With the decisions by Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar to drop out and endorse Joe Biden prior to Super Tuesday, paired with decisions by Beto O’Rourke and Harry Reid to endorse him as well, we are witnessing the twilight of the John F. Kennedy – Bill Clinton Democratic elites, engaged in a last gasp attempt to prevent their party from becoming what the next generation of voters wants it to be. They may succeed for the moment – the odds, coalescing this late around old Joe for one more run, are stacked against them. But even if they do, it will be a temporary victory at best.
One reason for this, and one of the interesting aspects of the differences between the 2016 GOP primary and the 2020 Democratic one, is the nature of the revolt. In 2016, the Republican Party ended up with an avatar of the ideological conservatives in Ted Cruz and of the moderate donor class in John Kasich, giving Donald Trump the ability to rise between them with virtually every other type of traditional Republican base voter.
In 2020, Democrats have an avatar of the moderate donor class in Mike Bloomberg, and of the traditional Democratic base in Biden, but it is Sanders, the frontrunner, who is the advocate for a clear ideology.
Say what you want about the tenets of Democratic Socialism, at least it’s an ethos. It seeks to answer people based on legitimate problems they have with the Democratic leadership of the past 30 years. It explicitly rejects Clintonian pro-corporate policies on trade and immigration. It utterly rejects any entitlement restriction or rollback, instead calling for massive expansions with free college, free child care, and firing restrictions on every company.
Most importantly, it views Obamacare as an utter mess, misunderstood by its advocates and far too kind to insurers, pharmaceutical companies, and big hospital systems.
The lens of class and justice is a warped one, but at least it is a lens.
This is one reason Sanders has been able to pull the whole party toward Medicare For All, his signature program and one he insisted to Anderson Cooper last night must be included in the Democratic platform. Medicare For All would require a massive tax increase, but it would also lead to a collapse of many of the remaining good parts of the American health care system.
Rather than losing your doctor because of being forced to switch plans, you’d be more likely to lose them because the wave of doctor retirements and closed practices would be like nothing we’ve seen before. But again: at least it’s an idea, and the Democratic elites who still largely refuse to acknowledge Obamacare’s weaknesses and the Republican elites who could never decide which plan to support can’t beat an idea with no ideas.
The idea behind the Joe Biden campaign is deeply nostalgic. Can’t we hit the rewind button to 2015, when we thought everything was going our way, and the arc of history bent toward permanent Democratic majorities?
But the Sanders appeal is far more ambitious and therefore inspirational, especially to those young people who’ve experienced 30 years of rising health care costs, rising college costs, Wall Street getting whatever they want, an aging and out of touch party leadership, and a generally dissatisfied life experience. Facing the choice between the old throwback and the old revolutionary, why not try a little revolution now and then?
The only problem is, it may turn out to be a big one.