Former Vice President Joe Biden, left, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., right, participate in a Democratic presidential primary debate at CNN Studios in Washington, Sunday, March 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Last night, the handful of Americans who tuned in for the Democrat debate between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders were treated to two hours of uninformative blather that ended up proving that neither has what it takes to be president…but also hinted that only one of them was really running for the office.
My initial handicapping of the debate said that Biden had to prove he wasn’t senile and Sanders had to draw blood and show that Biden was not electable and that he was. I think that was only half right.
Biden’s objective was clearly to show that he was up to the task of being president. There are folks on the right who think he accomplished that. I’d disagree. When asked what he’d do about the Wuhan virus, Biden repeatedly talked about “go(ing) to the situation room.” It is pretty clear that he’s the type who thinks holding a meeting is the same as action. He expressed a lack of confidence in the ability of state and local governments to take action based on local conditions to mitigate the spread of Wuhan virus. His plan, shamelessly plagiarized from what the Trump administration is already doing, was much more devoted to using the current epidemic to enforce deep social change upon the United States than it was to controlling the spread of Wuhan virus, finding a cure, and returning the nation to status quo ante.
There is a certain schizophrenia apparent as Biden harps on getting aid to businesses and workers (‘so they don’t miss a mortgage payment, they don’t miss a rent payment’) as a top priority and a half an hour later (it could have been a week for the way it felt) he lambastes Sanders for wanting aid by reminding him of the aid bill that is about to pass the Senate.
Biden managed to get by without sundowning or getting that “where am I, why is that geezer screaming at me?” look on his face more than a half-dozen times. He could not get by without inserting himself into every policy debate in the nation in the last 30 years as a central and pivotal figure. Let’s face it. In the Senate, Joe Biden was an empty suit. As Vice President, he was not a part of Obama’s inner circle. Biden’s judgment is famously flawed, having been, in the words of Robert Gates, “wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.”
Did Biden look more like a potential president than Sanders? Yes. But I don’t think that was Sanders’ purpose.
To move his candidacy forward, Sanders really had to go after Biden. He had to hit him hard on his Senate record and he had to hit him on his obvious mental unfitness. Sanders didn’t. He hammered Biden on being a weathervane and lectured him, correctly, that leadership involves risks and it involves getting out in front of issues that may be unpopular at the time. I’m not sure you’re going to find a picture of Sanders by the word “leadership” in the dictionary, but you definitely won’t find Biden’s. He hit Biden over and over on the positions he took in the Senate that were definitely against the canon of acceptable thoughts in today’s Democrat party. He got Biden to defend his vote in favor of going to war with Iraq by claiming he’d been promised that the authority to use force there was simply a bluff and that no war was intended and that George Bush had lied to him. To try to claw himself free of the tar baby of his own record, Biden promised that there would be no more new oil drilling allowed in the United States, that fracking would be banned, and that he’d select a woman to be his running mate. He got within a gnat’s eyelash of promising to make all military vehicles electric powered but a moderator cut him off.
Sanders was not trying to win a nomination, Sanders was trying to start a movement. By bringing every point back to Medicare for All and wealth inequality, he attempted to paint Biden and, by extension, the Democrat establishment, as corrupt and as part of the problem. By highlighting Biden’s lack of risk-taking as a politician and his willingness to go with whatever was popular at the time, he underscored the fact that Biden really doesn’t believe anything he’s telling Sanders voters, he’s just saying it for public consumption.
While Sanders vowed to support Biden if he gets the nomination, one has to question how hard he’s really going to work. Indeed, one has to wonder exactly what message he was sending to his followers. Sanders voters, if they think strategically, could easily make the case that their cause is better off with Biden being routed in 2020. That would be a repudiation of the Democrat Old Guard and rather than have their policies discredited by a potential Biden presidency, they would be in a stronger position to run against the Trump record when the field is open in 2024.