With a nationwide panic underway due to the spread of COVID-19 and the unveiling of our evidently unreliable neoliberal infrastructure that commodifies basic human needs, I kicked back to watch the 11th Democratic debate of the 2020 campaign season: Biden vs. Sanders.
As the battle began, I wondered how these current realities would impact the dynamics of the debate. For instance, Sanders advocates unconditional coverage for all Americans through Medicare for All, while Biden’s plan would leave around 10 million uninsured, resulting in at least 125,000 unnecessary deaths in the first decade. Would Biden change his rhetoric — if not his actual policy — regarding healthcare as a human right?
In all, the debate turned out to be captivating, frustrating, stress-inducing, and even entertaining.
But what was I actually surprised about regarding this debate? I wasn’t surprised that Biden constantly lied about his decades of pro-war, anti-worker legislation, or his opposition to reproductive rights. I wasn’t surprised he used right-wing lies to discredit Medicare for All. Joe Biden lies all the time. He has even been caught plagiarizing!
And I wasn’t surprised that the moderators attempted to smear Bernie Sanders as a dictator-loving communist — the mainstream corporate news media has consistently used myriad vitriolic and disingenuous tactics to discredit the current Sanders campaign, as well as his 2016 run (I’ve already covered the aforementioned Cuba-based smear).
However, there were two aspects of the debate that surprised me. First of all, I was pleasantly surprised by the extent to which Sanders was able to forcefully contrast his own history with that of Joseph R. Biden. As I’ve attempted to show, Biden has an abysmal political record, which is why he often lies about it. He opposed racial integration, supported NAFTA, supported the Iraq War, championed the 2005 bankruptcy bill, advocated Social Security cuts, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Sanders, on the other hand, has overwhelmingly been on the right side of history regarding such issues. Although Bernie’s performance certainly could have been stronger, I thought he did a decent job comparing the records of the only two remaining Democratic contenders for president.
The second element of this debate that surprised me was the wherewithal Joe Biden had to advocate robust measures in order to “make people whole” during this specific coronavirus pandemic while heavily implying that the day-to-day struggles of millions of Americans should not be considered a “crisis.” This grim existence under the neoliberal reality Biden helped create includes almost 80% of American workers living paycheck-to-paycheck, 35,000 Americans dying each year due to lack of access to healthcare, 500,000 Americans being bankrupted by medical bills each year, and 44% of Americans finding themselves unable to afford a $400 emergency.
It includes about 40,000 senior citizens having their Social Security benefits garnished annually and 45 million Americans being burdened with a cumulative $1.6 trillion in student loan debt. It even includes Americans taking Ubers to emergency rooms instead of ambulances and traveling to Canada to buy the insulin they can’t afford here (because it is ten times the cost).
And here the former vice president is, essentially telling us to shut up and deal with this oligarchic dystopia as long as there’s not a pandemic. Politicians need to earn my support. If Joe Biden doesn’t care about my well-being or the well-being of millions of other struggling Americans, I can only assume he doesn’t care about getting my vote.