Jacobin - October 15, 2019
"Bernie’s appeal was borne out in the 2016 Democratic primary, at a time when many fewer people knew who he was, much less believed he could win. Yet Sanders came close to winning the nomination, and he fared particularly well in those states that the Democrats must win back in this election. He won Michigan and Wisconsin, taking all but one county in Wisconsin."
Joe Biden joined the Democratic presidential primary race in April as the anointed frontrunner. Inevitably, as some had predicted, the more attention he received, the more his popularity tanked. Five months and countless gaffes and nonsensical ramblings later, he is barely holding on to his lead.
Biden’s steady fall in the polls is not hard to explain. His campaign excites exactly nobody. Its political lethargy was best expressed by his wife, Jill, who explained, “You may like another candidate better, but you have to look at who is going to win.” A truly stirring case for her husband.
The reason that Biden was dubbed frontrunner from the start, and the extent to which he’s tenuously clung to that position since, can be summed up with the words “Barack Obama.” Biden’s eight years as Obama’s vice president have bestowed upon him the highest name recognition among the Democratic candidates. More important, he has draped his campaign with the nostalgic blanket of the Obama years, defining himself with a term he self-servingly coined as an “Obama-Biden Democrat.” Three desperate and miserable years of Dementor-style governance in this country have created a wide, if thin, national nostalgia to tap into.
The problem with Biden’s lean-on-Obama strategy, Obama’s aloofness notwithstanding, is twofold. First, Biden’s political vision is significantly more limited than Obama’s was. He prefers that rousing message of “returning to normalcy” to Obama’s 2008 (however vague — and soon broken) promises of hope and change and “yes we can.”
Biden’s campaign has mostly relied on pledging that it will do very little, apart from getting Trump out of the White House. Promising nothing at a time when economic polarization and political alienation have led to the deepest and widest dissatisfaction among the electorate in decades is a train wreck of a strategy.
Second, it was precisely eight years of frustrated hopes and deteriorating living standards under an Obama-Biden administration that opened the way to Trump’s victory, a point that even the pathological tweeter-in-chief himself seems to have absorbed: “Funny, I’m only here because of Biden & Obama. They didn’t do the job and now you have Trump who is getting it done – big time!”
The Obama administration responded to the Great Recession with trillions of dollars for bank bailouts and austerity for the rest of us. The economic recovery that followed was a recovery for corporate profits, not for working-class living standards. Years after the recession was officially over, most people believed we were still in a recession.
Yet Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign failed to admit to, much less put forward solutions for, rising inequality and economic hardship. Trump’s right-wing populism mixed one part rhetorical attacks on the political establishment with one part racist scapegoating, and he managed to tap into widespread disaffection with the status quo. We thus found ourselves in a bizarre situation in which a billionaire real-estate mogul and television celebrity whose signature line was “You’re fired!” got away with painting himself as a people’s champion. Meanwhile, the disaster of Clinton’s campaign was summed up by her response to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” with: “America is already great!”
In 2020, Trump couldn’t ask for a better contender than Joe Biden, who will repeat Clinton’s approach but with less brainpower. ...
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