Young People Don’t Support Biden. Why Does the Establishment Still Think He’s the Most “Electable”?

Don’t believe arguments about “electability” coming from the corporate wing of the Democratic Party.

Joel Bleifuss January 27, 2020

As the Iowa Caucus approaches, Democratic voters zero in on "electability," a shibboleth that the Biden camp has invoked throughout the primary race. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

And so, we begin the Roar­ing 2020s with war, assas­si­na­tion and firestorms on a burn­ing Earth. We know it will be a deci­sive decade. What remains to be seen is whether, here in the Unit­ed States, We the Peo­ple” break with the rule of the cor­po­rate oli­garchy and take mea­sures to ensure a demo­c­ra­t­ic future on a hab­it­able plan­et. The win­dow of oppor­tu­ni­ty to save the world has become a nar­row slit. Will we make it through?

Centrist Dems have weaponized “electability,” using it to limit the range of possible candidates, both in demographics and ideology.

That will be deter­mined in no small mea­sure by the 2020 Gen­er­al Elec­tion, which is shap­ing up to be a three-way race in a two-par­ty system.

First, we have the Repub­li­can Par­ty, its feal­ty ful­ly pledged to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump. The Chris­t­ian Right loves that he is stack­ing the courts with cul­ture war­riors. The cor­po­rate Right likes that he cuts tax­es and guts envi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions. And white nation­al­ists like his racist the­atrics and the gra­tu­itous cru­el­ty of his immi­gra­tion policies.

Sec­ond, we have the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Party’s pro­gres­sive wing and its stan­dard bear­ers Eliz­a­beth War­ren and Bernie Sanders. Their pop­ulist calls for a redis­tri­b­u­tion of wealth and an expan­sion of a social demo­c­ra­t­ic wel­fare state — tuition-free pub­lic col­lege, Medicare for All, the Green New Deal—res­onate with a grow­ing num­ber of vot­ers.

Third, we have the Demo­c­ra­t­ic estab­lish­ment. It has hitched its wag­on to the con­cept of elec­tabil­i­ty,” which nation­al polls reveal to be a top con­cern of Dems. In oth­er words: Who can beat Trump? These cen­trist Democ­rats and their allies in the cor­po­rate media vehe­ment­ly oppose any mean­ing­ful attempts to redis­trib­ute wealth and pow­er. Bereft of appeal­ing pol­i­cy pro­pos­als to inspire the base, they have weaponized elec­tabil­i­ty,” using it to lim­it the range of pos­si­ble can­di­dates, both in demo­graph­ics and ide­ol­o­gy. It is also employed as a cud­gel against any trans­for­ma­tive pol­i­cy, the argu­ment being that Big Change will spook inde­pen­dent vot­ers — and there­by help reelect Trump — com­plete­ly ignor­ing the poten­tial of big ideas to turn out vot­ers oth­er­wise like­ly to sit out.

Their can­di­date is Joe Elec­table” Biden. Their candidate’s main pol­i­cy expert is Bruce Reed, who accom­pa­nies Biden on the cam­paign trail. As archi­tect of Pres­i­dent Bill Clinton’s 1996 so-called wel­fare reform, Reed coined the end wel­fare as we know it” slo­gan. A for­mer CEO of the now-defunct Demo­c­ra­t­ic Lead­er­ship Coun­cil, Reed left his post in 2010 to serve as exec­u­tive direc­tor of Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s Nation­al Com­mis­sion on Fis­cal Respon­si­bil­i­ty and Reform, which unsuc­cess­ful­ly attempt­ed to reduce the deficit by cut­ting cost-of-liv­ing increas­es for Social Secu­ri­ty recipients.

Why Biden is so elec­table — a 77-year-old can­di­date who stepped onto the nation­al stage in 1972 as the junior sen­a­tor from Delaware and has twice run (and lost bad­ly) for pres­i­dent — is nev­er explained. 1995 video has sur­faced of Biden speak­ing in favor of a GOP-spon­sored bal­anced-bud­get amend­ment. When I argued that we should freeze fed­er­al spend­ing, I meant Social Secu­ri­ty as well,” he bragged. I meant Medicare and Med­ic­aid. I meant vet­er­ans’ ben­e­fits. I meant every sin­gle soli­tary thing in the gov­ern­ment. And I not only tried it once, I tried it twice, I tried it a third time, and I tried it a fourth time.” And his back­ing of the Iraq War has right­ly dogged him: As CNN report­ed, at a Jan­u­ary 4 event in Des Moines, Iowa, Biden again dis­hon­est­ly sug­gests he opposed the Iraq War from the beginning.”

Is it any won­der that young peo­ple are not flock­ing to the Biden cam­paign? In a Decem­ber 2019 poll of Iowa vot­ers, only 6% of like­ly Demo­c­ra­t­ic cau­cus-goers between 18 and 34 sup­port­ed Biden, while 55% sup­port­ed War­ren or Sanders. For a Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty estab­lish­ment tru­ly con­cerned with elec­tabil­i­ty — now and in the future — that is the poll to pay atten­tion to. 

Joel Blei­fuss, a for­mer direc­tor of the Peace Stud­ies Pro­gram at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­souri-Colum­bia, is the edi­tor & pub­lish­er of In These Times, where he has worked since Octo­ber 1986.

Limited Time:

SUBSCRIBE TO IN THESE TIMES MAGAZINE FOR JUST $1 A MONTH