Ever since the 2016 Democratic Primary between former Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, the idea of “Bernie or Bust” has only grown. The sentiment pushes those on the progressive left to only vote for the Democratic presidential candidate if Sanders is the nominee. The voting tactic hinges on the idea that any establishment, centrist nominee forces leftists to choose between the lesser of two evils; two candidates that are slightly different on some policies (mainly social issues), but at the root of it, still support America’s corrupt economic and political system.
In 2016, the choice was between Trump, a xenophobic proto-fascist, and Clinton, a neoliberal foreign policy hawk. Neither candidate supported getting money out of politics, tuition free college, genuinely taking on the military industrial complex, or ending the for-profit healthcare system. In short, both were unappealing to anyone that holds any leftist beliefs.
Some progressives at the time, including myself, believed that some of Trump’s rhetoric made him superior to Clinton on certain issues. The most notable was foreign policy. During the campaign, Trump railed against interventionist U.S. wars, especially Iraq. This rhetoric from Trump meant nothing as troop levels across the Middle East have barely changed, but Clinton actually voted for the Iraq War and pushed for the removal of Gaddafi from power in Libya as Obama’s Secretary of State, destabilizing the north African nation.
A combination of the perceived equivalence between Clinton and Trump, and the clear bias of the Democratic National Committee against Sanders, the “Bernie or Bust” movement was born. Progressives needed to show the Democratic Party that their vote had to be earned, and someone such as Clinton just wouldn’t cut it. They needed concrete policies to vote for on Election Day, not just the lesser of two evils. Clinton lost to Trump partly because of her inability to excite the more left wing parts of the Democratic Party’s base, but mainly because she did not step foot in Wisconsin once, and only visited Michigan a few days before the election.
Fast forward to 2020, and the Sanders campaign was leading the first stages of the primaries. The campaign built its entire strategy upon winning about 30% in most states, assuming that a fractured field would equate to plurality victories. This clearly failed, as the establishment candidates coalesced behind former Vice Pres. Joe Biden and the Sanders campaign did not adapt.
Biden’s ideology is similar to Hillary Clinton’s. He does not support Medicare For All, free college, getting money out of politics, or stopping the for-profit US war machine. His neoliberal, centrist politics, plus previous support of the 1994 crime bill and the Iraq War, have led many leftists to again support “Bernie or Bust,” avowing, now that Sanders has dropped out, that they will not vote in November. My heart agrees. The left needs to show the establishment that they will not vote for any Democrat, forcing left wing policies to be moved front and center.
While the heart of many leftists might be screaming “Bernie or Bust” right now, it is vitally important to understand that less people will suffer and die under a Biden Administration than a Trump Administration. Biden will reinstate DACA, decline to open up national parks to mining and other industries, and maybe even reinstate the Iran Nuclear Deal. These policies are enough to make the case to reluctantly vote for Biden.
This does not mean that the former vice president is above criticism or that his centrist policies will not result in the deaths of tens of thousands, and potentially an even more right wing Republican presidential candidate in 2024. The left, however, needs to quickly realize that it would be better to fight a President Biden than a re-elected Trump. A Biden Administration could even present an opportunity for the left to distinguish itself from the Democratic Party establishment and gain much broader appeal across the American working class. Leftists could create a platform that could very well appeal to both rural and inner city Americans, paving the way for a massive leftward push of the party.
A vote for Biden is a vote for harm reduction, and it presents a wider opportunity for leftist voices and policies than would be possible if Trump were to be re-elected. That is enough for my vote.