No leader or candidate can be flawless. Every politician has shortcomings, be it in their record, policy proposal, character, or insufficient open-mindedness, and the story of American democracy has revealed the truth of this statement. The idea that a leader is perfect is in fact an authoritarian one—to be perfect would mean that they deserve uncompromising loyalty from all.
It has been six months since Senator Bernie Sanders suspended his 2020 presidential campaign. Consequently, former Vice President Joe Biden clinched the Democratic nomination almost one year after jogging up to the podium and kicking off his campaign in front of a Philadelphia crowd. The Democratic nominee has repeatedly asserted that his wake-up call to run was Donald Trump’s claim that there were “Very fine people on both sides” during the violent Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017. Now, Biden is favored to win the presidency. Despite encountering seemingly decisive failures, especially during the New Hampshire primary, the Biden campaign consolidated a coalition of “moderate” voters and eventually soared ahead of Sanders in the delegate count to victory.
Voices across the political spectrum have questioned Biden’s morals and cited his past misdeeds to argue that he is unfit for the position of president. Alice Woo’s claim following Sanders’ withdrawal that Biden and Trump are part of the same elitist circle of politics is misleading. First of all, climate change does not care about elitism. Secondly, it cannot be ignored that Biden has gone through very painful moments in his life and came from humble beginnings, which have defined his politics and persona in the fight for the working class. Although Doug Cobb wrote in response why we must vote for Biden, given the increasingly conservative nature of the Supreme Court, the unrelenting pandemic and a horrendous border control situation (among other issues), he claims, “All progressives should be disappointed with being forced to vote for Biden.” Now realizing the stakes in the midst of the pandemic, climate change and increasingly divisive rhetoric of the president, a growing number of these “never Biden” voices have decided to “settle” and vote for Biden, in a Scylla and Charybdis lesser-of-two-evils approach. I am here to argue, however, that Biden, who is undeniably the current leader of the opposition movement against the first presidential campaign that is “discussing contingency plans to bypass election results,” deserves more of our enthusiasm and optimism rather than attitudes of mere settlement.
Those like our Commander in Chief, who demonizes others, are purposefully exploiting people’s personal frustrations to sow division, but Biden’s ability to unify has played a significant role in his success in the Democratic primaries. Biden repeats, without hesitation, that Americans have more in common than what divides us. He is absolutely right. In fact, a More In Common poll in August reveals that although the percentage of Americans who believe that the country is unified is in the single digits, 94% of respondents said that they want a leader who can bring people together, and 96% said that it’s more important to support a country than a party. People feel a shared recognition of the working class’s importance. A vast majority of people surely do not want to feel compelled to take part in the hostility, and yet the amplification of disinformation on social media and the renewed development of populism and nationalism have encapsulated our society in a new era of stark political division. I firmly believe, and see it within my family and a part of my own community in Brooklyn, that for many Americans it is not their fault that there are elaborate domestic and foreign systems that feed on people’s societal concerns to manipulate them. The ones who are truly not well-intentioned are those who knowingly spread disinformation in an effort to take advantage of disillusionment and cynicism. We should be looking forward to a Biden presidency, where he plans to weed out and stop the spread of false information that is causing these artificial divides between us all.
Biden, unlike Trump, refrains from weaponizing the political “-isms” (capitalism, socialism, fascism, communism, etc.) that have pitted otherwise like-minded people against one another. His campaign has not only been encouraging people to vote for him, but has also been working to help educate people, without fearmongering, on how to vote in the midst of a pandemic. Even while increased voter turnout usually points to an increased likelihood of Democratic victories on a state level, promoting this cherished part of our democracy is always something to applaud. Biden is well-known for his tendency to reach across the aisle to eventually achieve the goals needed in fighting the good fight. He has shown that, despite his lifelong service to the Democratic Party, he doesn’t have the ideological or partisan rigidity that causes many politicians to steer away from practical and conspicuously less dangerous decisions.
Biden has been in public service for 47 years, and there were times when his strategy of reaching across the aisle led to mistakes that continue to haunt him today. Biden worked with two segregationists in the 1970s and 1980s in what he called an era of “civility,” which was also when supporters of segregation held most of the political power. He opposed the notion of non-orderly racial integration and federally mandated busing, one of the key components of racial diversification and equality in education. Biden approached the issue of segregation from a standpoint that was too logistics-focused, short-sighted and out of touch with the Civil Rights movement. His past work with white supremacists got in the way of the uncompromising spirit one must bring to the fight against racial inequality, but Biden has made it clear that as president he would work to end systemic racism throughout the United States. Biden has made it part of his legacy to reach decisions that result in a less hostile country. Bipartisanship can save more lives than congressional inaction. He has demonstrated growth in his acute sense of moral reasoning, ability to listen and passion for justice.
Seven months ago, former Congressional aide Tara Reade alleged that Biden sexually abused her in the spring of 1993. We live in an America that struggles to grapple with allegations of sexual assault, especially when it comes to the narrative of believing all women, and we need to continue having discussions about these kinds of things in order to find an end to the trauma and damage that results from them. Every single allegation, no matter how powerful the potential perpetrator may be, must be taken as seriously as possible. If Tara Reade is telling the truth, then Biden should be ashamed of his actions. Society needs to demand that of him, and what is our aim in doing that? Part of it is, or it should be, a way of helping him realize the damage that he has done, and it is not because we share some kind of strong sanctimony. It is because we choose to go on a path that will protect more women in the future, but a difficult truth we should grapple with is whether or not to forgive someone after a sole grotesque allegation. I believe we should.
Despite being criticized for a reputation of incrementalism in approaching problems, Joe Biden has proven that when deemed necessary, he is determined to press for swift change, as seen in his calls for a national mask mandate and an ambitious plan for the repurposing of American policing, which is geared towards addressing the immediate problem of saving lives and rapidly accelerating the slow-moving progress of police reform. Despite cautious approaches in the past, Biden strongly supports the decriminalization of marijuana, and vows to work for the complete erasure of prior cannabis-related convictions, promote rehabilitation over punishment and push for further research into marijuana’s therapeutic potential with federal funding. Given his slowly increasing support of progressive policies, I think a victorious Biden would eventually support the legalization of marijuana. In addition, he has become a voice for the struggle against systemic racism in policing, wealth inequality, education, voting and climate change, all the while opposing Trump’s aggressive attempts to obscure the reality of each of these being race-related issues.
Biden’s support of the war in Iraq in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks is also a major point of criticism. But what we know now is that he has a plan to concentrate on battling terrorists rather than continuing to be significantly involved in the costly and abiding struggle in Afghanistan. As opposed to a president whose eyes are set on autocracy and capital, Biden vows to finally end military support for Saudi Arabia, which has thrust Yemen into an unimaginable humanitarian crisis and civil war funded by the United States. Coupled with his foreign policy vision and extensive experience as Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman, the prospects for a more humane future seem bright.
There is no doubt that Biden has a complicated past, and there are parts for which he should apologize, but what does it mean when a party nominee with the most progressive agenda in American history is still treated with condescension by a significant number of people who recognize the same fractures in society as he does? Is he really a flat-out racist when he recognizes voting accessibility as a race issue and extended the Voting Rights Act for 25 years, among other historic legislation as senator and Vice President? The point is, Biden is still on the side of racial equality, even if he sometimes mistakes issues of racial inequality with those of pure policy. He doesn’t deserve to be vilified for these kinds of conventional disagreements. Constantly imagining a political spectrum to determine a person’s worth is not a pathway towards progress. He grows, he listens, he accepts, he progresses, and one of his latest moves in doing all of that is choosing Kamala Harris as a running mate, somebody who has confidently and straightforwardly called him out for opposing busing to his face on live television.
Amid the coronavirus pandemic and school closings, people seem to have forgotten the scourge of gun violence and mass shootings. More than 350 students, teachers and staff have fallen victim to school shootings since 2009. Those are 350 lives, and thousands of more people are grieving to this day. In 1994, despite failings and other flaws within the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, Biden’s support helped to secure a 10-year ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines through its passage. Biden has continued to be proactive in proposing legislation for gun control during his vice presidency, leading the Obama Administration’s task force on gun violence. Along with his progressive agenda, a person who has always strived to counteract the National Rifles Association’s incessant hunger for profit and negligence of mass shootings in America deserves our support.
To briefly depart from governmental politics, I find a powerful appreciation for the way in which Biden’s political growth and influence has partially stemmed from the awful experiences that he has had to endure. From the financial difficulties his family faced when he was a child in postwar Scranton, to the once debilitating stutter with which he continues to grapple, to the car crash that killed his wife and daughter, to his brain surgeries, to his son Hunter’s trauma-induced drug addiction, to the death of his son Beau, Biden has developed an ever-growing compassion and awareness that are especially lacking from the incumbent. I was inspired by Biden’s display of assertiveness and fortitude while facing Donald Trump’s insulting comments towards his sons on the debate stage. In response to Trump, Biden faced the camera, looked at the American people, and found common ground with those whose loved ones have suffered from drug use, proclaiming that he is “proud of [his] son” for working on overcoming his addiction. This compassion can be seen in his staunch protection of Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act as a part of his plan to end the opioid crisis. I was also moved by artist Jenny Towns’ opinion piece for NBC News Think, in which she wrote that Biden reminded her of her own father and his help as she continues her own recovery from alcoholism.
I find the lesser of two evils approach, and citing Biden as one of those evils, to be an unfortunate trend among voters within and outside of Vassar. Despite eventually bubbling in “Joe Biden” on the ballot, the lingering lack of hopefulness hurts his campaign. The political system is broken, and some may even argue that it needs to be scrapped entirely, which for them justifies the vilification of Biden. But forgiveness towards someone who is campaigning on promises to triple funds for predominantly low-income schools, expand health care with the eventual goal of making it affordable for every single American, support automatic voter registration, execute an already elaborate plan on mitigating the effects of climate change, continue his battle for greater gun control, protect women’s rights to abortion as an essential health service, renew and bolster cooperation with international bodies to better public health and democratic coalition and pass a national mask mandate to help save as many lives as possible, while also acknowledging that all of these aforementioned issues are disproportionately impacting marginalized communities in America, is a virtue.
A Biden presidency is a promise of warmth. We could have a White House that understands that protesting for justice can be synonymous to love for country. We could have a White House embracing the idea that patriotism does not have to come at the expense of other people’s liberty or pursuit of happiness. We could have a White House that can be seen as more of an ally than a crook. Democracy is more robust when we have a more open mind. In promoting a more just country, it isn’t wrong to dislike Biden for some of the things he stands for or his past. I see him, however, as a candidate whose prospects and way of direction for this country, if not individual merit, should bring a smile to more people’s faces, and maybe even a greater encouragement to spread the word, phone bank or help register friends and family to vote. Active support is not equivalent to a pledge of loyalty. Convince others to bubble in “Joe Biden” to send the message that this is a proud vote to prevent the country from sliding into autocracy, rather than “Ugh, fine.” The fight for a better future is best when fought with enthusiasm and conviction.