It’s a politically turbulent election year in the United States, and the Democratic National Committee has all but formally appointed a moderate candidate over Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to face President Donald Trump in the general election. Is anyone else experiencing some serious déjà vu, or are Democrats just running the same play as in 2016?
In local and congressional elections, moderate Democratic candidates are often successful because they can represent a smaller constituency more accurately with nonpartisan or politically balanced policies. However, moderate Democrats haven’t been able to inspire the same excitement and passion across the country needed to win the Presidency.
Instead of focusing on putting a Democrat in the White House, Democratic voters should rather emphasize nominating someone who will bring real progress and change.
Shortly after the South Carolina primary election, former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn. and businessman Tom Steyer dropped out of the race and put their support behind former Vice President Joe Biden. Since then, nearly every other candidate in the Democratic primary race has also voiced their endorsement of Biden, including Sanders, who has continued to win delegates despite suspending his campaign.
To put it plainly, Biden doesn’t inspire people and make them excited about voting for him. According to a recent Emerson College poll, only 45% of Biden voters were extremely excited or very excited about voting for Biden, compared to 64% of voters supporting Trump.
Much of the advertised excitement surrounding the Biden campaign isn’t about the proposed policies he’d work to put in place or his leadership qualities, but about removing Trump from office and returning to a more polite and sensible pre-Trump era of politics.
While Republicans feared a Hillary Clinton administration would just be a continuation of former President Barack Obama's two terms in office, Biden hasn’t shied away from this, calling himself an “O’Biden-Bama Democrat.”
More than personality and policy, moderate Democrats running for president haven’t captured the support of voters for the past two decades.
Al Gore, John Kerry and arguably Hillary Clinton ran on moderate tickets as party veterans. Kerry, in particular, was made out to be the antithesis of President George W. Bush: a rational mind that wouldn’t get us into unnecessary conflict in the Middle East and could somehow bring over dissatisfied Republican voters with his “electability.” While an argument could be made over Gore’s contested loss, by and large these moderates didn’t inspire
Obama, on the other hand, won on a progressive Democratic platform. Focusing on creating energy-efficient jobs, expanding Medicare and Medicaid, and ending the war in Iraq, Obama won over Indiana voters for the Democratic Party for the first time since 1964.
This year, COVID-19 has laid bare several serious problems that many Americans face that progressive candidates like Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., have been pointing out throughout their campaigns.
Now that many Americans have been laid off or furloughed, the idea of Medicare for All has become even more popular, receiving 69% support according to a recent Hill-HarrisX poll. Without money to pay for rent, home renters face a dire future that could be resolved by putting price caps on rent and increasing the minimum wage.
It would be nice if the president didn’t have a deeply adversarial relationship with the press and had more respect for the balance of government powers. But if removing the incumbent president is the only thing motivating the Democratic ticket, it won’t be enough. More than pushing for a Democratic presidency, we should support candidates who emphasize real progress with policies that will have positive material impacts on the American people.
Everett Kalman (he/him) is a rising senior studying law and public policy and is the vice president of external affairs for Culture of Care at IU. He plans on practicing immigration law in the future.