Terry H. Schwadron
March 13, 2020
Even more than delegate counts and primary campaigns, the coronavirus outbreak is providing Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders with the perfect opportunity to distinguish what leadership is all about.
While the separate focus early this week had been on how the two surviving Democrats could start to put this primary contest away, the bungled and oft-contradictory message of Donald Trump’s administration in handling the disease spread has provided a new platform that shows just how Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders would immediately offer a clear, more reliable leader.
In making public plans yesterday that rebuked shortcomings of Trump’s border-centric view of disease control, Biden and Sanders showed they share more than they differ when it counts.
We are finally hearing the real, united message that is needed: Trump is incompetent even more than objectionable.
Joe Biden has the votes, acknowledges Bernie Sanders, but he, Bernie, has the winning ideals.
The March Madness that is Democratic politics rolled on Tuesday night effectively all but made the electoral case for Biden to win the right to face Donald Trump. The next round of states will start putting nails into that case, since Florida and others heavily favor Biden.
So, over the objections of Biden fans who wanted Sanders to throw in the towel, we are found ourselves guaranteed of hearing nearly endless repetition of the same, already worn political mantras for weeks to come. Bernie is already talking a good game about bringing his challenges to the social order to the fore at Sunday’s debate — now moved to an audience-free room in Washington.
As for the politics ahead, if you want to believe that Bernie’s political revolution still has a chance to win, you’ll have to also believe that younger voters will turn out in huge numbers — despite multiple examples that show so far there is no evidence for such hope. Instead, as Bernie acknowledges, people are tired of it all, and voting for Biden as a consensus candidate with the best chance to beat Trump.
And, if you’re now see Biden as the eventual winner, there are other, broader questions and issues arising that need attention quickly. It’s important, because Biden’s policy recommendations are for logic and sense, humane treatment and an appeal to belief in bipartisan recognition of real problems as a guide to his governance. But there are issues looming:
— Coronavirus has changed the nature of the election. The arrival of this public health emergency has underscored health as a prime issue, of course, but it also has made general competence just as important a public issue. And, at this moment, both candidates are passing this critical test.
The handling — or mishandling — of these virus issues has underscored the importance of access to health care, regardless of approach. Disease won’t be solved by tweets, by boasts or by generalizations about “perfect” Trumpisms. It gets handled by the hard work of grabbing an issue, getting organized response from scientists and medical experts and doing the work on the ground with patients.
Joe wants us to believe that he has proved to be such a good manager. Bernie wants us to believe that if you set up systems like government-run health care, they run themselves. But their presentations yesterday reflect that they both see something seriously missing in Trump.
Both candidates need to focus on what has emerged about Donald Trump and his ultimate weakness: He doesn’t want to govern, he just wants the spotlight of “leader,” celebrating the pomp and rituals without doing any of the hard work of bridge-building and actual policymaking that matches the problems at hand. The continuing presence of a Republican majority in the Senate simply has masked this president’s refusal to take hold of the traditions, protocols and actual problem-solving needed to address this country’s problems.
It is exactly the marriage of the incompetence of Trump and Team Trump and the president’s need for adulation that has allowed such a serious degradation of the nation’s institutions.
Why this is not the focal point behind the campaigns is both annoying and separates the point of all the politics from solving everyday problems.
— Republicans in the Senate are lowering the Hunter Biden guns. Starting with Ron Johnson’s Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Republicans are only now — I the middle of a presidential campaign — are beginning to make Trump’s dream of dirtying Joe Biden come true. Yesterday, Johnson abruptly called off subpoenas he was bringing to a committee vote — as Republicans Mitt Romney and Rob Portman expressed uneasiness with the actions — but vowed that the delay was temporary.
We have yet to see and hear Joe Biden come out with a succinct and believable response to the notion that there was appearance of conflict of interest. We may all argue that there was never anything criminally wrong here, but Republicans are insistent on making this a campaign on the scale of Hillary Clinton’s emails in an attempt to challenge Biden’s integrity.
There is nothing about parrying with Bernie Sanders that will either fix or get in the way of Biden facing head-on this effort. Why the Biden campaign has not done so, other than to be protective of Biden’s family sensibilities, is at least politically odd.
— The debate next week unfortunately is likely once again focus on the wrong questions, allowing for endless distinction between Medicare-for-all proposals by Sanders from public option proposals by Biden, and other detailed proposals. Or the questions will allow Sanders to suck Biden into numerous defenses of his vote for the Iraq war more than 30 years ago or equally old votes about criminal justice, while Biden will take aim at Sanders’ votes on liability for gun manufacturers.
While Democrats argue about who has the more reasonable approach, the current president is undercutting the health system altogether, and the Supreme Court may well rule Obamacare to be an unconstitutional tax just as the new president takes office. How about our debates acknowledge that the current system is under serious attack and go from there. Medicare for all, if it ever passes, will take years to roll out with the Congress as we know it; Biden can’t add more public options to a system if the system is eliminated. We need a different discussion.
The conversations about foreign relations, racism, immigration, education, environment and Climate Change are similar in that one respect: Trump is throwing out whole systems while Democrats argue about details.
The issues of the day are how the candidate will defeat Trump, how each will put together a team that addresses the concerns of a divided nation, how each might deal with a Republican-majority Senate, and competence and integrity in office. What kind of individuals will be drafted to form a governmental team that works, that is responsive, that remains within the rules of our society is critical.
— Unification looms as a major challenge. Beginning now, well in advance of a potentially divided convention, Democrats, and Biden in particular, need to show how they will reach out to the other for inclusion in a unity ticket. Without such a commitment, both candidates are doomed politically. It doesn’t hurt Biden to adopt “aspirational” goals that come from Bernie Sanders, any more than it hurts Sanders to find Biden’s practicalities approach as useful to start moving in a more humane direction.
If the names Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Amy Klobuchar, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker don’t come up, there is something wrong with the discussion. If there is no mention of Democrats seeking Senate seats, the debate is worthless.
There is still plenty of room for disagreement, but cementing unity seems a lot more important.
The campaign will go on another few rounds, because Bernie needs to protect his ideals. Joe should simply see which ones he can adapt as his own.