key election campaign issue. Now it’s at the very center of public concern and political debate, particularly since the Trump administration seems intent on handling this unprecedented crisis as badly as possible. After Trump’s disastrous televised speech Wednesday night, in which he lied about his administration’s handling of the pandemic, shut down travel from Europe, and seemed to blame evil foreigners for bringing the virus to America, Sanders spoke live to the nation Thursday on YouTube, sounding presidential and showing compassion and concern for Americans of all backgrounds, and outlining policies and procedures that we can and must adopt now. Biden also made a statement, but not as eloquently and passionately as Sanders. Sunday’s debate—the last of the primary season—will be the most important moment in Sanders’ political career, even if he has to quit the race soon. He has nothing to lose and only the respect of millions to gain.