Current Affairs - November 10, 2020
Earlier this year, Nation columnist Katha Pollitt was criticized for saying that she would vote for Joe Biden over Donald Trump even if Biden “boiled babies and ate them.” Biden had recently been accused of sexual assault by a former Senate staffer, and Pollitt argued that the truth of the allegations was irrelevant to whether Biden should win the presidential election, since “taking back the White House is that important.”
After Biden won the primary, I was forced to agree with Pollitt that the overriding importance of ousting Donald Trump meant that shameful and even criminal behavior on Biden’s part had to be set aside temporarily in the context of the election. (Although I understand my colleague Briahna Joy Gray’s worry that if we announce beforehand that baby-eating is not disqualifying, future baby-eaters will feel no disincentive to continue their pursuits.) Likewise, strictly speaking, David Sedaris is right that a general election is a menu with only two dishes on it, one of which is a “plate of shit with broken glass in it” (the Republican Party), although I think the analogy tends to disguise just how bad the other “menu option” can be. I voted for Joe Biden because I am realistic: I understand that while “being a warm body who is not Donald Trump” is a very low standard, it is true that in an election with only two possible outcomes I would vote for anybody who wasn’t quite as bad as Trump.
Now Joe Biden has won, and I am a bit relieved. But already, those who agree with Joe Biden’s conservative Democratic politics are arguing that Biden’s win is proof that voters endorse and want centrism. Republican governor Larry Hogan of Maryland says that Biden has a “mandate for moderation” and that the election clearly shows voters “desperately want” elected officials who work on “bipartisan, common-sense solutions.” Charles Blow of the New York Times says that Biden won partly “because he espoused many of the same centrist policies and positioning” as Barack Obama.
At the most elementary level, the logic here does not work. Democrats spent the whole year telling progressives that no matter how much they disliked Joe Biden, they needed to choke down their vomit and pull the lever for him, because the stakes of a second Trump term were too high. Leftists listened; far fewer voted for the Green Party than the number of right-leaning people who voted Libertarian, a difference that may well have helped put Biden over the top. We fell in line, because we understood that voting for Biden was not an endorsement of his values and ideas (or his past), but a harm-reduction measure aimed at ousting Trump by whatever distasteful means necessary.
If plenty of us voted Biden, then, because “a ham sandwich would be better than Donald Trump,” Biden’s victory proves absolutely nothing about the kind of politics voters actually want. Biden squeaked in by uncomfortably small margins in many critical states. Lots of people who voted for him did not like him. I recently overheard a snatch of conversation between two middle-aged men in a cafe, one of whom voted for Biden because he liked Biden and one of whom voted for Biden because he hated Trump. The second man mentioned to the first that the Democratic Party had sold out working people, and the first thought that this was too cynical, and talked about how much worse the Republicans were. ...
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