This piece is an account of my experiences and reflections on the sudden narrowing of the Democratic primary, and Joe Biden’s ultimate victory.
You may know that I am a free-market fundamentalist and a social moderate with conservative sympathies, and a Trump supporter to boot, so you may be surprised to hear that I was genuinely disappointed and demoralized when, first, Joe Biden became the Democratic front-runner in actual delegate count, and second, when Bernie Sanders dropped out of the race.
Of course, this was not because I actually support Senator Sanders or his policies; I abhor his worldview with a passion, though I do have some respect for him personally, as will be seen below. I did, in point of fact, change my party preference to ‘No Party Preference’ for the California primary, so I could vote for a Democrat; though I was until then a life-long Republican, voting for the incumbent in a primary seemed phenomenally pointless, and since this was California’s first politically relevant primary since I’d been a voter, I wanted my vote to actually make a difference. Since the Democratic field was wide open, I thought a vote in that contest would actually influence the outcome, so I changed my party affiliation and voted for Pete Buttigieg.
If you are aware of the tangled timeline of the 2020 primaries, and consequently confused by the previous sentence, let me explain: California had early voting, and I voted on Thursday, 27 February, five days before Super Tuesday, two days before the South Carolina primary.
As it turned out, the joke was on me, so far as my vote’s impact went.
Strange though it now seems, on that sunny Thursday when I walked into the Vote Center at Newport Beach City Hall, Bernie Sanders was the Democratic front-runner, and Joe Biden’s candidacy could only receive extended life-support from a South Carolina victory. The Vermont senator had tied with Pete Buttigieg in Iowa and New Hampshire, and won outright in Nevada, while the former Vice President came in fifth in the first two contests and a distant second in the third. This was hardly surprising: though Biden rode the polls for much of 2019, he regularly made a fool of himself almost whenever he opened his mouth, had no coherent policy positions, no apparent reason to run besides opposition to Trump, and, most of all, as a decades-long Senator and Vice President on his third presidential campaign [who had never yet won a single state in any of said campaigns thus far] he embodied the political establishment that the entire political cycle of 2016 had rejected. His high poll ratings seemed an echo of Jeb Bush’s in 2015: a sign of simple name recognition, nothing more.
By the time of the Iowa caucuses, the narrative of the two ‘lanes’, progressive and moderate, was already common. Sanders and Elizabeth Warren were the ‘progressives’ out to radically transform American society and expand government—with elaborate plans of how they would do it—and Biden, Buttigieg, and Amy Klobuchar were the ‘moderates’ who, though certainly left-of-center, were skeptical of the possibility—or appeal—of revolutionary action. While the ‘moderate lane’ seemed to have more support as a whole, it also had more candidates, which fractured their support and allowed Sanders to become the single leading candidate, a situation exacerbated by the candidacy of trans-Democrat Mike Bloomberg and his historic ad-buying. It was hoped that a further winnowing of candidates would create a dominating lead for the remaining moderate. Of course, we had heard this all before: early in the Republican primaries of 2016, some pointed out that Donald Trump’s supporters were a minority of the Republican electorate and assumed that non-Trump Republican voters would eventually coalesce behind another, conventional candidate. They didn’t.
The very ‘moderate’/’progressive’ terminology ignored a greater divide: between identitarian progressives who protest intersectional ‘structures of oppression’ rooted in patriarchy, white supremacy, heteronormativity, and so forth, and traditional progressives who just wanted better wages, health care, and educational opportunities. Despite Sanders and Warren’s overtures and accommodation to the former camp, their roots were solidly in the latter camp, while the former had been based in elite academia and affiliated with the Democratic establishment [once called ‘liberal’, now rechristened ‘moderate’] for decades, and enshrined with the presidency of Barack Obama. These groups, including feminists and racial activists, had had conflict with Sanders since 2015. While Sanders won over Latino voters with some success, black support continued to elude him, and feminists continued to accuse his supporters of misogyny.
But then, the identitarian/establishment alliance was hardly a perfect marriage either, and there were signs that the establishment candidates were, personally and politically, genuinely too moderate for the identitarians’ tastes. On paper, Pete Buttigieg looks like the embodiment of the gay movement’s success: a white man married to a man who is thoroughly normal in all other respects, a military veteran and a regular church-goer. This portrayal, like much of the whole gay marriage debate, ignores how abnormally traditional Buttigieg’s life is by LGBTQ standards. Writers in the gay and intersectional spheres essentially attacked Buttigieg for not being gay enough, not to mention too white. An article described the Time cover photo with his husband as ‘heterosexuality without women’.
As for myself, I could never actually vote for Sanders, as I despise his ideology; though he is no true socialist, democratic or otherwise, his progressivism, though charmingly old-fashioned, is beyond the pale. Buttigieg, on the other hand, seemed to stand for nothing in particular; though running to be the first gay President, he is culturally conservative enough to be attacked and disavowed by the LGBT community. On a personal level, I found I kind of liked the guy.
I believed Trump could beat either of them, for different reasons: Buttigieg stood for nothing, so Trump would blow him away like paper in a strong wind, while Sanders would bring a real ideological debate to the general election, and his loss would dramatically discredit the progressive left. His loss in a primary would discredit them as well but would only give the progressives ammunition if Trump won the general.
While I wanted Senator Sanders to win the nomination, I could not bring myself to vote for him. Buttigieg, on the other hand, was vanilla enough that I did not think it would be so terrible if he actually did win, by some chance. Plus, I’ve become socially liberal enough that the thought of the first gay president was actually kind of appealing. So I cast my vote for Buttigieg.
Then came the weekend.
It was not a surprise that Biden won South Carolina with the support of African-Americans that Saturday, but that he did so with over 60% of the vote was shocking. Immediately, the party responded. Tom Steyer dropped out that night, Buttigieg the next day, Klobuchar on Monday, in the same breath as her endorsement of Biden, which was quickly followed by a similar endorsement from Buttigieg, and dozens of endorsements for Biden from influential Democrats. On Tuesday, Biden not only swept the Deep South, he took Minnesota, Massachusetts, Maine, and Texas from Sanders, while Elizabeth Warren finished third-place in her home state and Mike Bloomberg’s $500-million dollar campaign bought him one solitary victory in the American Samoa caucuses. Bloomberg quickly fell in line behind Biden. Warren also dropped out but withheld her endorsement for several days. Biden was once again the front runner, with the votes to prove it.
It was obvious to me [and others] that the sudden closing-of-ranks behind Biden [which anti-SJW YouTuber Shoe0nHead brilliantly described as ‘the neolib Voltron’] had been orchestrated by the DNC [or possibly Barack Obama himself], to accomplish what the Republicans could not in 2016: the suppression of a populist insurgency and guarantee of an establishmentarian candidate in the general election.
However, I still had hope that Biden’s manufactured surge would not last. His Super Tuesday victories, at least to an extent, were clearly inflated by the sudden narrowing of the candidate field and the rush of endorsements; many who voted that day only decided at the last minute. Further, Biden won Minnesota only because Amy Klobuchar gave it to him. In Maine and Massachusetts, Warren still divided the progressive vote, which evidently DOES coalesce in Democratic primaries. Further, Super Tuesday showed a definite geographical divide: Sanders won in the West, including California, and Biden in the East, which left plenty of states for Sanders.
Further, I didn’t think Sanders really had to do anything. I assumed Biden would inevitably remind people why he fell behind in the first place during the next debate. For weeks before his South Carolina victory, Biden had received little attention from the media and he actually complained about how little time he received in the debates compared to the other candidates. On March 15, he faced Bernie Sanders one-on-one on national television in Phoenix, and I was confident Sanders would regain his momentum.
As you know, I was disappointed.
In subsequent contests, Biden continued to dominate not only everything east of the Mississippi, but the Northwest as well; when the former Vice-President took Michigan and Washington, where Senator Sanders had defeated Hillary Clinton in 2016, the writing was on the wall. As for the debate, it had little effect, and the whole primary contest was quickly overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to the postponement of most remaining primaries. Finally, Senator Sanders conceded and endorsed Biden on April 8.
Since I am, as I mentioned, a free-market fundamentalist, you may ask why I was not relieved that a harmless, toothless establishmentarian like Biden became the presumptive nominee, especially since a victory over Donald Trump is incredible to anyone who has been paying attention. [What Bernie Sanders could not accomplish in a live debate, the Tweeter-In-Chief surely will.] Indeed, I am glad that African-Americans have once again demonstrated that they are not the leftist ideologues certain parties make them out to be. But policy and governance are the products of philosophy, of ideas.
While he has not been as consistent as some claim, Senator Sanders has been true to the core of his agenda throughout his public life: not fully socialist, but more than social democrat. He stands for old-fashioned collectivism. The woke progressive crowd stand for collectivism of a different kind: an inversion of traditional hierarchies in a grotesque parody of Christ’s parable of the grape gatherers. The party establishment and its avatar, Joseph R. Biden, stand for nothing in particular.
Indeed, the outcome of the contest might appear bizarre: the Democrats, alleged party of the marginalized and disadvantaged by as many criteria as possible [the ‘working class’ and actually poor, women, young people, non-whites, homosexuals, transgender persons, the disabled, and Muslims] somehow managed to nominate an elderly, straight, cisgender, white man who embodied the hated political establishment to an almost humorous degree: before serving as Obama’s Vice-President, Biden was Senator of Delaware for thirty-six years, with a fairly centrist track record on top of inappropriate behavior to women on a fairly regular basis. Worst, his performance on the stump, and in debates, gave embarrassing indications of dementia. How could such a caricature of the powerful white patriarchy possibly win over the votes of collectivists?
Senator Sanders’s own behavior frustrated some of his own supporters. He refused to attack Biden directly, or even his other opponents, and seemed to contradict his own anti-establishment message by urging party solidarity against Trump, before and after his concession. And not only to Biden: in both his campaigns, Senator Sanders had his planned speeches interrupted when far-left activists rushed the stage and seized his microphone, which the Senator, though clearly disgruntled, was apparently unable to prevent; he just stood there while the activists screeched about their pet issues.
How could a far-left radical be so mild-mannered?
Because that is what a true collectivist must be.
Senator Sanders is no true socialist, but he is certainly a collectivist at heart. How else could he complain that American healthcare was ‘not a system to take care of people’? Collectivism might be commonly understood as a political or social philosophy that places the group over the individual, but it is primarily an attitude, a habit of mind. Specifically, collectivism is the tendency to defer to others, conform to one’s ‘peers’, and never assert oneself, though one can become violent in service to the group by all means. In essence, collectivism is the mentality of the herd: complacent docility as a rule, but stampedes and closed ranks in the face of perceived threats.
Sanders’ problem? He’s not collectivist enough. Senator Sanders has definite values and beliefs, not to mention a distinctive, and rather endearing, personality. Ideas, values, and personality are all attributes of individuals. True collectivism requires the cessation of all thought.
Among Biden supporters, one could find no positive arguments beyond Biden’s assumed ‘electability’, which is obviously circular, and their objection to Sanders, as stated by notorious feminist YouTuber Kristi Winters, was that he was not really a Democrat, and had never served the party.
Ideas don’t matter to them. Only the Party does. While their policies actually bear little resemblance to those of the Communist Party of the USSR, their veneration for the ‘good of the party’ as an end in and of itself absolutely is.
What the Democratic candidates, including Bernie, share is a basic collectivism, a belief in the elevation of the group over the individual, which overrides individual interests [Klobuchar and Buttigieg’s campaigns], individual dignity [see the women who seized Sanders’s microphone at rallies, and similar protestors at Klobuchar and Biden events], and even individual thought [the whole intersectional ideology is based on the subjective feelings of marginalized groups]. The good of the Party is above all, and an old man with no definite beliefs who cannot maintain a coherent thought, and is tainted by nepotism, is its perfect avatar.
An old, well-connected man with a penchant for nepotism but apparently losing the ability to speak coherently is the perfect avatar of collectivism.
While my politics have shifted from the rather authoritarian religious conservatism of my youth to my current economic libertarianism and social moderation, my party affiliation never needed to shift, because I found I faced the same enemy, beside roughly the same allies. At the end of the day, after innumerable compromises and betrayals of principle, the Democrats are basically collectivists, and the Republicans are basically individualists. That is why they did not, and could not, orchestrate a united front against Trump in 2016, but the Democrats could in 2020.
And why the Republicans won.
They will again. Wait and see.