So far so good. I think. I do have concerns about what might take place in the debate but I took some time to process Biden’s Tuesday night speech, Bernie’s Wednesday afternoon one and their subsequent addresses on the Coronavirus. Both showed leadership, and criticisms were directly where they should be, which is at Trump and the Trump administration and not each other. If Bernie, who in an interview stated what he wants to take up with Biden during the debate maintains a similar tone I think we’ll be okay. It will provide a good discussion on where we are, where we ultimately want to get (particularly on health care) and how quickly which approach is the best course. As for Biden, if he continues a theme he sounded in his speech Tuesday night about respecting Bernie’s passion and that of his supporters and avoids coming across as condescending (as in a “suspend your campaign because you can’t catch up” attitude) then again, I think we’ll be okay.
I’ll admit to having more concern about Bernie particularly than I do about Biden. As I just noted, while the latter needs to avoid coming across as dismissive, what will make for more GOP sound bites is Bernie coming across as angry because even if he doesn’t outright attack or go slash and burn, the GOP is specialized in selective editing and will therefore paint it that way.
Here’s what I firmly believe. Bernie isn’t going to catch up. In fact, Biden will probably not only have a plurality of delegates come convention time with Bernie being significantly further behind than he currently is, but even a majority for first (and therefore only) ballot. If Bernie, who had counted on being in Biden’s position after Super Tuesday, and when it didn’t happen adopted Biden’s Super Tuesday attitude of hoping not to get left too far behind but DID find himself falling further behind earlier this week is going to flip the script there’s only two ways it will happen.
Either Biden does or says something spectacularly awful or something awful happens to him (and soon) or he can try to do to Biden what Warren did to Bloomberg. If, during the debate Bernie proverbially takes out a meat cleaver and starts hacking Biden with it, we in the U.S. and the world will be headed for grief. However, it’s been suggested by people smarter than me that Bernie has telegraphed indications that he doesn’t intend to go the second route. IOW by stating top issues he intended to raise and saying he wanted to hear Biden’s responses the thinking is he was being like a college professor giving out the questions to the midterm exam (or the final?) so that the students could have answers looked up/prepared when they sat down for the test – all they had to do was remember them. I want to, and in truth kind of believe that Bernie’s intention during that interview (and since) was to maybe raise a few bruises to make his points, bruises that Biden would remember and make a real effort to avoid when it comes time to set and fight for actual policy but that he doesn’t want to draw blood.
What I worry about is the heat of the moment getting the better of him, and him starting to (without meaning to) coming across in a clearly, accusatory manner. Should that happen we will see GOP commercials non-stop starting in September. To be fair, albeit for different reasons Biden needs to as I’ve already noted be respectful and really, really avoid being dismissive of Bernie. Just one significant lapse on either’s part will make the already difficult task of uniting the party for November infinitely more difficult.
Equally important is that both candidates lay down clear markers for their campaign staff and surrogates as in not tolerating any direct attacks. Make it clear that if one of “their people” as in staffers or surrogates gets out of line they will be publicly denounced and kicked out the door. And follow though without delay should that kind of thing become necessary. I know what I’m about to say will piss some folks off but I worry about that more with Bernie’s people than I do with Biden’s.
I’ll make one final point and again it’s directed at Bernie. Bernie has spent decades pointedly refusing to — unless he was officially a candidate for President — to be a member of the Democratic Party. It’s one thing to press for a return to FDR New Deal type policies, and quite another to say the Democratic Party has become corrupt and needs to be torn down and rebuilt in FDR’s image. If he truly wants to lead the Democratic Party, and more importantly lead it back towards New Deal/Great Society type policies then Bernie needs to right now, starting with this upcoming debate make it clear he’s going to remain a Democrat and change his rhetoric about corruption, selling out etc. And just as importantly instead of pointing to other countries (Denmark could literally fit inside the geographic footprint of Vermont New Hampshire. And with a population of around 5.7 million is roughly equal to Colorado and seven electoral votes BTW. ) It’s also demographically far more homogenous than we are.
The title I chose reflects the reality of the challenge we face in uniting the Democratic Party because IMHO damage has already been done. We can’t afford any more. For damned sure we’re going to have to do a better job than we did in 2016. Yes, there was bitterness in 2008 but Obama’s margin of victory was so large, having more Clinton supporters refuse to vote for him than Sanders voters refusing to vote for Clinton last time didn’t matter. We simply can’t afford to assume Trump is vulnerable this time around. We have to conduct ourselves as if we were behind until the last votes are in and we’ve got a solid margin in not just the popular vote but the electoral college.
As they did with their speeches about Tuesday and the state of the primary race, Bernie and Joe need to set the tone. They need to adopt the philosophy of First Do No Harm and then make it clear their people need to do the same.