Last week, Joe Biden formally accepted the Democratic nomination for the presidential race during the Democratic National Convention. The DNC was a huge virtual stage for the party and had fairly good viewership.
Among the speakers were conservatives like John Kasich and progressives like Bernie Sanders and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. Even with these opposing voices endorsing him, Biden has remained stubbornly moderate.
Speaking to reporters, Biden this week confided that he feared ideological backlash from Sanders after the Democratic primary. Sanders’ campaign was far to the left of Biden’s, with a forceful emphasis on policies like Medicare for All and a Green New Deal.
The independent senator from Vermont ran a campaign that was overwhelmingly popular with younger voters. However, Biden surged ahead of Sanders in South Carolina in February before overtaking him in sworn delegates.
Despite the pressure from both his left and his right, Biden has remained a middle-of-the-road politician. Throughout his long career in politics, Biden has remained open to compromise.
This has been maddening for both progressives within his party and opponents across the aisle. Donald Trump has sought to paint Biden as a “puppet” of the progressive wing of the party. However, progressives themselves think Biden is too far to the right.
Meanwhile, progressives have sought to tie Biden to their policy goals, like the Green New Deal. Medicare for All has also been a major focus of progressive newcomers to the party and longtime Democratic Socialist Sanders. Biden, however, refuses to commit to these policies. Instead, he assures his progressive allies that he’s “open to discussion” and “listening”.
This middle-of-the-road strategy has been effective. Trump has been unable to pin Biden with any of his usual nicknames or stigmas. “Crooked Hillary” painted 2016’s candidate, Hillary Clinton, as a criminal under investigation. “Sleepy Joe,” meanwhile, has rung hollow, as Biden has been candidly seen riding his bike and speaking with supporters. The claims that Biden is some kind of closet socialist have not borne out, thanks to both Biden’s voting history and his current statements.
In truth, Biden seems to be doing the impossible: he’s walking a political tightrope during one of the most partisan eras in American history. Measuring the demands of critics to the left and right, Biden has been noncommittal and forceful enough to be most things to most people. Whether that strategy will pay off for him in November, of course, remains to be seen.