Buttigieg is thought of as moderate because he often comes across as soft-spoken, respectful of faith, and willing to listen to other points of view even if the differences between his positions and that of Sanders are not all that major. The same is true for Klobuchar, whose candidacy, at least in the planning stages, seemed to be based on the idea that someone who embodied “Minnesota nice” might be a refreshing alternative to Trump. (At least, it did until former Senate staffers described her as a raging tyrant of a boss.)
Biden’s moderation is a function of his reputation as a glad-handing traditional politician who can make friends with opponents on the other side of the aisle, something that is hard for us to imagine the perpetually angry Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez doing. But given his record for demonizing opponents (such as his 2012 speech to an African-American audience that Republicans would “put y’all back in chains”), this is as much of a misnomer as the attempt to argue that his beliefs on the issues are out of touch with those of the radicals.
The truth about the 2020 Democratic field is that there are no moderates if, by that term, we mean those prepared to appeal to independents and Republicans as candidates who oppose the excesses of their party’s radicals. Nor do any seem capable, let alone willing to repeat, Bill Clinton’s “Sister Souljah moment,” when he established himself as someone prepared to stake out territory in the center of the political spectrum.