I don’t know which candidate is the most electable. I don’t know which one would make the better president. I don’t know which one I like more.
Like Cosmo in “Moonstruck,” I don’t know where I’ve been, and I don’t know where I’m going.
Having spent my Super Tuesday voting for Elizabeth Warren—an act of such earthshattering import that she dropped out 36 hours later—I am now left with Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders as the only remaining contenders for the Democratic Party nomination in 2020. And much to my surprise, I find myself in an uncomfortable state of uncertainty about which of those candidates to root for.
I’ve happily voted for both men before: Biden for vice president in 2008 and 2012, and Sanders in the presidential primary in 2016. While I couldn’t quite bring myself to fill in the oval for either of them last week—not Sanders because of his repulsive cult following, not Biden because of his evident cognitive decline—I nonetheless retain great affection for both and, given the alternative, would be entirely comfortable with either as the next leader of the free world.
Accordingly, like the New York Times editorial board earlier in the year, faced with a stark ideological divide between two equally-pitched factions within the Democratic Party, I have decided to come down firmly on both sides. In the battle of ideas between these two feisty septuagenarians and their most rabid fellow travelers, I will stay neutral between now and the convention in July.
Partly, this is out of sheer exhaustion with the whole process. After more than a year of comparison shopping my way through the dozens of would-be challengers to Donald Trump, I have long resigned myself to the fact that the party’s eventual nominee will be a highly imperfect vessel for the values of the American left (such as they are) and that defeating Trump in November will be a monumentally difficult task regardless of who that nominee is.
To my thinking, any Democratic voter who believes his or her preferred candidate is a sure bet in November is necessarily living in a fantasy world, which makes it all the more striking that the respective cores of the Biden and Sanders campaigns have so fully convinced themselves of their own infallibility. Indeed, if there is one thing about which partisans of both would-be standard-bearers agree (albeit with varying intensity), it’s that their own guy is the republic’s One True Savior, while their counterpart is the second coming of George McGovern, fated not just to lose, but to lose in crushing, spectacular fashion.
On the night of November 3, one of those assertions will be proved correct, while the other will remain a mystery forever. Until then, this whole “electability” argument will function as the parlor game that it has always been—unknown and unknowable until it’s too late.
As for the real argument in this contest—the one that asks, “How far to the left is the Democratic Party prepared to go?”—well, that exhausts me, too. While there is simply no way around the fact that Biden and Sanders represent two distinct visions of liberalism and the role of government in our highly unequal and disjointed society, I am as wary as ever that the upcoming three-month intraparty war to resolve that question will ultimately drive a portion of Sanders loyalists into the arms of Donald Trump—or some third party candidate-to-be-named-later—believing, as many of them already do, that in the grand scheme of things, Biden is a fate worse than Trump.
My own view is that Sanders is correct in believing that the wealthiest nation on Earth should be providing more services to (and collecting higher taxes from) its citizens than it currently does, but that Biden—whose own philosophy is similar, if watered-down—better understands how to wield the levers of power to bring that kind of bright, equitable future about.
While it would be nice for Sanders to possess more executive experience and for Biden to harbor more socialistic views, you can’t have everything you want all of the time. Someday Democratic Party voters will understand that. Until they do, they will continue to tear themselves apart, ensuring a photo-finish result on Election Night 2020.
But not to worry: Only the fate of the House, the Senate, the Supreme Court and all of Western civilization hangs in the balance.