Discover more from Conviction by Jason Hicks
Our choice in November
Responding to leftist qualms in voting for Biden
Disclosure: I noticed a new Christian socialist publication had only published articles criticizing Biden, so I pitched writing a column arguing that the left should support Biden. An editor said they would consider such a submission, but then I never got a response to this draft, which has been slightly edited since then. It was written in May so may feel partly out of date, though the main issues are the same.
The pandemic puts the choice before us November 3rd in stark relief: Trump is killing people. Amidst reports that the federal government was confiscating supplies seemingly only from “blue states”, the governor of Maryland hid the tests she procured (link). Echoing his praise of the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, he’s called the anti-lockdown protesters, who surrounded the Michigan state capitol with weapons, “very good people.” He and the Republican Party are willing to reopen the country with a sabotaged testing regime, even to the extent of trying to overrule governors who disagree with them.
On the other hand, Democratic Party governors and local officials — along with some state-level and local Republican officials — have followed the recommendations of medical experts and are saving lives. Mistakes were made and will be made, but they weren’t and aren’t being made consistently and systematically based on personal or partisan interest, nor by an explicitly racist ideology. As well it should not be forgotten that the Obama administration not only handled its response to Ebola better, it did so in a way that provided key aid globally, whereas Trump’s response is to accerberate global tensions (and was simaltaneously racist toward Chinese people while solicitious toward the authoritarian government of China, which delayed his administration preparing for this threat).
And yet a debate roils the left on whether supporting Vice President Biden is a bridge too far. I find a curious double standard when it comes to any evaluation that is able to find that Senator Sander’s compromises are palatable but Biden’s are beyond the pale. Michael Gibson’s article repeats a common one: cancelling Biden for the 1994 crime bill without noting that Bernie voted for it as well — partly because of the Violence Against Women Act which was only there because Biden initiated. it. Gibson’s article calls Biden “the (!) architect of mass incarceration,” but does so by linking to an article that explicitly says, “The 1994 law didn’t really cause mass incarceration.”
My point, though, is not an overall evaluation of that specific bill — that would be a different article. For the purposes of reflecting on this election, I want to make two points.
First, would it have been better if the Republicans had more influence in writing that bill? That, after all, would be the upshot of withholding one’s vote due to arguing or implying that that bill — or other actions — are so bad such that the left should withhold their vote.
Second, for that bill or any other decision one questions, I suggest looking at the balance of forces: what were the votes in Congress and what were their prospects for reelection?
The Tea Party showed us what that looked like negatively. However astroturfed it was (and I think that’s exaggerated), it was a significant and passionate movement that forced elected officials to take different positions — or replaced many of them if they didn’t.
The anti-Trump “Resistance” — for all that it evokes eye rolls about “wine moms” from some parts of the left — has shown us the positive side of what this looks like. For all the evil Trump has been able to inflict, he’s been held to only one major bill (the tax reform), his attempts to repeal the ACA have been halted, and his worst actions have been confied to his use — and abuse — of executive power.
Brandon Massey argued to the contrary, stating that Speaker Pelois’s resistance has only been so much theater: “She approved Trump’s military budget (the largest in history)… and allowed cuts to Obamacare….” The latter point is just factually wrong. The so-called “Cadillac tax” referred to in the linked article was opposed by labor unions and repealing it was not tied to healthcare cuts. The budget point assumes what it needs to prove. The linked article notes that earlier the House had passed a bill, “which sought to rein in Mr. Trump’s authority on policy after policy.” Pelosi did not stick with that bill for the simple reason that the Democrats only control the House. Is Massey proposing that the Democrats should’ve forced another government shutdown whatever the consequences? And again the question is: Would withholding votes from the Democratic Party improve this situation?
Massey went on to write: “Pelosi has not resisted Trump in any meaningful way.” The single most consequential action available to Speaker Pelosi is impeachment — and she used it, initiating a process that could have and would have removed a dangerous person from the presidency, if not for the clearly partisan and personally motivated voting by the Republican Senators, Senator Romney excepted.
One of the charges thrown at Biden in particular is his relationship with segregationist senators. Gibson, for instance, wrote that “Biden’s career in the Senate…has been marked by repeated partnerships with the most noxious racist politicians on both sides of the aisle, including…outspoken segregationists.”
One would think reading this and similar comments that Biden worked with them and was friends with some of them because of their racism and segregationist views. Gibson, as have many other leftists, offhandedly refer to Biden giving Strom Thurmond’s eulogy — but what did he say there?
Biden said: “I went to the Senate emboldened, angered, and outraged at age 29 about the treatment of African-Americans in this country, [with] everything that for a period in his life Strom had represented.” Biden told a story about John Stennis, a segregationist senator from Mississippi. He said the first time he met, Stennis asked him why he ran for the Senate and without thinking, Biden replied: “Civil rights, sir.” Almost two decades later as Stennis was about to retire, Stennis referred back to that conversation and pointed to his conference table, telling Biden it was around that table that they ”planned the demise of the civil rights movement.” Biden described the moment in the eulogy:
Then he looked at me and said, “And now it’s time, it’s time that this table go from the possession of a man against civil rights to a man who is for civil rights.”
And I was stunned. And he said, “One more thing, Joe,” he said. “The civil rights movement did more to free the white man than the black man.” And I looked at him, I didn’t know what he meant. And he said…, “It freed my soul; it freed my soul.”
I would suggest leftists who see Biden as a bridge too far pause and reflect on the support of people like Representative Jim Clyburn — “We know Joe. But most importantly, Joe knows us” — and the Black voters who were the backbone of his campaign. Biden entered political life because of civil rights, and he reentered it because of Trump’s praise of white supremacists in Charslottesville.
While Biden’s message is often portrayed as a return to the status quo, that is not what he says or promises. In his “Soul of the Nation” campaign stump speech, he says we have to beat Trump so that we can “take the next step forward…to give the marginalized, the demonized, the isolated, the oppressed a full share of the American dream….[and] root out systematic racism.” (Link)
The struggle for justice rolls on. Whatever limitations the Democrats and Biden have, I submit that it’s “our” job (the movement’s) to convince people of the issues and to organize them to exert their power, such that politicians are either empowered and enabled to do better because of a stronger bargaining position — or compelled to do better at the risk of being replaced. Withholding votes won’t do that, and Trump’s reelection will make it immeasurably harder, if not tragically impossible.
The historic victory of resistance “wine moms” and Black voters 2018 should not be underestimated. In the 2014 midterm, 35 million people cast a vote for a House Democratic candidate. In 2018, 60 million did. They’re motivated and focused on the goal of defeating Trump — not to to turn back the clock, but so that we are able to move toward justice. These are the voters that surged the 2020 primaries to vote for Biden (link). Whatever differences one has with them or with the Democrats, I think the place of a responsible left can only be right there with them, shoulder-to-shoulder, working for the common good, for love, and for justice.
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