The Data Is Clear: Progressives Should Boycott Biden

Good thing that he was surrounded by Secret Service': Joe Biden ...

            Once again the Democratic Party is asking progressives to vote for a presidential nominee who says he disagrees with them about every major issue. This is presented as an offer they cannot refuse. If they cast a protest vote for a third-party candidate like the unionist and environmentalist Howie Hawkins of the Greens or stay home on that key Tuesday in November, Donald Trump will win a second term—which would be worse than Biden’s first.

            Which is better for the progressive movement? Fall into the “two party trap” and vote for Biden, or refuse to be coopted and possibly increase Trump’s reelection chances?

            My new book Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party documents the last half-century of struggle between the party’s left-leaning voters and its right-leaning leadership class. History is clear. When progressive voters compromised their values by supporting corporatist candidates, they were ignored after the election. Only when they boycotted a general election did the DNC start to take them seriously.

            Throughout the 1980s party bigwigs manipulated the primaries in favor of establishment corporatist candidates over insurgent progressives: Jimmy Carter over Ted Kennedy in 1980, Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis over Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988. Democrats were united but unenthused; all three lost.

            Jimmy Carter won once, and Bill Clinton and Barack Obama each won two terms, all three with progressive support. Democratic victories didn’t help progressives.

Most people have forgotten that Carter was the first of a string of conservative Democratic presidents. He brought back draft registration. The “Reagan” defense buildup actually began under Carter, as Reagan himself acknowledged. Carter provoked the Tehran hostage crisis by admitting the despotic Shah to the U.S., boycotted the Moscow Olympics and armed the Afghan mujahdeen who morphed into Al Qaeda.

            Carter became the first president since FDR not to propose an anti-poverty program. Instead, he pushed a right-wing idea, “workfare.”

            Progressives got nothing in return for their votes for Jimmy Carter.

            Like Carter, Clinton and Obama governed as foreign policy hawks while ignoring pressing domestic issues like rising income and wealth inequality. Clinton pushed through the now-disgraced 1994 crime bill that accelerated mass incarceration of people of color, signed the North American Free Trade Agreement that gutted the Rust Belt and sent hundreds of thousands of jobs overseas, and ended “welfare as we know it,” massively increasing homelessness. Obama bailed out Wall Street while ignoring Main Street, smashed the Occupy Wall Street movement and supported Al Qaeda affiliates that destroyed Libya and Syria.

            There was only one arguably progressive policy achievement over those 16 years: the Affordable Care Act, which originated in the bowels of the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank.

            Progressives kept holding their noses and voting for Democrats. Democrats took them for granted. Democrats didn’t push to increase the minimum wage. They watched silently as generation after generation succumbed to student loan debt. As the earth kept burning, they hardly lifted a finger to help the environment except for symbolic actions like Obama’s fuel efficiency regulations, which required less than automakers were doing by themselves.

            Personnel, they say in D.C., is policy. Clinton had one progressive in his cabinet for his first term, Labor Secretary Robert Reich. Obama had none. Citigroup chose his cabinet.

            After the defeat of Bernie Sanders in 2016, progressives tried something new. Millions of disgruntled Sanders primary voters either stayed home, voted for Trump or cast votes for third-party candidates like Jill Stein. Hillary Clinton, who was so sure she could take progressives for granted that she put Sanders at 39th on her list of vice presidential picks, was denied her presumptive shoo-in victory. (Don’t blame Stein. Adding all of her votes to the Hillary Clinton column would not have changed the result.)

            Three years later, something remarkable happened. Most presidential hopefuls in the 2020 Democratic primary campaign emerged from the centrist corporatist wing of the Democratic Party yet felt pressured to endorse important progressive policy ideas. Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg and even Michael Bloomberg came out in favor of a $15-an-hour minimum wage. Most of the mainstream candidates proposed some sort of student loan forgiveness and Medicare For All. Nearly all support a Green New Deal.

            What forced the Democratic Party to shift left after decades of moving to the right? Fear that progressives will withhold their votes this coming November. After years of empty threats from progressives, the November 2016 voter boycott proved they wouldn’t sell their votes without getting something in return.

            The answer to the question, what should progressives do, is easy in the long term. Progressives should boycott Democratic candidates who don’t credibly pledge to support progressive policies. Biden says he would veto Medicare For All. He opposes a Green New Deal as well as student loan forgiveness. He is hawkish on Russia and Venezuela. He doesn’t want your vote. Why give it to him for free?

            The trouble is, every election is also about the short term. Progressive voters have to game out the next four years.

            If Trump wins, he may have the opportunity to appoint another Supreme Court justice. He will certainly appoint more federal judges. He will continue to coddle hate groups and spew lies. Many of the weak and vulnerable will suffer. On the other hand, activism will be sustained. Resistance and possibly even revolutionary change may emerge. Trump will be a lame duck likely wallowing in scandal; very few presidents get much if anything done during their second terms.

            If Biden wins, his Supreme Court picks may not be significantly more to the left then Trump’s. He is likelier than Trump, who shows restraint on interventionism and ended the occupation of Afghanistan, to start a new war. Big problems will get small solutions or none at all. Streets will be quiet. If there are any demonstrations, for instance by Black Lives Matter, his Department of Homeland Security will suppress it as Obama did to Occupy. As under Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the left will go back to sleep. Progressives will watch Biden appoint one corporatist cabinet member after another as their dreams of making the country a better place fade away.

            And in 2024, we will again face a choice between a rabid right-wing Republican and a wimpy sell-out Democrat. This election, Democrats will say as they always do, is too important for ideological purity. Progressives should wait until some future election when less hangs in the balance. Perhaps in 2028? Maybe 2032? 2036?

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)



  • “Trump will be a lame duck likely wallowing in scandal; very few presidents get much if anything done during their second terms”

    This is the most significant – and fatal – flaw in this argument, belied by the staggering amount of damage that Trump/GOP have inflicted on the US (and the world) – in less than 4 years. And the rate of damage is _accelerating_. The argument above, relies on the constraints (ex: “norms”) that are _ignored_ by Trump/GOP.

  • alex_the_tired
    July 1, 2020 6:15 PM

    My only big disagreement is the notion of the short-term v. long-term. I hold that this is a false binary.
    Almost no situation in my personal life could not have been made more manageable or more easily attainable by taking a long-term approach. And almost all of my worse decisions were short-term fixes. In that regard, voting against the democrat on the ballot is actually a better long-term approach.

    If Trump wins, he will almost certainly have the opportunity to appoint three more Supreme Court candidates: Ginsburg, Breyer, and Thomas (who will probably retire within the next four years).
    As you point out, the choices that, um, Biden will be told to make by his owners (more likely, Biden’s veep will be the one told what to say when she ascends haphazardly to a wholly unimpressive presidency roughly equal to the wholly unimpressive presidency of Barack Obama) will be barely to the left of those Trump makes.

    All of Biden’s veep’s decisions and appointments will be weak-ass push-it-around-the-plate compromises made to appease the Republican minorities that will control the House and Senate.

    Under Trump, resentment will continue. BLM is just the beginning of the bubbling on the edges of the pot. The evictions to come will increase the resentment. The (at least) decade of rampant unemployment will also add to the general anger, especially as the freshly minted graduates discover they’re fighting knives-out for entry-level jobs and there are no more retail jobs to go to anymore.

  • Perhaps the most important question – which for some reason, you omit, Ted – is which of these two is the more likely to start a shooting war with China. The answer, alas, seems to be : Both. There may not be an election 2024….


  • Beach Watcher
    July 2, 2020 6:56 AM

    The nut is “personnel is policy.” Biden can put together a competent cabinet that won’t turn over ever couple months. He also knows how to talk to world leaders without being an insulting embarrassment. We’re not coronating a king, we’re picking the top civil servant to hire a staff that knows what the !@# they are doing.

  • alex_the_tired
    July 2, 2020 10:21 AM

    Well, I’m even more certain now than before. Biden’s gonna lose. Who knew gestalt principles would be so relevant? You’ve got voter suppression; the meh factor around, um, Biden; the June jobs report which shows a V-shaped recovery is, somehow, forming (cue the dems-as-Talosians talking to a weak economy-Christopher Pike: “You were our only hope”); and Ghislaine Maxwell’s arrest (which probably means a lot of higher-end democratic names are gonna come tumbling out before the election, adding to the collective meh).
    BLM is going to, by necessity, eventually have to turn to a judgment on Joe Biden’s long anti-black history, and that will further weaken the candidate.
    My God. Trump with a dem-majority House and Senate. He’ll be unstoppable.

    • Ghislaine Maxwell knows much of what Jeffrey Epstein knew and so she won’t be naming too many names being that she is now scheduled for an emergency imposed suicide.

      • alex_the_tired
        July 2, 2020 9:08 PM

        I keep wondering if she was arrested or if she turned herself in. If she was arrested, I fully expect her to die in custody. If she turned herself in, then she has given copies of some of her evidence to several different lawyers and a few (ha ha) friends. She will probably barter a full confession of all of Epstein’s perverts (and the evidence) for full immunity (and get it).
        If she has any evidence on Trump, she’s going to withhold it to get him to pardon her. She is facing only federal crimes, no?

      • Ms Maxxwell would be advised to have several copies of that list of names available for immediate publication should anything untoward happen to her. And she’d be wise to book a suite in another hotel than the Metropolitan Correctional Centre…. 😉


  • The best reason to vote for Biden is to save us from the total right wing takeover of the Supreme Court. Many men don’t seem to care all that much about protecting abortion rights. Roe v Wade is almost gutted by a thousand cuts, despite the ruling that you cannot impose an undue burden on women seeking abortion(see waiting periods, state restrictions supposedly to protect womens health need I go on?).
    I’ve concluded that women need to form groups to learn how to do safe medication abortions underground.
    We need to look at short term vs. long term as one of the commenters here wrote, but with the caveat we have to organize a revolution locally instead to start the long process. We can’t expect to elect a real progressive president yet. But now is not the time to allow Trump more time in office.

    • Democrats are not allowed by Republicans to have Supreme Court nominees confirmed, a precedent set by the meek response of the Obama administration, who placidly accepted the Republican terms of “no Democrat nominees in the last year of a term” which will soon be extended to “no Democrat nominees in the entirety a first term”.

      Republican function is to roll back rights and Democrat function is to conserve Republican encroachments on rights.

      Democrats haven’t rolled back Republican encroachments for decades.

      The question is What is the meaning of “underground” in a hyper-surveillance culture of Total Information Awareness?

      I never bought the argument that abortion is not protected by the Fourth Amendment: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…”

      How is a law prohibiting abortion NOT a violation of personal security?

      Capitalist government wants the proletariat to produce an excess of workers so that there will be more competition for fewer jobs, thus driving wages down and profits up.

      Republicans care no more about children (born and unborn) than Lincoln cared about slaves when he “freed” them. The Civil War was NOT for the benefit of slaves but for the benefit of Northern industrialist expansion.

      • Yes, it seems like the mainstream will not entertain the thought that we have so few abortion rights because of the need for surplus labor, as our corporate overlords deem.

      • «… we have so few abortion rights because of the need for surplus labor, as our corporate overlords deem.» Quite frankly, No, I doubt that the need for a surplus unskilled labour reserve is the motivation behind this particular Kulturkampf. (The leaders of) neither side care, as Glenn pointed out above, very much for the rights of children (this is not to say that such rights are not a great device with which to whip their supporters into a frenzy) – just as neither «Democrats» not «Republicans» have shown themselves to care very much about the «religious rights» of Muslims, in the event these can not be used as an excuse to bash the bad guys….

        But then, on the other hand, I’m an old cynic, who never takes things at face value….


      • alex_the_tired
        July 4, 2020 5:23 PM

        The reason for antiabortion laws is simple and unites both church and state. It is more clearly grasped by consideration of a rule of combat: don’t shoot to kill.
        In the field, during a battle, if you can shoot one of the enemy in, say, the stomach, you will, at a minimum, force at least one other soldier to tend to him. If you are lucky, you’ll cause two other soldiers to stop fighting to tend to their fallen comrade. It is, in the long term, the better strategy than outright killing of a soldier via a headshot.
        With antiabortion laws and policies, not only is the woman sidelined, but, via alimony, child support, moral obligations that some men feel, etc., so is the man. That one child effectively sidelines up to as many as two people from fighting the system. Also, the church needs replacements and almost all of them come from current membership.

  • And Jenny Brown in her book Birth Strike pointed out Pres. Obama blocked medication abortion easier access. I am reading the Political Suicide book and really do agree with Ted’s analysis, more lame ass Democrats getting nominated for President. The book reminds us this lame direction has been going on for over 50 years.

  • Re: “What forced the Democratic Party to shift left after decades of moving to the right?”

    Sorry, having the likes of the passengers of the 2020 Dem Kandidate Klown Kar mouth progressive issues is NOT shifting to the left if wildly popular Sanders, too, is in the race but Joe (“only the $10k-per-plate donors like him”) Biden becomes the nominee. Progressive talk was mimicked simply to take votes away from Sanders. It was essentially the fake populism that His Hairness used to get elected.

    It’s just more contemptuous manipulation of registered Democrat rank-and-file. It’s insultingly less of an atrociously empty “victory” as that in 2016 when Sanders was afforded “great” influence in drafting the totally meaningless party platform.

    Progressives shouldn’t merely boycott Biden, they should re-register in some other party. “Then they lose their leverage,” you say. I say, “what fucking leverage, exactly, is that?”

    There is talk of Jesse Ventura making a third party run.

    • Jesse Ventura is appealing to me.

      He put his name to a couple of books that really rip the Duopoly.

      I’d love to see the Duopoly roll in the mud dished out to them by a Ventura in contention.

  • My problem with all of this is that whoever wins this election will inherit a collapsed economy, a pandemic and our international relations destroyed. Not to mention millions of homeless after the rents all come due and millions more unable to pay mortgages as their jobs have been vaporized, never to return.
    Whoever wins will likely be blamed as it worsens, their party crushed in the interim elections two years later. Trump could easily finish destroying the country for two more years but he will definitely destroy the republican party. Biden winning will be the end of corporate democrats but possibly the end of that party. Either way we are screwed.

    • “Either way we are screwed.”

      I agree, we are screwed.

      I don’t see any easy (by that I mean electoral means) to rid ourselves of BOTH parties at the same time.

      The parties themselves should not be party-hood gatekeepers, making rules of what parties can be on a ballot.

      The present system is a corrupt self-dealing duopoly placing obstacles to party-hood by serving their own interest actually the people’s interest only rhetorically.

      Looks like we’re stuck with these bloodsuckers until some disaster (natural or otherwise) takes these assholes off of their pedestals.

      Up with democracy, down with oligarchy.

    • Indeed. I prefer Biden getting elected so the corporate Dems can collapse. Trump and his followers will collapse no matter the outcome.