A reflection of exclusionary and toxic practices experienced in the activist spaces in the Philippine Left and on answering what it means to do activism.
I should preface this with a disclaimer: I do not endorse Donald Trump for President, and I have written why leftists should not vote for Donald Trump. At the same time, I think that there are some very good reasons not to vote for Joe Biden, reasons that are good enough to cause me to ignore both parties altogether and vote for the Green Party candidate. While I do not think that anyone needs to justify why they are or are not voting for a candidate, I want to push back against the people that expect the left to bend the knee and toe the Democratic Party’s line.
I also want to address Tara Reade’s allegations early on. It is very important for us to take every accusation seriously, particularly the ones made against our leaders. I do not think that it is my place to wade into the allegation and pass judgement in the public sphere, but I highly recommend Lyta Gold’s piece in Current Affairs to anyone curious about the entire issue, along with Nathan Robinson’s article in the same magazine. I generally agree with their take. With that said, my opinions on Biden were formed before the allegation was made, so it really did not contribute to my decision.
So far, Biden has run on the platform of not being Trump. The vast majority of the Biden ads that have been released do not focus on any specific policy, instead bringing up Biden’s tenure as vice president and the fact that Biden is, again, not Trump. It is clear that Biden is nothing more than an opposition candidate being propped up by the Democratic establishment, and he would likely not have become the de facto nominee without the massive shift in the race shortly before Super Tuesday when a number of candidates dropped out and/or endorsed Biden. He also got a lift from Warren's decision to remain in the race through Super Tuesday and her refusal to endorse Sanders when she did drop out. In fact, Sanders was riding a wave of momentum and was the clear front runner before the “moderate” candidates all coalesced around Biden in a clear strategy to stop Sanders from getting the nomination. It is clear that Sanders got shafted, if not outright robbed. This is not the first time that the Democratic establishment has ruined Sanders’s election chances either: this is the second election in a row where Sanders has been royally screwed over. From the rigging of the 2016 primary, to the abysmal media coverage, to the ridiculously biased debate questions, to Bernie nearly getting thrown off the New York primary ballot, it is obvious that the powers that be do not want Sanders to get the nomination, and many of his long-term supporters have understandably become jaded towards any candidate that the Democratic Party pushes.
However, this is not the reason that I refuse to support Joe Biden. I do feel robbed, and I am angry with the Democratic Party, but I do not think that it is helpful to make political decisions out of spite. Admittedly, I am not likely to help the Democratic Party fundraiser or canvass because the behaviour of the party leadership shows me that the party is not likely to fight for any issues that I care about, but I like to think that my frustration with the Democratic Party as a whole does not factor into my decision on whether or not to support Biden.
Part of my refusal to support Biden comes down to ideological differences. The fact is, I am far to the left of both Biden and Sanders, and there is not a significant difference between Trump or Biden on any issues that I care about. One of the prevailing themes coming from the mainstream Democrats is that Bernie’s supporters need to compromise and support Biden since Biden is slightly to the left of Trump. The problem is, Bernie Sanders is my compromise with the Democratic Party on a plethora of issues, and I am not likely to move further to the right. In reality, I only fully agree with Sanders on Medicare For All and free public college, and I am extremely unlikely to budge on these issues, since healthcare and education are human rights and absolutely necessary for a society to progress. The rest of his platform is a compromise for me. For example, the War on Drugs must be ended and marijuana must be legalised, like Sanders says, but I also want all drugs to be legalised and regulated the way that alcohol is regulated. I am willing to compromise and treat Sanders’s platform as a good starting point, even though I would rather have a drug program like Portugal’s initiated right away. Meanwhile, Biden was instrumental in starting and sustaining the War on Drugs and refuses to legalise marijuana, and his platform does not offer a meaningful starting point to build off of. This trend continues across a wide variety of issues. On climate, I disagree with a few parts of the Green New Deal and the rest of Sanders’ climate plan, but I am generally satisfied with the compromise. Meanwhile, Biden’s plan is ridiculously weak on a number of issues and barely clears the low bar of being better than anything that Trump has done. Finally, I fully agree with Sanders’s immigration platform of abolishing ICE and providing paths to citizenship, but we have a real disagreement on fully legalising crossing the border (a policy that I think we need to work towards). Admittedly, Biden’s immigration plan is not much worse than Sanders’ is, but I already have disagreements with Sanders on immigration, and Biden will not even abolish ICE. Biden’s platform is not a compromise for the left, Sanders’ is, and supporting Biden would force the left to abandon almost every principle that it has.
Biden’s record and platform is hugely problematic. As mentioned before, Medicare for All is a non-negotiable issue, and Biden’s platform is nowhere near good enough. His own website says that his policy would still leave ten million (3% of the American population) uninsured, after all. This is an unacceptable position to take, and the argument that Trump would leave more people uninsured really does not cut it, particularly when Medicare for all is a popular policy. Furthermore, the public option would not be effective and would likely hinder any progress towards Medicare for all in our current political atmosphere. In a system where corporate money plays such a huge role in politics, you can be sure that private insurance companies would find a way to make sick people choose the government’s plan while they insured healthy people who cost the companies less in actual healthcare. In many ways, a government plan would most likely benefit the private companies more than the people it is intended to serve by effectively socialising their losses, and coverage would likely suffer for those on the government plan, providing conservatives with an example to hold up as a failure of Medicare for All. It is possible for a public option to succeed, but it would require a great deal of regulation limiting the ability of private companies in the marketplace, none of which are laid out in Biden’s plan. It is also unlikely that Biden would be willing to regulate these companies heavily when his campaign is funded by many of them.
Biden has to reckon with is his abysmal record on foreign policy. I wrote about Trump’s decision to abandon the Kurds in northeastern Syria, and while Biden criticised the decision at the time, he has not mentioned the Kurdish people since then. Although Biden has expressed support for the Kurdish people in the past, he has also threatened to sell them out while the Obama administration faced threats from Turkey and said that there would not be a “Kurdish corridor” (i.e. Rojava).
The rest of his foreign policy is equally poor. We all know about his vote for and continued support for the Iraq war while a senator, a war that killed at least 200,000 Iraqi civilians. In addition, the Obama administration also escalated the US drone program, resulting in hundreds of civilian casualties. He also helped engage in a regime change war in Syria and left Libya in shambles while giving ISIS a foothold in the area during the Obama administration.
Biden’s record on government surveillance is also a huge issue. Not only did he vote for the 2001 Patriot Act, he also claimed to have written a bill in 1995 that was essentially the same piece of legislation. (Coincidentally, Sanders was the only Presidential candidate on the primary stage to publicly oppose the Patriot Act). Furthermore, he reportedly told countries that they would be punished if they granted Edward Snowden asylum. Any candidate that believes that the government has the right to spy on its people is already at fundamental odds with my ideology.
It should be noted that I really disagree with both Sanders and Biden on guns. While Sanders never adopted strong rhetoric on gun control, he did follow the party line on the ban of assault weapons and high capacity magazines, two policies that I oppose. However, Sanders fought for a number of other issues that were equally important to me, and I was again willing to compromise and try to change his policy on guns from the inside. Because the rest of Biden’s platform conflicts with my ideology in such a huge way, I am going to give him a lot less grace on gun control.
Clearly, Biden has a plethora of issues with his policy, but his biggest problem reaches far beyond any one policy or statement that he has made, but rather his entire platform in general: his campaign does nothing to address the fundamental problems that got Trump elected in the first place. As much as some liberals would like it to be, Trump was not elected solely because of Russia or racism. Clinton has been the face of neoliberal economic policy for the last fifty years, and there is the perception that she does not at all care about the problems that face America as a whole. This may or may not be the case, but the fact remains that her entire platform served as a continuation of economic policy that has crumbled America. Biden’s campaign is essentially a continuation of this form of politics, and he went so far as to tell the wealthy that 'fundamentally nothing is going to change.' Clinton did not lose because swing states magically became hotbeds of racism during Obama’s presidency; she lost because her campaign did not inspire any real hope of structural change, and Biden’s campaign is quickly sliding in the same direction.
By ignoring American frustration and anger, Democrats lost Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania and allowed Trump to sell a solution based on a lie to desperate people without an alternative.
Because Clinton and other centrist Democrats have refused to give the thirst for change any real respect, Donald Trump was able to weaponize frustration at the status quo and transform it into broad support for the anti-immigrant rhetoric that the far-right wing of the Republican party has been brewing for years. Voters had to choose between the status quo that the Democratic Party pushed and the change that Donald Trump promised, even though that change was built on a lie. By ignoring American frustration and anger, Democrats lost Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania and allowed Trump to sell a solution based on a lie to desperate people without an alternative. Centrism failed in the 2016 election and will almost certainly fail again, and it takes a remarkable amount of naiveté to think that voters who flipped to Trump in 2016 will flip back to the same platform just because candidates lecture them about how terrible they are for taking a chance on a candidate that promised them change.
It is for this reason that Biden will lose to Trump. Andrew Yang was right when he said that Donald Trump is the symptom of what is wrong with America, not the cause, and Americans are not so stupid as to think that Donald Trump can be blamed for the stagnant wage growth, housing crisis, and opioid addiction in America. By refusing to acknowledge that the economic platform that the mainstream faction of the Democratic party runs on is a failure, Biden’s campaign is doomed to fail.
Andrew Yang was right when he said that Donald Trump is the symptom of what is wrong with America, not the cause, and Americans are not so stupid as to think that Donald Trump can be blamed for the stagnant wage growth, housing crisis, and opioid addiction in America.
The Democratic Party likes to use a number of arguments on the left in hopes of making them fall in line, and one of the most-used ones is: 'If Trump gets to appoint any more judges, then any progressive agenda will be snuffed out for a generation'. That may be true, but it is in no way a reason to vote for Biden. We already know what kind of judges he will appoint: he voted to confirm both Scalia and Sandra Day O’Connor, two extremely conservative justices that were favoured by Reagan. Based on his record, it is extremely unlikely that he would pick better judges than Trump, and if his current board of advisers is any indication, he will not nominate judges that are sympathetic to the left. Also, are we really supposed to expect the man who said that he would veto Medicare for All to appoint judges sympathetic to the left? Is it likely that the supposed author of the Patriot Act would pick judges who would rule government surveillance unconstitutional? Would one of the men with an atrocious record on criminal justice and the war on drugs ever appoint justices who would fight for criminal justice reform and the legalisation of marijuana? Should we believe that the man who told the wealthy that nothing would fundamentally change would appoint judges that would fight income inequality? The answer to all of these questions is a firm 'no', and Biden’s appointees would almost certainly be as bad as any that Trump would appoint.
Trump’s record on social issues is another reason that Democrats expect the left to automatically support Biden. While this might be a slightly stronger argument than Trump and the courts, it certainly is not solid, since Biden’s record on these issues is poor. Take his history on LGBTQ+ issues, for example: he has supported the 'don’t ask, don’t tell' policy in the military until 2010 and voted for the Defence of Marriage Act that prevented the government from recognising same-sex marriages. He is not any better on women’s issues: Tara Reade’s allegations aside, there is an abundance of video footage of Biden at a minimum invading women’s personal space, if not outright groping. Meanwhile, he supported the Hyde amendment, which kept federal tax dollars from going to abortions, and he voted to allow the states to overturn Roe v. Wade. Also, his involvement in the treatment of Anita Hill is a stain that he really has not apologised for.
Finally, a last-ditch approach that Democrats like to use is an appeal to “decency”, or that we must restore the dignity of the Presidential office by electing Biden. While I do not think that any man who is complicit in the murder of innocents can be called “decent” (see Biden’s record on foreign policy above), there are a number of other things that show that Biden is not a decent man. He has smeared an innocent man as a drunk driver, despite the abundance of evidence to the contrary, and he has lied about being arrested in South Africa during apartheid. He has told a worker that he is 'full of shit', touched an activist and told him to 'vote for someone else', sarcastically told a female journalist that she was 'sweetheart' because he didn’t like a question that she asked, called a climate activist a child, and infamously called a young woman a 'lying dog-faced pony soldier.' It’s absurd to think that Biden is somehow a 'decent candidate' as he trades anti-China ads with Trump as hate crimes against Asian Americans rise.
I have a lot of ideological differences with Biden, not all of which are outlined are above. While I am currently planning to vote for the Green Party, I have not entirely ruled out voting for Biden. Of course, he will need to earn my vote. There are a few ways that he could do this. First, he would need to adopt Medicare for All and soften his stance on immigration, policies that the American people are not generally opposed to. If this is too hard for him for whatever reason, he could still win my support by picking a progressive or leftist for his vice president. I would prefer Sanders himself, but I would also be satisfied if he picked Nina Turner or even Tulsi Gabbard, both of which would satisfy Biden’s criteria (they are women), Democrats who value identity politics over all else (they are women of colour), and the American left (both are well-respected by Sanders supporters and the rest of the left). I might even consider supporting him if he picks Elizabeth Warren, although that would push a significant portion of the left further away, given her treatment of Sanders during the primary and after she dropped out. Believe it or not, I would be happy to vote for the Democratic candidate. While I am not keen on compromising more, I realise that the best that the Green Party could possibly hope for is earning that magical 5% support, and I believe that a progressive agenda would be furthered if Biden wins the White House after changing parts of his platform or choosing a leftist as his VP. However, it is clear that neither of those things are likely to happen.
It is clear that the Democratic strategy for this election is to value the support of right-leaning voters more than that of the left, a strategy that curiously protects their corporate interests as well. In fact, there has been recent polling that suggests that a 51% majority of Sanders supporters will not vote for Biden in the general election. So far, the Democratic Party has been gambling on winning the votes of disenfranchised right-wingers at the cost of its leftist wing, as evidenced by their opposition to Justin Amash’s campaign as a libertarian, a campaign that is likely to gain the support of conservatives that are frustrated with Trump. As more and more numbers come out that show the failure of the current strategy, it is clear that the Democratic Party will have to come to the table and actually negotiate with the left if they want to win the election. I do not see them doing this, however; and the Democratic establishment has nobody to blame but themselves if Biden loses because a significant portion of the American left will stay home or vote for the Green Party.
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