The case for Bernie Sanders over Joe Biden

After making the case as to why Bernie Sanders is far better than Joe Biden both in terms of policies and likelihood of beating Donald Trump, Nathan J. Robinson tries to understand why the party establishment refuses to accept this. Like me, he is baffled by why the party establishment is uniting behind someone who has all (and more) of the negatives of Hillary Clinton and none of the positives. What makes them think that the “feeble and uninspiring Biden” can bring back the other kinds of swing voters that Ibram X. Kendi identified, those who voted for Barack Obama in 2012 but then either sat out the 2016 election or voted third party?

It is a long article and I have excerpted just a tiny portion below. He begins by explaining why Sanders has a far better chance of beating Trump than Biden, before getting to why it is essential that Sanders be the nominee.

If Trump gets reelected, untold horrors will be released. Unless Sanders prevails, Trump will get reelected. Therefore Sanders must prevail. We must do everything possible to get Sanders the nomination. There is no alternative.

This same reasoning seemed just as obvious to me in 2016, when Democrats didn’t notice that nominating Hillary Clinton was a catastrophic blunder, and proceeded to lose to Donald Trump, ignoring the warnings of people like me and Michael Moore. And when I say I feel like I’m “going crazy,” it’s because it’s really hard for me to believe that after all these years, the lessons have still not been learned. “Oh my God,” I think. “They’re really going to do it again. They’re still not going to nominate Bernie. They’re going to put up another establishment candidate, this time an even weaker one who doesn’t even have the promise of ‘historic change’ that Hillary would have represented.” They’re literally going to fight Bernie to the death, even if it very obviously would result in the suicide of the Democratic Party as an institution.

A crude Marxist analysis, of course, would say that it’s all a matter of class. Ultimately, Sanders is a candidate fighting on behalf of the working-class against a party dominated by rich capitalists and members of the professional-managerial class, all of whom stick together at the end of the day. Bernie poses an existential threat to their power and status, because he thinks Congress should be full of bartenders rather than lawyers and business owners.

Perhaps Democrats trying to stop Bernie really think he can’t beat Trump. As I say, there isn’t really evidence of this, beyond the theory that the word socialism will turn toxic in a way it hasn’t so far. Still, they might be sincere in their error, for all I know. For some of them, however, there is something else: Bernie’s success would discredit and humiliate them. And whether they know it or not, that may be subconsciously affecting how they think about him. Let us say Bernie did beat Trump, and that he did pass Medicare for All, and that it was a success. What would that mean for people like Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton? It would mean that they were wrong when they had not chosen to fight for these things. Completely wrong. In fact, they stood in the way of progress and prevented us from getting things we could have had all along. They “compromised” all of the important values for nothing. They should have been standing with Bernie and instead they were standing against him, creating needless barriers to fundamentally important social changes.

My theory for why some people hate Bernie so much is that Bernie shows them a person they could have been, but found some excuse not to be. They didn’t have to sell out. They could have stood alone, never ceasing to fight against injustice. But they did sell out, and the only consolation they got was that it was the reassurance that they were pragmatic and sensible and smart. What if it wasn’t even that, though? What if it was incredibly dumb? So I’m not surprised they’ll do anything they can to keep Bernie from being the nominee. If left policies and politics turn out to work, to engage people and improve things, people will have spent their life on the wrong side. And it’s probably easier to reelect Trump than to stomach the revelation that you were deeply wrong in a way that caused terrible harm.

Although one should always be cautious of ascribing psychological reasons to the actions of groups of people, I think Robinson is on to something here about the factors playing an important role in why the party and liberal establishment is so against Sanders, in addition to the usual class factors and the selling out for money.

It is terrible to find that you have been on the wrong side of history. It must feel worse that even though you said you agreed with the goals, you actively sought to slow down or even stop the activism of others towards the achievement of those goals because of your belief that your way would be better in the long run, and then later find that you were actually on the wrong side

I am reminded of the “white moderates” who Martin Luther King, Jr. castigated in his 1963 Letter from a Birmingham Jail, who argued against the demonstrations, sit ins, and marches, and said that he was moving too fast and was too confrontational and should be patient because he risked causing violence and alienating white allies.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

Were the white liberals that King was addressing hoping that he would fail in his efforts so that their stance would be proved to be the correct one? How did these people feel later when King did not pause and within just a year or two the methods they deplored resulted in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965?

King then went on to make a prediction that turned out to be extraordinarily accurate.

One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy two year old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: “My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest.” They will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience’ sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

History has always looked more kindly on those who fought for noble causes even if they lost than on those who fought to maintain the status quo.

“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” How true.


  1. Porivil Sorrens says

    It’s simple. The party is led by the same kind of rich oligarchs that lead the republicans. They don’t actually give a shit about social policy, they just care that Sanders threatens their class interests while Biden doesn’t. The rest is all just an aesthetic to them, in order to keep up the illusion that there’s an opposition party.

  2. says

    Like me, he is baffled by why the party establishment is uniting behind someone who has all (and more) of the negatives of Hillary Clinton and none of the positives.

    I’m in no big rush to defend the Democratic Party establishment, but this is not that baffling. Why would the party establishment support a candidate who is against the establishment? Why would they support a candidate who only joins the party when he wants to run for president? (Yes, I know he caucuses with them, but that doesn’t make him a Democrat.)

    Sanders stans keep making the mistake of underestimating how much that means to lifelong Democrats. It’s also ironic considering how many of them attacked Warren for being a Republican at one time.

  3. Mano Singham says


    Not joining the Democratic party and joining the Republican party can mean very different things. The former could be because they do not think the Democratic party truly represents their interests because its actions belie its professed values. The latter means that they agree with the Republican party values.

    Having said that, I think people should not be criticized for changing their positions and even party affiliations over time because people’s values can change.

  4. Steve Cameron says

    Why would they support a candidate who only joins the party when he wants to run for president?

    They were willing to support Bloomberg, a former Republican, so the only legit question is

    Why would the party establishment support a candidate who is against the establishment?

    That’s the needle the Sanders campaign is going to have to thread, like Ezra Klein wrote about yesterday. Sanders has to make an ally of the party establishment if he’s going to have a chance. And if the party’s going to have a chance. (Unless — and this is a longshot — Biden selects Warren as his running mate; then they might have a chance.)

  5. Porivil Sorrens says

    I largely agree with Mano. The only time I tend to mention Warren’s party-switch is when people try to make the case that Sanders’ commitment to progressive values is some recent cynical political decision.

    By and large, I consider Warren’s party-switch to be a completely aesthetic reason to dislike her. I find her policies to be concession-riddled half measures and I think she’s overly-willing to bargain with Republicans when they have time and time again demonstrated themselves to be actual fascists that will happily stonewall anything that even slightly improves the quality of life if it comes from a democrat.

    If she didn’t do that, I wouldn’t really have any problem with her.

  6. Steve Cameron says

    Ha, that first quote above should have been :

    Why would they support a candidate who only joins the party when he wants to run for president?

    (Stupid copy/paste!)

    [Steve: I corrected the above post of yours as indicated here to avoid baffling other readers. I read it several times trying to understand it before getting to this one! -MS]

  7. lanir says

    I agree that nobody wants to have their personal narrative rewritten so that they go from a champion of values on the right side of history to a wet blanket betraying the values they supposedly held by fighting for them weakly. But I think there’s plenty of wiggle room for anyone involved. They will just say that it was a different time. They will, in fact, take credit for pushing the converstion forward so that later more progress could be made. They’ll even say things could have gone better, farther if only their model had been followed. In short, they’ll take credit for every positive result whether they stood in the way of it or not.

    It is nearly impossible to convince someone to stop being the hero in their own lives. Even people fighting directly against progress will say they agree with the goal but think the implementation is problematic.

  8. deepak shetty says

    Nathan J. Robinson tries to understand why the party establishment refuses to accept this. Like me, he is baffled by why the party establishment is uniting behind someone who has all (and more) of the negatives of Hillary Clinton

    I believe this misses the point. Why are so many registered Democrats willing to vote for Biden and not Sanders in a primary is key to this problem. Why do so many African Americans prefer Biden over Sanders , even though Sanders should be preferred by far for anyone who belongs to the poor or working class and so on.
    Why does the Party establishment prefers Biden is an easy answer. For people like me that the Democratic primary should have been Sanders v/s Warren with the loser getting VP is a no brainer but the rest of the population doesnt think that way.

  9. says

    So much to say and so many good comments! Perhaps I’ll start with addressing deepak shetty’s comment/question, “Why do so many African Americans prefer Biden over Sanders.”
    A friend of mine posted an article from The Nation that may nail it:

    [Biden’s] support is buttressed by chunks of the black community who have determined that most white people are selfish and cannot be trusted to do the right thing. They believe if you make white people choose between their money and their morality—between candidates like Sanders or Elizabeth Warren (who somehow finished fifth in South Carolina, behind Pete Buttigieg) and candidates like Biden and Michael Bloomberg—they will choose their money every time and twice on Election Day.

    That is perhaps to say they fear that white moderate King complained about has too much power in determining the outcome of an election.

    Otherwise, I, like many others have already done, must point out that it is not baffling why people who have been told they are the problem and the enemy won’t ally with Bernie. It’s actually pretty obvious. Speaking to another question of deepak shetty’s of why so many registered Democrats are voting for Biden, I must note we have a Purity Police problem. (Which also overlaps a lot with the BernieBro problem.) I think Jelani Cobb summed it up well here: “One of the most off-putting traits I’ve noticed within the Sanders movement is the presumption that only they are acting in good faith and altruism. No one else can be sincere and concerned about others while supporting another candidate. It’s been a bad look.” Being condescending toward people is not a good way to get them on your side and there has been way too much of that from so-called progressives.

  10. Steve Cameron says

    Thanks for fixing that mistake on #4, Mano! I felt so stupid because I always preview posts with quotes to make sure I got the code right. The code was right, sure, just not the quote, lol! If only we could edit our own comments (but I imagine that could lead to all sorts of mischief).

  11. machintelligence says

    At considerable risk of being branded a cynic, I think there are two negatives that Biden lacks Compared to Clinton.
    1. He isn’t female.
    2. His name isn’t Clinton.
    In his favor, if he is the Democratic candidate, Trump will likely refuse to debate him. Remember how he handled Paul Ryan in the Vice presidential debate.
    I voted for Sanders, but I can live with Biden.
    First defeat Trump.

  12. Mano Singham says

    machineintelligence @#11,

    I am not sure that those two things are negatives. Sure there is a lot of sexism out there but the kinds of people who would not vote for a woman because she is a woman are not likely to vote for a Democrat. On the other hand, the chance of electing the first female president would excite a lot of people, the way that the chance of electing a black president enthused people to vote for Obama. I disliked Clinton for her policies but I did like the fact that by voting for her I would be helping to elect a woman as president. I am sure I was not alone in feeling this way.

    Also her name I think helped because name recognition plays a big role. The Clintons have been prominent in politics for decades and people recognized the name even if they were hazy on what she stood for.

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