Biden’s Pyrrhic victory

Yet success in nominating an anti-Sanders and then electing an anti-Trump might come at a higher cost than establishment Democrats realize. Blocking Sanders with Biden is tantamount to writing off the Democratic party’s own youth activist wing. No one Biden could pick as his running mate would have the pull with the left-wing youth that Sanders has. And beating Trump in November will put Democrats in the awkward position of having to govern without the two-chamber congressional majorities and the massive popular mandate that Barack Obama came into office with in 2009. With Congress fully in his party’s hands and with Obama himself notably charismatic and popular, what did the Democratic party achieve? It passed the Affordable Care Act, which became a millstone around the party’s neck in the next two midterm elections — it failed to energize the left, which recognized it as a sellout to the insurance companies, even as it mobilized and unified the right, which had previously been splintered and demoralized by the George W. Bush record. Obama’s signature moves in foreign-policy also failed to improve the political calculus for Democrats: the Iran deal and moves toward diplomatic normalization with Cuba courted a backlash from the right, while Obama failed to use his political capital to close Guantanamo or end the Afghanistan War, as he had promised to the left (and indeed to the whole country).

Obama’s personal popularity covered for the political deficiencies of his agenda — though not well enough for Democrats to keep the House in 2010 or hold onto the Senate in 2014 — but Biden won’t have that going for him. His personality has failed even to excite Democratic primary voters. The New York Times has noted that Bernie Sanders has also fallen short in his promises to bring new voters in the Democratic party: but if Sanders has disappointed, how much more disappointing is the guy who until now has lost to Sanders (and to Buttigieg and Warren, too)?