Playing Intersectionality Roulette in the Democratic Primary

Former vice president Joe Biden arrives at a rally with striking Stop & Shop workers in Boston, Mass., April 18, 2019. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)
If that’s the game, then neither Biden nor Sanders has much to offer.

NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE J oe Biden is being talked up as not only the man who can beat Donald Trump but also the one who can beat Bernie Sanders, which many Democrats see as the first order of business.

There’s one problem with that: Biden is Bernie Sanders.

Old white guy? Joe Biden has hair plugs that are older than the median Democratic primary voter. Sanders and Biden are a year apart — and both of them are older than Trump. Creaky? Creepy stuff in his history? Dusty northeastern union-hall politics? Check all those boxes. Worst: Sanders and Biden, though they are miles apart in rhetoric, are in many ways a couple of outmoded Teddy Kennedy liberals in a party that wants nothing to do with dinosaurs of that particular species.

Don’t bet the farm on either one of them.

Biden is a weird, handsy phony who has been in political office since before I was born, a mediocrity who topped out as vice president to the most insipid nonentity to occupy the Oval Office since Warren G. Harding — and made him look good by comparison. The first time Biden ran for president, I was in junior high. (Go, Rangers!) He’s a hack, a hapless, feckless lifer whose “Regular Joe on the Amtrak” shtick is a ridiculous joke. He’s shameless, once telling a black audience that Republicans plan to “put y’all back in chains,” affecting a quasi-southern black-ish accent. (Do white people say “y’all” a lot in Scranton?) He apparently had considered launching his presidential campaign in Charlottesville, Va., but someone thought better of it. He cited the violence there as his main reason for running for president — as though he hadn’t been running for decades. He didn’t even have the decency to make a pro forma phone call to the family of Heather Heyer, who was killed on that horrible day in Charlottesville, before cynically instrumentalizing her death. “They capitalize on whatever situation is handy,” said Susan Bro, Heyer’s mother. At least Robert Francis O’Rourke mounts restaurant counters and not tombs.

Is Biden the anti-Sanders? Not really. Sanders, for all his notional radicalism, seems like something new mainly because he is so retro: one part SNCC doofus, one part milquetoast Norman Mailer imitator, which is what all that weird rape-fantasy political porn on his résumé is about — that stuff was fashionable back in the days when the author of The Naked and the Dead was running for office. A cultural creature of the 1970s, Sanders is very much of a piece with the post-LBJ Democratic party: He’s what Howard Dean would be if Howard Dean had grown up on East 26th Street in Brooklyn instead of on Park Avenue.

The old-white-guy thing isn’t working out too well for Sanders. In Houston earlier this week for a cracked festival of progressive inanity called “She the People,” Sanders got read the old-white-guy riot act: Pressed about racial issues, Comrade Muppet started to launch into yet another retelling of the fact that he marched with the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963 — but the crowd shut him down, hooting and laughing at him. “We know!” someone shouted. They’d heard it all before. Sanders, visibly flummoxed, went on to talk up the fact that he’d supported Jesse Jackson’s presidential campaign, and the room responded with, approximately, “Jesse Who?”

The Reverend Jackson’s is a name to conjure with no more.

The Democratic party has reached a generational cleavage. Sanders doesn’t seem like the kind of rascal who would have joined Ted Kennedy and Chris Dodd in whipping up a “waitress sandwich” at La Brasserie — he is a rascal of a different sort — but he’s part of the same generation. He is old and white in a party whose future isn’t. He’s part of the cohort of aging liberals who are still trying to figure out whether they’re supposed to say “transsexual” or “transgender,” not trailblazing in search of that elusive 72nd gender identity.

The politics here should be familiar.

Republicans settled on Donald Trump in 2016 because they wanted a national repudiation of Barack Obama and all he stood for, and Trump was — and is — the social and cultural antithesis of the Obama type. Republicans did not want Democrats to suffer a mere political defeat in 2016 but to suffer a humiliating rejection, and Democrats helped things along by giving the public a very easy candidate to reject. Democrats going into 2020 are where Republicans were going into 2016: They don’t just want Trump out of office — they’re pretty sure (maybe too sure) that they’re going to get that in any case. They want him shamed, they want those around him shamed, and they want the country to make an executive gesture that says, in essence, “Never again.” And replacing Trump with another rich old white guy would not pack the symbolic punch that Democrats want, even if one of them calls himself a socialist from time to time.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has never uttered an original thought in all of her brief public career; she’s only interesting as a point of comparison to the man upon whom Democrats are for the moment fixated: not Biden, not Sanders, but Trump. The lady from the Bronx is too young to run this time around, but Democrats have a lot to choose from: an actual woman of color, a fake “professor of color,” a gay man, a black man, a Hispanic man under 50. What, exactly, does Joe Biden bring to that particular game of intersectionality roulette? Or Bernie Sanders?

Biden probably shouldn’t worry too much about beating Sanders. And Sanders probably shouldn’t worry too much about beating Trump. Anything’s possible in a presidential election, but if the best Joe Biden can say for himself is that he isn’t Bernie Sanders — that he’s the other white meat — he isn’t saying much.

Something to Consider

If you enjoyed this article, we have a proposition for you: Join NRPLUS. Members get all of our content (including the magazine), no paywalls or content meters, an advertising-minimal experience, and unique access to our writers and editors (conference calls, social-media groups, etc.). And importantly, NRPLUS members help keep NR going. Consider it?

If you enjoyed this article, and were stimulated by its contents, we have a proposition for you: Join NRPLUS.

LEARN MORE

Most Popular

Val Demings vs. Susan Rice

The website PredictIt now shows California senator Kamala Harris as the clear frontrunner in the Biden veepstakes, with close to a 50 percent chance of getting the nod. The second most likely Biden VP, according to the site, is Florida congresswoman Val Demings -- who is at 14 percent -- and in third place is ... Read More

Val Demings vs. Susan Rice

The website PredictIt now shows California senator Kamala Harris as the clear frontrunner in the Biden veepstakes, with close to a 50 percent chance of getting the nod. The second most likely Biden VP, according to the site, is Florida congresswoman Val Demings -- who is at 14 percent -- and in third place is ... Read More

The Year of Stupid

It turned out that the novel coronavirus was only the second-most-infectious disease to spread through the U.S. this year. Satan’s Cupcake has, after all, been diagnosed in less than 1 percent of Americans. The not-so-novel imbecility virus is, on the other hand, ravaging the minds of everyone from news ... Read More

The Year of Stupid

It turned out that the novel coronavirus was only the second-most-infectious disease to spread through the U.S. this year. Satan’s Cupcake has, after all, been diagnosed in less than 1 percent of Americans. The not-so-novel imbecility virus is, on the other hand, ravaging the minds of everyone from news ... Read More

What Are Schools For?

In his excellent new book, Charter Schools and Their Enemies (full review forthcoming in National Review) Thomas Sowell advises that it is necessary for us to remind ourselves from time to time of a first truth: “Schools exist for the education of children.” Sometimes, the most obvious truths prove to be ... Read More

What Are Schools For?

In his excellent new book, Charter Schools and Their Enemies (full review forthcoming in National Review) Thomas Sowell advises that it is necessary for us to remind ourselves from time to time of a first truth: “Schools exist for the education of children.” Sometimes, the most obvious truths prove to be ... Read More
U.S.

Individual Actions Matter

On the menu today: an update from a reader who is the head of research for a top-ten U.S. hospital, some really intriguing rumors about retirements at the U.S. Supreme Court, and another batch of stories that don’t fit the preferred “coronavirus is devastating the red states!” narrative. Individual ... Read More
U.S.

Individual Actions Matter

On the menu today: an update from a reader who is the head of research for a top-ten U.S. hospital, some really intriguing rumors about retirements at the U.S. Supreme Court, and another batch of stories that don’t fit the preferred “coronavirus is devastating the red states!” narrative. Individual ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Good Riddance to the Blaine Amendments

It took a century and a half, but the Supreme Court finally rejected the Blaine amendments. The Court’s decision in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue is a victory for religious believers, schoolchildren, poor and working-class parents, and the rule of law. It is a loss only for bigots, militant ... Read More
Law & the Courts

Good Riddance to the Blaine Amendments

It took a century and a half, but the Supreme Court finally rejected the Blaine amendments. The Court’s decision in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue is a victory for religious believers, schoolchildren, poor and working-class parents, and the rule of law. It is a loss only for bigots, militant ... Read More