The Biden-Sanders Debate

Alan Zendell, March 11, 2020

If you believe in things like trends and momentum, it’s easy to conclude that Joe Biden’s campaign is on an unstoppable run, similar the wholly illogical, self-sustaining tsunamis of mass sentiment that cause bull markets to rise and fall. Ask any gambler who has had an unlikely winning streak at the craps table, or any Washington Nationals fan who believed the team would come back from the dead to win the World Series last year.

The media express Biden’s wave in terms of numbers. So far, Bernie Sanders has received 42% of the primary and caucus votes. To overcome Biden’s delegate lead, he would have to win the remaining primaries with an average of 55% of the vote in states where he was never expected to do well. The pundits (those people who were so wrong about everything in 2016) say Sanders has only miniscule chance of pulling that off.

The issue, then, is at what point Sanders jumps on the Biden bandwagon. It’s clear from the recent primaries, that Sanders’ base isn’t as solid as it was when he was competing with Hillary Clinton in 2016, and the reasons for that are easy to discern. First, his base of largely young voters was angry last time, because they believed the establishment was rigging the primaries for Clinton. This time around, DNC chairman Tom Perez has bent over backwards to avoid the appearance that the DNC’s fingers were tipping the scale.

Some of Sanders’ supporters still believe the Democratic Party establishment is pulling out the stops to derail his campaign. But it’s pretty clear that the primary rivals who’ve suspended their own campaigns and endorsed Biden made up their own minds based on one simple conclusion. Democratic voters have been crystal clear that they care more about defeating Donald Trump than whether the party’s platform matches their personal agendas. Biden is simply riding a wave of confidence on the part of most Democrats that he is best positioned to oust Trump.

Many progressive voters are also coming to believe that the price tag for Sanders’ Medicare For All program could wreck our economy, and they’re starting to realize that the word “Revolution” shouldn’t be taken lightly. We’re not fighting to escape the despotic yoke of King George. The Progressive Movement is just trying to provide decent affordable health care for all Americans and level the playing field so wealth doesn’t dominate every aspect of American life.

Biden wants the same things, but he wants to achieve them without blowing up the system. He knows better than anyone that Obamacare was hamstrung from the start because Mitch McConnell was able to kill the government payer option when the Affordable Car Act was passed. That was why the highly unpopular and largely unsuccessful Individual Mandate provision didn’t work out. With a workable Congress willing to find a bipartisan solution, Biden would restore that option, which would make premiums more competitive and enable millions more Americans to be covered.

It’s not Medicare For All, but it would achieve a large percentage of what Sanders is after, and it would do so without breaking the bank, which is even more now, critical given the likely economic cost of the COVID-19 virus. Additionally, gradually lowering the eligibility age for Medicare would bring the goal of universal health care closer without causing a financial catastrophe. The point is that despite the rhetoric, Biden and Sanders aren’t that far apart in their vision for America, and they both know it. They’ve said their primary goal is defeating Trump and each has said repeatedly that if the other won the nomination he would support him.

If all that is true, they can demonstrate it in Sunday’s upcoming debate in Arizona. (If it’s going to be held without an audience, why are they flying to Arizona, anyway?) Instead of attacking each other’s perceived vulnerabilities and risking unhealable divisions in the Party, they could turn the debate into a brainstorming session, moderating their positions and emphasizing common ground. In a perfect world, given the odds against Bernie in the remaining primaries and the disaster of 2016 when many of his angry supporters sat out the election, the debate would end on a note of unity.

As career politicians go, Biden and Sanders are both honorable men who in the end should be willing to place country above personal ambition. Call me a dreamer, But I’d love to see the debate end  (after thorough sanitization) with the two men in a heartfelt hug pledging to work together to end the Trump nightmare.

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