Larry Smith

The 2020 presidential campaign has clearly moved beyond neutral. As it is shifting between first and second gears, the ever-growing field of Democratic hopefuls has ballooned to 24 candidates or so. The “conventional wisdom” decreed that the Democratic Party has strongly surged to the political left. The 2018 mid-term election seemed to indicate as much. However, the fact that former Vice President Joe Biden is so far ahead of his more progressive competitors in the polls (at least at this point) suggests that the party’s ostensible leftward move is a measured lurch rather than a wild pendulum swing. 

Despite the exaggerated notion that the Democrats are now dominated by “socialists,” there does seem to be a struggle for the direction of the party. While I would not characterize this state of affairs as a “battle for the soul of the Party,” discrete factions are vying for dominance. This is being played out, for example, in the skirmishes between progressive “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wing” verses the stalwart, moderate “Nancy Pelosi wing.” For his part, Biden puts the “E” in “Establishment Candidate.” He is a white, male, septuagenarian who is making his third bid for the White House. He had a short-lived run in 1988 as a 40-something “upstart.” In 2008, he had a short-lived campaign before dropping out and eventually becoming Barack Obama’s running mate. 

I happen to think that both factions are right (even as I acknowledge that there are more than two factions). From a localized standpoint, those who lean far left have legitimate traction in certain states. However, to win a national campaign, Democrats must be able to appeal to a very broad constituency, including the white lower- and middle-class voters that Donald Trump culled from them in 2016. (“Electability” has always been a buzzword of political campaigns, especially those who seek the highest office.) This, of course, is anathema to those who won’t “settle” for someone who has “been around too long” or is “no different than the Republicans.” 

For people like me, the goal — especially in this case — is to beat President Trump. Some of my friends aren’t there yet — and may never be. (Looking at you, Marshawn Wolley.)  One thing that the far left and the far right both have trouble accepting is that the majority of the American people are not as entrenched in their tribes as it sometimes seems in our Facebook-enabled bubbles. 

Incidentally, it is odd that former President Obama has not given Biden a full-throated endorsement. Presumably this is because the ever-cautious Obama does not want to “put his finger on the scale.” However, this leaves the impression that he is less than excited about a Biden run. (Indeed, it has been widely reported that Obama’s lack of enthusiasm for a Biden run in 2016 was a major factor in his deciding not to do so — believing that Hillary Clinton was a stronger candidate.) Politics is a fickle mate …

In any case, Biden’s strategy is to run a “general election” campaign even as he tries to secure the nomination. He pledged not to demonize other Democrats who are running (borrowing from President Reagan’s “11th Commandment”). He has designated President Trump as the enemy; thus, Democrats should keep their attention focused on beating him. It’s true that the “I’m not him (or her) so vote for me” strategy doesn’t always win. I think that it will in 2020.

Of course, given the long and winding road of Biden’s career, he has amassed a lot of political baggage. For example, Biden is known as a gaffe-machine. (I’m reminded of the old joke that a “gaffe” is when a politician accidentally tells the truth.) The two issues that have frequently come up in the weeks since his announcement are his handling of the Clarence Thomas hearings (specifically, how Biden allowed Anita Hill to be treated) and his authorship of the 1994 Crime Bill. It appears that the latter is the more problematic of the two. 

My view is that Biden — should he be the nominee — is the lesser of two evils. By far. I understand that not everyone is willing to vote on that basis, but such is the way it’s always been and likely always will be. The fact is that only 11 members of the Congressional Black Caucus voted against the ’94 Crime Bill. Further, Black pastors and other leaders were largely in favor of it. Does that necessarily make it right? Of course not. But to hold Biden solely responsible smacks of the same mistake that Democrats made against Hillary Clinton in 2016. (Her husband signed the bill when he was president.) In short, the choice is easy for me. Whoever is the Democratic nominee will get my vote. Too much is at stake. 

Larry Smith is a community leader. Contact him at larry@leaf-llc.com.

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