Are the Democrats in a Race to the Bottom?

11 Jun

Are the Democrats in a Race to the Bottom?


I have had several recent conversations with friends about the 2020 election who preface their assessment with this liberal sentiment—‘I am in favor of whoever has the best chance of beating Trump.’ I respond meekly with a question, guessing in advance their likely response. My words: ‘Where does that lead you?’ and my guess is depressingly accurate. His or her words: ‘I think that Joe Biden is the only one who can beat Trump.’  Or in more pessimistic versions of the same response: ‘Biden has the best chance of winning.’


I feel depressed with this assessment, or at odds with it, for two reasons: first, I doubt that Biden is a stronger candidate than was Hillary Clinton in 2016, although he might do a bit better with disaffected Midwestern workers and older voters, but likely worse with others. My other reason for being a Biden doubter is more substantive. How can I in good faith and with any enthusiasm support a candidate with such an awful record when it comes to women’s rights, racism, Wall Street, and American militarism (including even support for the Iraq War in 2003). Although Biden has been tacking left and apologizing for some of this past in the last few weeks, one has to wonder what sort of national leader he would be other than not-Trump, to which I would ask, ‘have our expectations fallen this low?’


Already, happily, Biden’s frontrunner status is beginning to erode rapid. Name recognition is good to get a veteran politician out of the gate, but as the race itself commences, substance and political magnetism matter more and more. The Trump taunt ‘Sleepy Joe’ may be unkind or even unfair, but it catches something unnerving about the persona Biden projects. I do not envy Biden the challenge of debating Trump should he gain the nomination, and I would be surprised if he were successful. Trump has greater clarity in his delivery, and more punch and style in his swing. If I were a cagey Republican strategist I would do all in my power to exhibit fear of a Biden candidacy precisely because he would likely be a pushover.


There is something else about a Biden candidacy that will surely alienate the folks backing Sanders, and likely some of the others among the more progressive candidates. Selecting Biden would represent the DNC and the Democratic Party Establishment as again lining up behind a candidate that is an organization man rather than a political leader with progressive passions and consistent views. Biden, whether reasonably or not, will be perceived by the body politic as Clinton redux. Isn’t it time to let the American people decide, and not the donors with the deepest pockets or the bipartisan congeries of special interests? A Biden presidency would waste no time restoring the Cold War bipartisan consensus, which will probably mean confrontational geopolitics with Russia and China, as well as threatened and actual interventions in the  Middle East.


In this sense, should we not be patient, allowing the candidates to achieve a rank ordering on the basis of their performance on the hustings? It is difficult to get a sufficient read on the whole field, but a few stand out in my mind, sufficiently for me to believe they could deal effectively with Trump and yet not be disillusioning to people like myself. I think mostly favorably of Sanders, Warren, O’Rourke, Bennet, Inslee, Gabbard, and maybe even Harris.


I do not dissent from the view that Democrats are much more likely to prevail in the elections If they find a unifying candidate. At present, despite the large field none of those seeking the nomination, including Biden, or Sanders or Warren for that matter, seems a credible unifier. For this reason, it may still yet be beneficial for Sherrod Brown to come in from the cold, reconsidering his decision not to run. I feel that Brown by his record and his outlook to have the potential to be that much needed unifier with the added bonus of coming from Ohio, a state that could quite possibly decide who will be the next president of this now troubled country.


I personally prefer Warren or Sanders because of their integrity and programs, but I recognize for a variety of reasons neither will be an anti-Trump unifier due to ideological reasons. Many rich and elite Democrats reject candidates who are strident in their attacks on Wall Street, inequality, free trade, and militarism, and seek the bromide of a Biden type candidate. Just because such an approach failed in 2016 is no reason for such folks, so it seems, not to try again. I felt this sentiment as informing the pro-Biden advocacy of some of my friends that I mentioned above, feelings disguised a bit by claiming that Biden had the best chance of dislodging Trump.


For now, I support Sanders and Warren, not as a joint ticket, but as alternatives for the top spot. Despite my deep disillusionment with the behavior of American democracy in this period, as evidenced by the

inexplicable loyalty of the Trump base or the implacable failure to protect our citizenry by the kind of gun control that exists in other comparable societies or the refusal of the Democratic leadership in Congress to begin impeachment proceedings or a hundred other causes of my discontent, I still feel that such principled candidates not only offer a brighter future for the society but that they would be probable winners. This forthcoming electoral struggle is almost certain to dominate the American political imagination in the year ahead, and determine whether as a nation we recover hope or flounder in despair.


And should these preferred candidates fall by the wayside, then I would place a long odds desperate bet on a resurrected Sherrod Brown, but this will not even be an option if the man offstage waits much longer before stepping forth.


If we do end up with Biden as Trump’s opponent, what then? I think we

should defer such an unpleasant conversation until the reality is upon us, which I am optimistic enough to believe will be never.


6 Responses to “Are the Democrats in a Race to the Bottom?”

  1. Gene Schulman June 11, 2019 at 7:02 am #

    Do you really think it still makes a difference, Richard, which party or candidate runs and ‘wins”? The same oligarchy owns them both and will continue to run roughshod over whoever sits in the oval office. Biden and the other Dem frontrunners are no less embarrassing than the current occupant.

    • Richard Falk June 11, 2019 at 12:44 pm #


      With all respect, you can only ignore the crucial differences if you have the detachment of an expatriate. If you were an undocumented Latino or a. Muslim or concerned about climate change. you would appreciate that it is important to defeat Trump even if as you suggest there is a single political/economic ruling class/caste in the country. There are crucial everyday differences between between fascism and neoliberal capitalism.

      See you in Geneva for further exploration!

      • Gene Schulman June 12, 2019 at 12:47 am #

        Again, I beg to differ. It may be because I am an expat that I can see things more objectively. I am no less aware of the sorrows of those undocumented Latinos and Muslims that are suffering under Trump, but only recognize that it is not just Trump who causes them, but the overall system that allows him to abuse them so, and will encourage (oblige) any successor to do the same. Yes, Trump is a mug, but the Democrats are no less so, and will be beholden to the same neoliberal fascists.

        Am looking forward to continuing this discussion in Geneva.

      • Richard Falk June 12, 2019 at 1:22 am #

        I still think you are being insensitive to the day to day difference in approach of the two wings of the oligarchy. It is a
        matter of degree, but from our contact with latino workers in California these are differences that matter.

        Also, compare what Republicans & Democrats are doing at the state level in relation to women’s reproductive rights or judicial appointments.

        I agree that detachment sometimes ‘sees’ what those on the scene miss. I often use the same argument with my Turkish friends!

  2. sjindia June 11, 2019 at 7:33 am #

    Thank you for writing this post, Richard. It is exceedingly depressing to watch Biden suffocate the few progressive elements that have emerged in the party. We knew the DNC had learned few lessons from 2016, but you would think they could read the clamor for politics that address our crises head on. Biden’s statement today that Trump constitutes an existential threat misses the forest for the trees, and his campaign’s few details betray a fundamental misunderstanding of our country’s ills. They also herald a rather horrifying muddled mix of decade-old centrist policies. I’ve become an enormous fan of Elizabeth Warren, who has outpaced the other candidates in truly presenting both progressive policies and a progressive vision while truly speaking to the political moment. Even Sanders I feel is rehashing many of his points from 2016, and he’s failing to connect with some key constituencies. It is truly disheartening to see all energy in the party squandered to accommodate another old man’s delusions.

  3. Beau Oolayforos June 12, 2019 at 8:58 am #

    Dear Professor Falk,

    Thank you very much. How many voters had even heard of Barack Obama in, say, 2006? The current democratic field has much to offer in terms of sane governance and true progress. Biden or Sanders would be a mistake. With all due respect, the office of President is, or should be, a rigorous job, and there are vital roles for elder statesmen. We need younger, more vigorous leadership. You mention several good possibilities…isn’t Cory Booker legit?

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