The media have made much of the reputed progressive/moderate split in the Democratic Party. The split is real of course, though it must be acknowledged that the entire party has moved left in recent years, so even “moderate” means left-of-center.
After leaving the race for her party’s presidential nomination, Elizabeth Warren said she had been told there were two “lanes” to the nomination: a left-leaning lane occupied by Bernie Sanders and a moderate lane occupied by Joe Biden. Those two lanes have been cleared of all but their original occupants, so it now appears that the Democratic presidential nominee will be either Biden or, less likely, Sanders.
Under Donald Trump, the country has moved toward anti-intellectual (and -scientific) authoritarian cronyism. When the president took office, it was hard to imagine how far from the prevailing political norms the country could be taken in three short years. The United States of 2020 is almost unrecognizable from a vantage point of only a few years ago. Those who did not embrace Trumpism—and the majority of citizens never has—have experienced a kind of political whiplash, a perpetual disorientation from which they seek relief.
The promise of a Joe Biden is a return to a pre-Trump status quo ante, followed by modest movement left. That movement, however, irrespective of which Democrat is in the White House, will be either difficult or impossible if the party cannot retake the Senate or, at the very least, defeat Senator Mitch McConnell. The fear that a Sanders candidacy will create difficulties for down-ticket Democrats is palpable and realistic. It could sabotage the very Democratic Congress needed to support the program of any Democratic president.
Bernie Sanders, on the other hand, seeks immediate and radical change. This presents two problems. First, even with a Democratic Congress, it is unlikely that lawmakers will approve Sanders’ radical agenda. Congress will be reluctant because citizens, having experienced the Trump whiplash, are not ready for being yanked in the opposite direction. For this reason, Sanders is much less likely to become a successful president than Joe Biden. Also, because of his radical agenda, he is less likely than Biden to be elected.
Democrats seem to understand this, and they will likely choose the former vice president as their standard-bearer. He is perhaps not the ideal candidate; he is likely not the candidate that would have been chosen through a better-designed primary process. But, under the present circumstances, Biden is what you get. He’s probably good enough.