In a country whose white inhabitants have only recently begun to realise the extent to which their success depends on marginalising and oppressing Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people, it should come as no surprise that the two candidates on the major ‘progressive’ party’s presidential ticket are also those who, out of all the primary contestants, have done the most damage to those groups of people. The Democratic Party candidates have questionable records in many areas, from sex workers’ rights to (not) regulating Big Tech firms, that many young progressives (some might say leftists) such as myself have come to see as key issues. And yet, I see it as my responsibility, as a progressive person, to vote for these candidates in the upcoming election. As Princess Leia told Obi-Wan Kenobi, “[They] are [our] only hope.”
The first key fact to note is that there is no realistic third option: it is either Biden or Trump. If you vote for a third party candidate in this bizarre winner-takes-all American electoral system, you might as well incinerate your ballot and flush the ashes down a bleach-filled toilet. Third party candidates sometimes act as spoilers, taking votes that would otherwise go to one of the major party candidates, but do they have a chance of winning or enacting their policies? Not in a million years.
Indeed, third parties only benefit from votes in the sense that it may give them publicity, which could attract more donors the next time. Note the ‘may’ and ‘could’. Federal funding for candidates is based on donations, and the bar is incredibly low, so election results don’t come into it. A third-party vote benefits no one.
Even if the third party would benefit from your vote in the long term, the next election is four years away—an inordinate amount of time when our incumbent president consistently tries to blow us up, shoot us, lock us up, drown us (with rising sea levels), sicken us (failing to respond to a global pandemic) or otherwise destroy large swathes of the country. It would be a miracle if our democracy survives another Trump term.
So that leaves us with three options: vote Democrat, vote Republican (please don’t), or throw away our vote (this includes voting for third-party candidates, write-in candidates, not voting at all, etc). If we want to oust the bumbling catastrophe that currently resides in the White House, those options narrow down to one: vote Democrat.
I feel it is necessary to acknowledge the negative aspects of Biden and Harris’s record and present positions before explaining my support for them, just as a doctor has to explain any potential side-effects before prescribing pills.
Firstly, it is important to acknowledge that Biden has faced allegations of sexual assault by Tara Reade (which he denies). I do not feel able to judge their credibility, and it may well be that only he and Reade will ever know what, if anything, happened. When faced with other women’s accusations of inappropriate touching, he did well to acknowledge his mistakes, and take the feedback on board. I don’t applaud him for this basic show of decency: it should be a minimum expectation. Even then, he stopped short of apologising, and the fact remains that it took him too long to realise the impact of his actions. We must also not use whataboutism and try to use Trump’s transgressions to justify Biden’s, or to paint them as less important. There are no excuses or mitigating circumstances here: he did what he did, and we need to take those actions into account.
On the legislative side, Biden was key in dismantling welfare as a public entitlement; he has also failed to apologise for comments which painted Black mothers and communities as the main source of crime. Biden and Harris both have poor criminal justice records: Biden with his key support of the 1994 crime bill that led to harsh prison sentences for nonviolent offenders (disproportionately affecting people of colour), and Harris with her time as district attorney and California’s attorney general (threatening to jail parents with truant kids, refusing clemency to nonviolent offenders, and failing to prosecute police misconduct). Both have recently been supportive of sexuality-related LGBTQ+ rights, especially the right to marry, but Harris’s time as state attorney general saw her put trans women into men’s prisons and refuse them gender affirming care (though she claims she changes those policies behind the scenes). Harris was also a key proponent of SESTA-FOSTA, which aimed to combat sex trafficking but also ended up further marginalising and oppressing sex workers (again, largely trans women and women of colour).
Biden was part of an administration that bailed out the banks after 2008 but also helped (slightly) regulate them; meanwhile, Harris has refused to prosecute large firms, including Big Oil and Big Tech. Both have ties to the private sector, and many of Harris’s associates are part of the “revolving door” between government and the private sector. Neither of them seems to support Medicare For All, but they do support a public health insurance option, which would potentially lead to a system similar to that of Germany (not the worst idea). During the hearings for Clarence Thomas’s nomination to the Supreme Court, Biden (the committee chairman) allowed Republicans to verbally pummel Anita Hill. And not to mention, Biden was part of an administration that did not do nearly enough to combat climate change.
Since his nomination, Biden has tacked left, working with Sanders, Warren, Ocasio-Cortez and the founder of the Sunrise Movement on various economic, healthcare, and climate proposals. This shift is unusual for any nominee, let alone a moderate like Biden. He has shown a willingness to listen to and work with the more progressive wings of the party, a quality that is rare in the Democratic establishment. What remains to be seen is how those changes will work in practice—does he believe in them, or is it all for show? But in the end it doesn’t matter: even if he stands in the political centre, resolutely moderate and incrementalist, he remains our only option.
What’s important to recognise, is that a vote that is not for Biden-Harris is essentially a vote for Trump. That is why the president is trying to cripple the Postal Service and disenfranchise voters—because he knows that the lower the turnout, the better his chance of winning. With such disenfranchisement, Biden will need an incredible amount of support to have any chance at winning. To vote third party or to not vote at all (which, as I’ve said, are essentially equivalent options) is to play into Trump’s hands, and we cannot afford to do that.
For all of Biden and Harris’s faults, they are still light-years ahead of Trump. Especially regarding climate change (where even a fossilised chunk of dinosaur excrement would be more competent than our current president), the fact that Biden and Harris claim to recognise the need for urgent action shows that they are our last hope. We need net carbon neutrality by 2030 to have any hope of mitigating the effects of the climate crisis, and even if Biden doesn’t get us all the way there, his victory would pave the way for progress. On the other hand, four more years of Trump would lead to such environmental and institutional degradation around the world that no future government, no matter how radical, could turn the situation around. A Trump victory would spell certain, irreversible, global disaster.
There is no perfect candidate (at least, none who have a chance of winning this election) but we can’t afford to sulk about it. To have even the faintest chance of avoiding an unprecedented global catastrophe—of which Covid-19 is just a taste—we need to get out and vote. And we need to vote for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris.