1,991: On Joe Biden
Five months ago, there stood a four-way tie prior to the hottest political event of the Democratic calendar: the Iowa caucus. Yet, today, former Vice President Joe Biden is the last man standing. In less than five months, he will represent the Democratic party in the presidential election against President Donald Trump.
Two old white men will be on the ballots, a typical election occurrence. However, this year is anything but typical. A number of recent developments regarding COVID-19, sexual assault allegations, and protests for racial equality have changed the playing field for Biden.
Amid such times, the electoral advantages of incumbency grow questionable. Yale Professor Ray Fair’s multidecadal pioneering model of vote-sharing, which combines economic and political variables, forecasts that the impending recession from COVID-19 may be a saving grace for the Democratic party, with Oxford Economics employing it to predict a 30-point margin favoring the Democrats. Further, according to FiveThirtyEight, Biden currently holds a 2-to-8-point lead in eight key swing states. And while Trump’s approval rating previously consistently shifted between 40 and 45 percent, a steady three-week decline to around 41 percent may threaten his national turnout, potentially sustaining Biden’s current lead.
While the chaos and magnified focus upon Trump has dominated the screens of the American people, the Democrats presumptive nominee has dodged one of the most deadly bullets: his history of sexual misconduct allegations. Most recently, on April 9, Tara Reade, one of Biden’s 1993 Senate staffers filed a police report with the Washington, D.C., police with sexual assault and harassment allegations. While Biden unequivocally denied the claims, Reade’s experience has been echoed by seven other women who stated that Biden invaded personal boundaries, though these women felt their experiences did not amount to harassment or rape. Nonetheless, as Democratic leadership has remained loyal to Biden, the investigation of Reade’s story and others’ has quietly subdued, postponing true scrutiny. In an interview with The Politic, Hamera Shabbir ‘24, born only a few weeks shy of Election Day, states personal relief regarding her inability to vote, “I am happy that I don’t have to choose between Biden or Trump. I can’t throw my support fully behind someone who has been involved in such [impropriety].”
But the impropriety has persisted beyond these incidences. On May 22, at the end of a tense interview on “The Breakfast Club,” Biden stated in a cavalier manner, “If you have a problem figuring out whether you’re for me or Trump, then you ain’t black.” He received immediate backlash within Black communities and beyond, eliciting a swift apology in response to characterizations of being “racist and dehumanizing” due to his entitled generalization.
In an interview with The Politic, political science student and Black Students for Disarmament organizer Benjamin Dormus ‘21 shared his thoughts, “I don’t think most Black people, especially in the younger generations, want to hear an old white man with history of endorsing racist policies tell them how to be Black. Biden already has a problem attracting young Black voters, and tone-deaf, patronizing comments like this aren’t going to buy him any credibility with us.” Dormus continued, “Many of my Black peers feel completely unseen and unheard by both candidates and both parties. Their disillusionment is valid and real.”
Dormus’ frustration is echoed by Black voters across the country, disheartened not only by President Trump’s leadership but by Democratic leadership claiming to be committed to racial justice. In fact, despite the benefits of a reputation intertwined with former President Barack Obama and Black support in southern states during the primary, Biden has underperformed in Black support in comparison to Clinton; while currently 68 percent of Black registered voters ages 18-29 shared intentions to vote for Biden, in 2016, some 85 percent of the same demographic reported to have voted for Clinton. These numbers are mirrored by polling reflecting that 57 percent of Black registered voters of this demographic have a favorable opinion of Biden, as opposed to 88 percent of senior Black voters. These numbers point to the disconnect between young Black voters and Biden, raising concerns regarding turnout in a demographic often taken for granted within the Democratic party.
First-time voter and Louisiana activist Peyton Sias ‘24 echoed this sentiment, “His past policies as the 1994 crime bill have torn Black communities apart. He disrespected Anita Hill during the confirmation of Justice Clarence Thomas. He has held beliefs that directly oppose my own and have harmed my community as a lower-income Black woman in southern Louisiana. But in this case, I’ll take it, I guess.” The young Black vote lies in the ambivalence of Sias’ “I guess,” already jaded by the political process and promises of change before casting a first ballot.
However, the disillusionment with the political system and Democratic party extends beyond Black youth; the protests have illustrated a greater split between the Democratic party and the younger generation which refuses to sit idly by and merely accept the lesser of two evils. Today, youth demand change and aren’t afraid to challenge the leadership.
In an interview with The Politic, self-proclaimed anti-capitalist Alexa Schultz ‘24 empathized, “[Biden] thinks that the only thing we need in politics is for Trump to get out of office. Biden himself said ‘nothing will fundamentally change’ if he is elected. But as a leftist, my priority is change and revolution. Especially today, as we march in the streets demanding police defunding or abolition, I think we need someone to understand the necessity of fundamental change.”
As Biden gears up for the race, whispers of potential vice-presidential running mates grow. Senator Kamala Harris. Senator Elizabeth Warren. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. Congresswoman Val Demmings. Stacey Abrams. Senator Amy Klobuchar. Susan Rice.
Spoiler: there’s a trend.
On March 15, Biden committed to selecting a woman as his vice-presidential running mate. His mid-debate statement elicited both applause for its inclusivity and criticism of its performative nature. Since then, Biden has opened up exploring these candidates and others, taking into account innumerable factors from geographical region to race to ideology in order to maximize voter turnout, especially within these voting blocs of concern.
As the country’s protests against racial injustice and police brutality garner greater momentum and support, pressure has mounted towards the former Vice President to select a Black woman as his running mate. According to a POLITICO/Morning Consult poll released on June 10, 46 percent of Democrats place importance upon Biden’s selection of a running mate of color, a 10 percent increase from 36 percent in early April. Many Democrats have extended this statement to demanding a Black woman under the assumption that it would boost black voter turnout due to greater credibility and loyalty to pushing for justice and reform. Further, many of these prospective Black female running mates may serve as activators as they are seen as the future of American politics and government diversity.
In an interview with The Politic, political journalist Zahra Yarali ‘24 shared her personal VP pick: Stacey Abrams, the captivating, young Democratic nominee for the 2018 Georgia gubernatorial election and the first African-American female major-party gubernatorial nominee in the United States. Yarali expanded on her reasoning, “ [Abrams’s] experience running for Georgia governor really inspired her to fight for the voting rights of all people, especially the historically disenfranchised and communities who might not have been fairly counted in her own community, and I admire her for that.”
While some urge Biden to pursue a Black running mate, others prioritize the selection of an established progressive leader of any race, a contrast to some Black moderates on the shortlist like Senator Harris, to appeal to progressive voters unhappy with Biden’s centrism. On June 15, more than 100 progressive leaders wrote a letter to Biden’s campaign urging him to select Senator Warren as his running mate, citing her preparedness, strength of policy, and experience.
In an interview with The Politic, a former organizer on Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign, Andrew Hong ‘24 expressed his own support for Senator Warren as the running mate, “Whoever Biden chooses for his running mate won’t likely change my opinion on his candidacy nor will it make me more or less likely to vote for him. In the end, Biden will be the one in the Oval Office.” He expanded, “Even if choosing Warren is strictly performative, it at least shows that he cares about progressives a little bit.” Because many progressives echo Hong’s wariness, a choice as Senator Warren could help unify the party, garnering more votes and more widespread support.
In a world where tomorrows remain unsure, holding unknown struggles, triumphs, and VP picks (oh my!), voters of all affiliations must reflect upon their values in selecting a candidate that will make them proud in the future. In an interview with The Politic, just as she celebrates her one-year employment anniversary with the campaign, Sanam Rastegar ‘16, Deputy State Finance Director at Biden for President, speaks to voters on the fence: “I always ask voters if they are better off now than they were four years ago. If the answer is no, then the way to change that is to vote in November. Vice President Biden always says that he knows he has to earn the vote of every single American in this country. He does not take one vote for granted. And he’ll work every day to earn and maintain the support of the American people. No matter someone’s political affiliation, it’s critical that every eligible voter registers to vote and votes in November.”