Joe Biden cannot win.
Most Americans know that their political and economic institutions have failed them. Millennials, coming up in the era of the Great Recession, have borne the economic brunt of neoliberal policy failures, being saddled with colossal college debt, minimal and insecure job prospects, and the exploitative gig economy. This is a generation that has experienced neither peace nor prosperity, and in their eyes, “the American dream” must look like a Rockwellian phantom: something once rumored to exist, but little more than a dream.
As political realities go, ours in the America of today is bleak. On one side, the Republican party — long bereft of dignity and moral pulchritude — spouts Jingoistic platitudes and xenophobic admonitions, conjuring a specter of fear dominated by job-stealing immigrants and liberal moral vice. On the other side, Wall Street-funded corporate Democrats, whose New Deal-era ideals were long ago sacrificed on the altar of Clintonian political expediency, are content to forego meaningful political and economic action in order to placate the donor class whose interests oppose all useful reform. Cynicism and fear, dominating both sides of the aisle, have cast American polity and political discourse onto an inexorable rightward trajectory. The radical right moves to take ground, and the centrist left gives it, bit by bit.
We see it most profoundly in the discourse around foreign policy. The left, once so eager for Barack Obama to end George W. Bush’s wars of false pretense in Iraq and Afghanistan, offered no significant resistance when Mr. Obama dragged his feet on leaving Iraq, and dug his heels in to perpetuate Afghanistan into a conflict that has now, under its third Oval Office commander, continued unabated for nearly eighteen years. Now, even the Democratic Party’s power establishment seeks to discredit political candidates — like Tulsi Gabbard — who offer an exit strategy from perpetual war and death, and rank-and-file Democratic voters play right along, while the cynical mainstream media has conjured a neoliberal clone of McCarthyism, where anti-war positions are viewed with suspicion as a vague and unsubstantiated specter of Russian threat.
The only litmus test for today’s Democratic Party faithful is vociferous and meme-driven opposition to Donald Trump. Anything more real than that — whether it’s ending foreign war, forgiving student debt, or extending Medicare coverage to all Americans — is shouted down as pie-in-the-sky wishful thinking, as they are told to just wait until Trump is out of office. Ironically, Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the party’s leadership won’t even entertain the idea of holding impeachment hearings. Hold your nose and vote for Joe Biden or Kamala Harris, they’re told. And the party faithful will readily obey.
What most Democrats don’t understand is that Donald Trump is not the problem. Mr. Trump, vile and pugnacious as he is, is merely a symptom of the systemic failure of neoliberal policy. Elected on the grounds that he would re-invigorate the domestic labor market, blue-collar voters — long abandoned by the rightward-shifting Democrats — saw Trump as a spirited outsider whose bombast echoed their anger and fear at being disenfranchised, and turned to this vile man in hopes that he might improve their lot where others had failed. Of course, Donald Trump was the wrong vessel to carry their hopes, as he serves the same anti-labor, one-percenter contingent that shipped their jobs away to begin with. But, with his vile recriminations of immigrants and populist rhetoric — misguided as they are — he gave voice to their anger, and directed it into a movement. Their needs will not be addressed, but their anger should not be so readily dismissed.
This is the key. The xenophobic right has someone to rally behind. Someone who knows how to win. The left could too: look at Bernie Sanders, Marianne Williamson, and Tulsi Gabbard. But the Democratic Party establishment will do its level best to make sure its rank-and-file voters know that, as Bill Maher says, what is needed is a “generic” Democrat. A Clintonian centrist. Someone who will be careful to avoid ruffling too many feathers. Someone like Joe Biden or Kamala Harris, or even Elizabeth Warren, whose progressive credentials are tenuous at best.
But Millennial voters know better. They know that in order to change their lot in life, they must select a candidate like Bernie Sanders who really speaks for their political priorities and basic human needs. Affordable healthcare, job security, debt relief, meaningful action against climate change, and the right to collectivize against corporate interests that would ship their jobs away.
If the Democratic Party nominates another Wall Street-funded Clintonian centrist, the Millennials know none of their needs will be addressed in any meaningful way, and they will quite rightly stay home.
Joe Biden cannot win.