The Biden-Sanders Debate and the Virtual End of the 2020 Democratic Primary | The New Yorker

Date:  Comments: 0 - Permalink

On Sunday, as the number of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. continued to climb and whole regions of the country began to shut down, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders—the two remaining contenders for the Democratic Party’s Presidential nomination—had a one-on-one debate. Over the previous week, heeding public-health warnings about the deadly virus, their campaigns had gone virtual. Staff and volunteers began working remotely—door-knocking was out, texting was still O.K.—and both candidates participated in digital town halls. The debate’s venue was a product of this new reality, as well. Originally scheduled to take place in Phoenix, Arizona, in front of a live audience, it was instead held in a CNN television studio in Washington, D.C. Two podiums had been set up six feet away from each other—a nod to social-distancing etiquette. When the candidates appeared, they greeted each other with an elbow-bump. It was impossible not to think, with some disbelief, that the two men had last been on a debate stage less than a month ago, in Las Vegas, alongside four other candidates. At the time, Sanders looked on the verge of running away with the nomination, and the virus was a remote topic of concern.

Nothing that happened Sunday night is likely to change what the race is now: a contest to fill the leadership vacuum in the White House, and Biden’s to lose. Last week, both candidates gave speeches following President Trump’s disastrous Oval Office address, trying to let people see just how different they would be. On Sunday, that posture took up much of the first half of the debate. Early on, Biden addressed a fact that the Trump Administration seems so far unwilling to reckon with: Americans are already dying of the virus. “First of all, my heart goes out to those who already lost someone,” Biden said. This was a small gesture, but the contrast with the self-involved, self-aggrandizing statements being issued by the current President was obvious. Biden and Sanders then debated the government’s response to COVID-19 in terms not so different from those they use to describe the current Administration. Biden said the virus was an emergency, and demanded an emergency response. Sanders said emergency measures weren’t enough, because the virus has exposed the systemic problems in the country’s health-care apparatus. What the country should do, Sanders said, is guarantee health care for everyone. “This is a national crisis,” Biden responded. “I don’t want to get this into a back and forth in terms of our politics here.”

After discussing the health implications of the pandemic, the moderators prompted a discussion of the economic shock that quarantines, bans on public gatherings, and travel restrictions are beginning to deliver. Again Sanders tried to move the conversation to issues that transcend this single moment. “Half of our people are living paycheck to paycheck,” he said. “What is going to happen to them?” Biden again tried to argue that the emergency took precedence. “Right now, what do we do?” he said.

Drawing a contrast with Trump was in many ways the easier of the two tasks Biden took on Sunday night. In his recent ascendence, he has had to think about how he might court voters on the left who support Sanders’s agenda. Before the debate, Biden announced that he was adopting two progressive ideas originally put forward by Sanders and Elizabeth Warren: the first was to make public college tuition free for children of families that make less than a hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars a year; the second was to support Warren’s bankruptcy-overhaul proposal. But Sanders wasn’t having it. His campaign had been waiting for this debate, where they argued voters would get to see the full contrast between the two candidates. Sanders began to challenge Biden’s record on Social Security, the bank bailout, the Iraq War, and trade deals. Biden has trouble reconciling his past positions on these issues with the current mood of the Democratic Party—there’s no question he’s more comfortable talking about the emergency than systemic problems. “We disagree on the detail of how we do it, but we don’t disagree on the principle,” Biden said, discussing climate change. Again, Sanders pushed back. “Details make a difference,“ he said. “We need to have the courage to take on the greed of the fossil-fuel industry.” Biden didn’t help matters by declaring onstage that he’d support no more new fracking, only to have his campaign walk the statement back afterward.

And yet, as the debate wore on, the dynamic became more and more reminiscent of Sanders’s sparrings with Hillary Clinton four years ago. Having lost the role of front-runner, he was back to the role of foil—pushing for the establishment figure to make more progressive commitments, trying to get him to own up to his record. “He’s making it hard for me right now,” Biden said, at one point, gesturing at Sanders. “I was trying to give him credit for some things.”

Biden made news by pledging to pick a woman as his running mate if he’s the nominee. But otherwise the debate felt, like so many things right now, a glimpse of a normal we won’t see again for some time. Sanders had wanted to expose Biden’s record, but Democrats have been hammering Biden’s record for over a year, and the voters have now started to come out for him anyway. The left has been caught short—the energy and broad enthusiasm of new voters that Sanders promised hasn’t materialized. The turnout surge, as Biden pointed out Sunday, has been for him. Meanwhile, a deadly pathogen has appeared, threatening to take tens of thousands of lives and making the problems of the current Administration all the more obvious. On Tuesday, Florida, Illinois, Arizona, and Ohio will vote. Biden could cement his lead. COVID-19 has arrived just as the race is ending, and, one way or another, things will look very different soon. Georgia and Louisiana have already pushed back their upcoming primaries. Who knows when we’ll be able to go to vote again?

This content was originally published here.

About admin

Highlighted News:

Sorry, no posts matched the criteria.
Sorry, no posts matched the criteria.
Sorry, no posts matched the criteria.

No Comments

Be the first to start a conversation