With Elizabeth Warren out of the race, I haven’t rushed on a decision on whether to go for Biden or whether I should go for Sanders. Since the California primary has already passed, I figure I can take my time to decide since I already voted. But I find it significant that one of my heroes, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, has recently endorsed Bernie Sanders.
The first election that I was able to vote was the 1988 elections. During the primaries, I supported Jesse Jackson because he was trying to build the same kind of multi-racial coalition of white blue collar communities, minority communities and poor communities that Martin Luther King Jr and Bobby Kennedy were trying to build in the late 1960s. The proposals of Jesse Jackson that seemed so radical in 1988 are today accepted as mainstream political thought (like a two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a boycott of Apartheid South Africa, criticism of mass incarceration and the War on Drugs, fighting discrimination against gays and AIDS patients, opposing the outsourcing of blue collar jobs and farm foreclosures, supporting the right to collective bargaining, etc…). Jackson’s fight for racial justice and his warnings about the growing economic inequalities are being echoed today in the messages of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.
One of the things that I learned from the 1988 Presidential elections is that we cannot assume that the most moderate candidate is always going to be the best and most electable candidate. Mainstream Democrats were making that argument for supporting Michael Dukakis over Jesse Jackson. Dukakis came out of the Democratic convention with a twenty percentage point lead over George H.W. Bush in most polls. Then Lee Atwater orchestrated a smear campaign against Dukakis with the racist Willie Horton ads and bringing up the ACLU and the Pledge of Allegiance to impugn Dukakis’ patriotism. Jackson and other Democrats implored Dukakis to fight back, but Dukakis was unable to effectively defend himself. The negative ads ate away at Dukakis’s support. Bush defeated Dukakis handily during the general election.
Jesse Jackson had his flaws. But I still think Jackson would’ve been a better Democratic nominee than Michael Dukakis in 1988. We shouldn’t just assume that a candidate is more electable because of current polls. The whole point of the primary season is to test these candidates so they can prove that they are the better candidate: they have detailed workable plans that can address our country’s problems; they have the communication skills to inspire a large and diverse group of people and gain their support; they have the toughness to defend themselves from their opponent’s attacks. We can’t know if a candidate is electable until they have been tested.
Biden has yet to prove himself on any of these points. Until Michael Bloomberg participated in the last two debates, Joe Biden often looked like the weakest candidate on the debate floor. When Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Bernie Sanders or other the other candidates attacked Biden, Biden had a difficult time defending himself. I’ve watched a few youtube videos of Biden speaking at rallies, and Biden has a difficult time articulating a coherent message that can inspire people. When I watch this, I keep worrying about how Biden would do against Donald Trump. Like Lee Atwater, Donald Trump doesn’t fight fair. Trump’s attacks against Biden will be just as vicious as his attacks against Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, John McCain, Nancy Pelosi, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz. When I hear mainstream Democrats talk about how Biden is the better candidate because he is more electable, I keep thinking of Michael Dukakis and 1988.
Both Sanders and Biden have their strengths and weaknesses. With the recent primary victories these past few weeks, I think that Biden will be the nominee for the Democrats this Fall. I’m just saying that we shouldn’t make assumptions about a candidate’s electability until they prove themselves in a tough and well fought primary season. It is only when they are properly vetted that we can make an informed evaluation on who is the best candidate and who would make a good President.