Joe Biden vs. Bernie Sanders: For Democrats, That's the Choice - Rolling Stone
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Now Is the Time for Democrats to Pick a Side

The Democratic Primary has come down to a binary choice. There’s no more mushy middle in which to hide

Sanders and Biden debate in Miami

Sanders and Biden debate in Miami

SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

At the beginning of the Democratic primary, there was a candidate for everyone, no matter how niche your personal politics were. If you loved the idea of saving up your basic income to buy a Tesla, there was Andrew Yang. If you loved working out and capitalism, there was John Delaney. If you loved orbs, there was Marianne Williamson. If you hated the Iraq War but loved fascist dictators and cults, there was Tulsi Gabbard. 

This is no longer that race. You have two choices now. Every Democrat has to pick between two sides with diametrically opposed theories on how to beat Donald Trump in the general election—and what the next president should do if he somehow makes that happen. For the millions of undecided voters and high-profile Democrats mulling endorsements, this choice will also be a very simple barometer as to where your true politics lie. 

Neither side is perfect, but this is where they stand. 

On one hand there is Joe Biden, who promises to appeal to the Democratic base and middle-of-the-road voters and use a predicted uptick in overall turnout to narrowly reverse Hillary Clinton’s electoral college defeat in 2016. This is Biden’s pitch.It does not have to do with his policies, because what those policies are has never been a central part of his argument for why he should be president. Biden represents the Democratic party as it has been for the better part of two decades: generally more socially liberal (when convenient) than the Republicans, and willing to mildly temper big business’ interests in order to posture as more amenable to the working classes. These are not, and have not been for years, ideological stances. Instead, Biden’s Democratic party views them as general starting points for negotiations with the other side in order to largely preserve the status quo and maybe, as a bonus, incrementally move the country slightly closer to generally liberal social democracy. 

Seeing as the Republican party’s platform is a strange mix of theocracy, fear-based nationalism, and, under Trump, open fascism, it’s understandable how Biden’s pitch can connect. But it’s not logical to assume that a Biden candidacy would do anything other than return to the status quo of marginal differences between the two major parties that has largely failed working and middle class residents of this country for the better part of a century. 

The other way forward is with Bernie Sanders. Sanders is an ideological purist, who is deeply committed to a set of ideals that are not at all as radical as his opponents suggest. Unless you have been under a very heavy rock for the past five years, you know what these ideals are: healthcare, education, and financial stability as necessary human rights for every member of society, ensured by a government safety net that redistributes wealth from the top. Sanders represents a Democratic party that would openly pursue policies that mainstream Democrats have only ever hinted at, reorienting the party around a clear, progressive ideology that gives voters the option of voting for a world they want to live in, as opposed to trying to sneak a little bit of progress out of a big compromise with the other side of the aisle. 

What these two options are is a perfect barometer for divining a given politician or celebrity or Facebook friend’s priorities. The middle ground candidates are gone now. Former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke ran most of his Presidential race on a largely progressive platform with some caveats toward centrism on issues like healthcare. He has now endorsed Biden. This is the side that he is on. Beto chose the status quo incrementalism over ideals, and he cannot take that back. 

The biggest group currently facing this choice are Elizabeth Warren’s passionate, engaged supporters. Warren’s policies and stated ideology are much, much closer to Sanders than any other candidate in the field. She also stands almost no chance of winning the primary. Her supporters now have to decide: did they choose Warren because of the ideology and platform she represented, which is still present with Sanders, or did they choose her for other, more intangible reasons, like demeanor or gender or tone. Many of this latter group may choose to support Biden, and in doing so, make the same binary choice Beto O’Rourke made, to sacrifice the possibility of progress for marginal gains.

The biggest flaw with Biden’s argument is that we have already tried it once, in 2016, with Hillary Clinton. Biden is not Hillary, and the strange personality politics of a presidential election could very well break in his favor this year, but what he is offering to voters is largely indistinguishable to the platform that failed four years ago. Sanders’ platform is radically different, and thus far untested in a general election. It’s also possible — though with a healthy dose of skepticism — to think that Bernie’s policies are correct but that Biden has a better chance of beating Trump in the general election. There are risks to nominating both candidates, and there is a very good chance that neither of them will be able to beat Trump.

What Democrats cannot afford to do is delude themselves into thinking that both options represent the same future.

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