One month ago, no one in the Democratic Party, probably including Joe Biden himself, thought he had a chance in hell. Today he is the presumptive Presidential nominee months earlier than anyone had expected the party to make its choice. Wait – have we Democrats acted like a rational force? At a time of the most acute national anxiety since the Great Depression, we have chosen a nominee who embodies comfort and a return to normalcy. In 2020, that’s a revolution, and it’s the only revolution Americans seek or can handle now. Even Democrats who are no fans of Bernie Sanders should concede the de facto end of his Presidential campaign came, in part, from a shift in the psychology of every adult on earth.
That diagnosis doesn’t need to wait for coronavirus testing.
Now that 24 million primary voters have had their say, will we longtime party activists, nearly all aligned with Joe Biden, act with similar common sense? Will we act to unify the party? Or to use a Yiddish word Larry David would use in his impersonation of Bernie Sanders, will we act like schmucks toward him and his supporters?
Look, after this column appears, I don’t want to repeat how I feel about Bernie. I was a senior staffer in both the U.S. House and Senate, working for Chuck Schumer and my late father figure, Frank Lautenberg. I saw Bernie as a loner who couldn’t get things done. His fans would argue that’s the way he is, rooted in commendably stubborn principle. I saw what I saw to conclude otherwise, and let’s leave it at that.
I am also a diehard supporter of Hillary Clinton, having been a delegate for her in 2008 and 2016. Like others who would do anything for her, I’m angry that enough Bernie supporters stayed home or voted for Trump or independent candidates in key states – many egged on by Russian interference – to cost Hillary the Electoral College. I have reasons to be angry.
But that’s not whom the party needs me or other supporters of Joe Biden to be. Our candidate has won. Are we going to be gracious winners? I posed the question this week to other Biden supporters in an online forum. One longtime Democratic activist, someone I respect, used the opportunity to go on a rant on how it was time to teach Bernie and his supporters a lesson once and for all.
That would be political suicide. It’s up to the winning candidate and his or her campaign to bring the party together. It always has been. Last Tuesday night, on the day Florida, Illinois and Arizona gave Joe Biden landslide victories, Biden delivered a speech in which he began the healing process. Singling out Bernie’s young supporters, Biden told them, “I hear you.”
We who support a particular candidate have the obligation to follow our candidate’s cues. To do otherwise would be hubris. And in the context of the 2020 campaign, to do otherwise would be hypocritical.
Many of us have been exasperated with Bernie’s supporters on Twitter who won’t heed their candidate’s admonition of their extremes. Though supporters of every candidate in every election have spewed online poison since the advent of Twitter, little else has been as terrifying as the poison from particular supporters of Bernie Sanders. Some tweeted “KYS” after supporters of other progressive candidates flocked to Joe Biden rather than to Bernie. “KYS,” in case you didn’t know, means “Kill Yourself.”
But lest you doubt the sincerity of Bernie’s admonitions, get real. Bernie did not give his blessing, even by implication, to physically threatening conduct. Besides, we all know supporters of his who are temperamentally the opposite of so called “Bernie Bros.” Several of my nearest and dearest friends – people I love as family – support Bernie with full hearts as well as rationality and kindness. More than half of these “bros” I know are women. So be careful about generalizations. They are the basis of prejudice and a permanently fractured party.
In fact, as much as Hillary Clinton was unable to win over all of Bernie’s supporters in 2016, we who support Joe Biden have a chance to win over more of them than Hillary did, even if we don’t win over them all.
First, Joe Biden’s victory has come more quickly and decisively than Hillary’s did, with Bernie’s doing far worse in several state in 2020 than he did in 2016. Today, we don’t hear as many bitter accusations from Bernie’s campaign that the DNC has rigged the system. The rules are those which Bernie wanted, and Biden’s victories have been too decisive.
Secondly, Joe Biden is not the lightning rod Hillary Clinton was, a comparison that incorporates the grotesque sexism she has always faced. It’s hard to find anyone who dislikes Biden personally, and that seems to include Bernie. The two of them had the chemistry of genuine friends in most debates, at least until the last one-on-debate that was Bernie’s last stand.
Thirdly, Bernie is already pivoting to unite the party. If you’re scratching your head at that one, you’re not reading the tea leaves with which Bernie is hitting us over the head. He has stopped his Facebook ads. He and his campaign fully admit, without an ounce of delusional spin, that their campaign has not gone as they hoped. They’ve been specific about their shortcomings, especially in turning out young voters according to the thesis of their campaign. Most of all, Bernie is speaking the word “assess” to examine the future of his candidacy. That is the quintessential code word for a Presidential campaign that’s coming to a close.
If Bernie is moving to doing the right thing, shouldn’t we Biden Democrats respond in kind? It behooves us to try. Let’s stop pointing out what Bernie didn’t do in 2016. Let’s stop pointing out he’s not a Democrat. Let’s stop demonizing his supporters with a broad brush. Instead, let’s search our hearts to praise the contributions Bernie has made to the Democratic Party, especially in moving the party on health care. Whether or not each of us believes in Medicare for All, we can all appreciate how Bernie has shaped the debate for the better – not only on health care, but also on other issues that reflect the progressive promise of the Democratic Party.
The choice is ours: Magnanimity or stupidity. Unity or division. Victory or defeat.
To other Democrats who support Joe Biden as I do, our task is clear. It’s up to us.