One of the most shocking and depressing things I have read recently is a New York Times piece on Tara Reade’s allegations of sexual assault against Joe Biden, the presumptive Democrat nominee for President. The opening paragraph reads thus:
For more than three weeks, progressive activists and women’s rights advocates debated how to handle an allegation of sexual assault against Joesph R. Biden Jr. The conversations weren’t easy, nor were the politics: Mr Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, faced one allegation; his opponent, President Trump, at least a dozen.‘Democratic Frustration Mounts as Biden Remains Silent on Sexual Assault Allegation’, Lisa Lerer and Sydney Ember, The New York Times, April 29, 2020
Reading this was one of those ‘has it really come to this?’ moments. After offering the largest and most diverse set of candidates in history, the Democrats were left with a 77-year-old, caucasian male, former Vice-President who has unsuccessfully contested the nomination three times previously. Oh, and who also has a history of making inappropriate, lewd and often quite frankly bizarre comments, and has been accused of inappropriate sexual touching, groping and kissing several times over the last twenty years.
It must be stated that after a considerable period of silence once the latest allegation had been made – that he sexually assaulted his former Senate staffer, Tara Reade in the 1990’s – Biden has officially denied it saying “It never happened”.
But in the past, he has openly admitted that he is “a tactile politician” and that that behaviour has got him into trouble in the past. So why has he been allowed to presume the Democratic nomination for November’s Presidential election? Why was he allowed to begin a campaign to be the nominee of a party that supposedly cares about gender equality and the systemic sexual abuse and harassment of women, when at least eight allegations had been made against him prior to the announcement of his campaign on April 29th of last year?
Going back to the New York Times article, we are reminded that the world we live in, the socio-political environment we operate within (despite the supposed progress of the MeToo movement) is one that doesn’t care for women’s bodies, women’s opinions, women’s lives. We know that from the existence of Donald Trump as a political operator, we saw that with the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court despite substantial allegations made against him, and now we see it with Joe Biden.
The Presidential election in November, if it still goes ahead, will be taking place whilst the United States and the rest of the world are dealing with the deadliest global pandemic since the 1918 ‘Spanish Flu’. The reported cases around the world have surpassed 3.5 million with more than 247,000 deaths; over a million of the cases being in the U.S. which has had 67,680 reported deaths. It will be an election like no other in post-war American history.
Yet, amongst this unprecedented situation we must not forget the other issues at stake come November. The chance to make Trump a one-term President looms, and Biden will be his opponent. Biden will be the person that Americans will have to invest themselves in if they are opposed to everything Trump stands for.
That is made difficult however, if some of the things that characterise the Trump Presidency and the political and cultural environment he has awakened in the U.S., also characterise his Democratic opponent.
So, should Socialists, Progressives, Social Democrats and those who oppose sexual violence and harassment, those who oppose Imperialist warmongering, those who oppose the systemic racial violence of the American state campaign for Biden?
Well, in some ways it would not be a reach to conclude that electoral campaigning as we know it might not be the way this Presidential election will play out. If the Covid-19 crisis persists in its current form come November, or God forbid it has gotten worse which is not impossible to imagine, door-to-door canvassing, public gatherings, meetings and campaigning sessions would be out of the question. What remains would be almost a wholly-online campaign. Meetings and rallies would become the stomping ground of Zoom. We would see both Trump and Biden’s faces on TV and on social media more than we already do. Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat would all become the modus operandi of the campaign – awash with speeches, town-hall style events, Q&A’s and most likely live debates between the President and his challenger.
However, these forms of campaigning and canvassing are the new normal in electoral politics across the world and have been for some time – for better or worse. So the question of whether Democratic Socialists and those on the Left should campaign for Biden, still remains relevant.
The Democratic Socialists of America have been unequivocal – “We are not endorsing Joe Biden”, they tweeted on April 12th. Writers in the Socialist Journals, Jacobin and Catalyst, have also expressed their view that Socialists shouldn’t endorse Biden. Yet Bernie Sanders, the de-facto figurehead of the Left in America, having dropped out of the race to be nominee did endorse him, as he did Hilary Clinton in 2016. He cited the need to make Trump a one-term President and to fight against everything he symbolised and embodied.
Where do I stand? Well, I think my view on this is similar to that of Bhaskar Sunkara, founding editor of Jacobin and Catalyst, Guardian US columnist and former Vice-Chair of DSA. In an interview he did with Novara Media’s Aaron Bastani and Michael Walker on April 9th, he highlighted the desire many have to see Biden and Trump as just as bad as each other but cautioned against this kind of moral equivocation.
Raising Marx’s theory of ‘Social Forces’ he thinks that:
“these two candidates are not the same. Biden is a lesser evil than Donald Trump, that is true on everything. (Donald Trump) is a right populist leader with a coalition that has every big Capitalist in the country behind him, and a coalition that has really nasty, right-wing, racist elements behind him”.
On whether he thinks the Left should canvass for him, he says:
“I will not canvass for Joe Biden like a Joe Biden supporter…now if I were in a swing state and my vote could make the difference between Trump or Biden getting elected, I’ll pull the lever for Biden…what I will do for November even though I won’t canvass for Biden is I will canvass for down ballet, progressive candidates and I will do it for Medicare for All and for our key issues and I will try to cement a base around the Bernie Sanders movement so we can figure out how we can regroup Left Populists and Democratic Socialists and others who want an alternative within and outside the Democratic movement”
I think some key issues were raised by Sunkara, someone I admire very much. The first is that despite his flaws, Biden is not Trump. He may share some of his deepest behavioural and character issues, and he obviously is not a candidate of the American Left. He is not the ideal Democratic candidate, far far from it. But he is not Trump. To lump them together as one and the same would be at best naive, at worst stupid and dangerous.
The second is that November isn’t just about the Presidency. All 435 Congressional seats, 30 0f 100 Senate seats, 13 state and territorial governorships and other state and local elections are all to be contested. That means that whilst winning the Presidency for the Democrats is paramount, it will mean nothing without securing a Democratic House of Representatives, Senate, Governors and local and state representation. So those on the Left don’t have to explicitly campaign or canvass for Biden, but can play their part in helping secure a progressive ‘blue wave’ on Election night.
And the third point here relates to the first two, and that is that it is perfectly possible for Socialists, Progressives and assorted Leftists to both vote for Biden come November, whilst also organising a social, cultural and political movement which can hold him to account if he becomes President. A movement that can challenge the fundamental flaws of American Democracy. A movement that can stand up, be counted and say no to Fascism, Racism, Sexism, Homophobia and all forms of discrimination and prejudice. A movement that can challenge and fight back against the abuse of women’s bodies and silencing of women’s voices, against police brutality, racial profiling and the degrading excesses of the American State, both domestically and through foreign policy.
There are no easy answers to this conundrum. If true, the allegations against Biden are not clumsy behaviours of a bygone era, they are reprehensible acts of abuse and harassment that in a better world would permanently disqualify someone of any position of power or leadership, let alone one of the most powerful roles in global politics. Democrats shouldn’t have to view this contest through the lens of the ‘lesser of two evils’. Our politics shouldn’t be a contest of who has the least amount of sexual assault allegations.
Yet here we are. At this juncture in history where the American people have the chance to end the Trump years and begin a progressive rebuilding project. Biden is not the ideal candidate to take him on, but he is seemingly all we have. So yes, Socialists and Progressives should vote for Biden. But once Trump is gone, the real fightback begins.