It seems that over the last few weeks, Joe Biden has miraculously resurrected his moribund campaign for the Democratic nomination for President. After a resounding victory in South Carolina gave the campaign a first breath of life, he far exceeded expectations with a emphatic triumph on Super Tuesday. These recent gains have allowed him to reduce the once crowded Democratic field to essentially two people: Biden and Bernie Sanders. The strength of his surge was enough to convince rivals Pete Buttigeig and Amy Klobuchar to suspend their campaigns and throw their support behind him. Then, in a subsequent surprise move, billionaire Mike Bloomberg who had already spent a half $ billion on his own campaign, capitulated and also endorsed Biden.
The question remains; WHY the Biden resurgence to the point of challenging Sanders for the delegate lead?
Without condemning or endorsing any candidate at this point, let’s attempt to analyze the two men. It should not be difficult as they present a strong contrast in both style and substance.
Biden represents the Old Guard of the Democratic party. He is known as a Centrist, i.e. a candidate with some progressive policies but, not too many. He prefers to work within the system instead of rebuilding it. Biden is also personally garrulous and, seemingly, always smiling. Rather than delineating specific policy initiatives, he often shares personal stories of compassion, especially when discussing his late son, Beau. He reminds people of their “uncle Joe”. In other words, he’s likable. He polls highly with minorities and older (+45) voters.
Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, describes himself as a Democratic Socialist, i.e. the candidate with the most radical agenda. He would prefer to break the old systems and replace them with new concepts that include Medicare for all and removing the massive student debt that plagues so many young people. Personally, he often appears slightly unhinged with his wild, white hair, overly demonstrative hand gestures, and a speaking voice that often borders on yelling. In interviews and speeches, he tends to avoid personal anecdotes and stick to his policy initiatives. Sanders is often described as irascible. His intensely loyal base is mostly made up of hardcore progressives and young voters.
So, why then has Biden taken a slight statistical edge over Sanders in the overall delegate count?
In my mind, it has come down to two factors: safety and likability.
Biden, as a moderate, is the safe choice. After the chaos and animosity that seems to be the hallmark of the current Administration of Donald Trump, Biden represents a return to some sense of normalcy and decency. He is trusted as a decent, honest man. For most, that’s enough. He may not be the brainiest guy in the world (in fact, he frequently falls all over himself) and, despite the fact his voting record on some key issues has been sketchy (he supported the disastrous war in Iraq), he is perceived as honest and compassionate. And, not to be forgotten, he is experienced. And, that experience was gained during the Obama Administration, a time that many people long to return to. We WANT to like Joe.
Sanders, on the other hand, represents change — and, radical change at that. Certainly, he and his devoted base believe that there will be a necessary dismantling of programs that discriminate against the working class and less fortunate to be replaced by a new, more equitable distribution of wealth. These are indeed noble pursuits, but many people fear the change will be too much to handle and too expensive to make a reality. And, change of any kind has always been intimidating for most so-called normal folk. It’s easier to deal with the devil you know rather than the one you don’t. On a personal level, even though virtually the same age as Biden, Sanders often appears as a crazy old man. It can be HARD to like Bernie.
It reminds me of an experience I had during a local election many years ago. I had an acquaintance who was also a candidate for the Rockland Count Executive’s position. He was a hard-core socialist (if not a downright Communist). He was very intelligent but also one of the more difficult people whom I knew. At the time, I was the News Director for a small local cable TV station so he me asked me what I thought of his candidacy. I told him this:
Marv (a pseudonym), I think you are a brilliant man and I love some of your policies. But, you’re also a cranky bastard and no one likes you. I admire your commitment to advance your platform. But, you have a snow ball’s chance in hell to win.
He was thoroughly trounced in the general election.
I suppose the bottom line is this — unfortunately, most people don’t vote with their heads. Complicated concepts are beyond their comprehension. So, instead, they vote with their eyes (image), their hearts (safety/comfort), and, ultimately, their pockets (money).
However you feel, vote your conscience. It’s a moral imperative that we do. All of us. The only way to lose here, with either man, is to not do anything. . .