Imagine if Another Bernie Sanders Challenges Joe Biden

NPP Pressroom

New York Times
Peter Beinart

To understand why progressives should challenge Joe Biden in the upcoming Democratic presidential primary, remember what happened during the last one.

When Bernie Sanders exited the 2020 race — after winning more than 1,000 delegates — he cashed in his votes for public policy clout. Mr. Sanders’s supporters joined Mr. Biden’s allies in working groups that crafted a common agenda on the economy, education, health care, criminal justice, immigration and climate change. From those task forces came what Barack Obama called “the most progressive platform of any major-party nominee in history.” And that progressivism continued into Mr. Biden’s presidency. One hundred days after he took office, The New York Times concluded that he had “moved leftward with his party, and early in his tenure is driving the biggest expansion of American government in decades.”

By challenging him from the left, Mr. Sanders didn’t only change Mr. Biden’s candidacy. He also made him a better president. But only on domestic policy. There was no joint working group specifically devoted to foreign affairs — and it shows. With rare exceptions, Mr. Biden hasn’t challenged the hawkish conventional wisdom that permeates Washington; he’s embodied it. He’s largely ignored progressives, who, polls suggest, want a fundamentally different approach to the world. And he’ll keep ignoring them until a challenger turns progressive discontent into votes.

Take China. America’s new cold war against Beijing may enjoy bipartisan support in Washington, but it doesn’t enjoy bipartisan support in the United States. According to an April Pew Research Center poll, only 27 percent of Democrats see China as an enemy — roughly half the figure among Republicans. In a December 2021 Chicago Council survey, two-thirds of Republicans — but less than four in 10 Democrats — described limiting China’s global influence as a very important foreign policy goal.

Grass-roots Democratic voters dislike the government in Beijing. But they oppose a new cold war for two key reasons. First, their top foreign policy priorities — according to an April Morning Consult poll — are combating climate change and preventing another pandemic. Treating China as an enemy undermines both. Second, they oppose higher military spending, which a new cold war makes all but inevitable.

But the Biden administration isn’t listening. When Secretary of State Antony Blinken outlined the administration’s China policy in a speech last May, it took him 38 minutes to even mention climate or public health. As the Brookings Institution detailed last November, the growing animosity between the United States and China “pushes solutions to global challenges such as climate change, pandemic crises and nuclear proliferation farther out of reach.”

Mr. Biden isn’t listening to ordinary Democrats on military spending, either. In March, he proposed lavishing more on defense, adjusted for inflation, than the United States did at the height of the last Cold War.

Read the full article in the New York Times.