The problem with #SettleForBiden

Joe Biden speaking at a campaign event in August. (Photo via Flickr)

Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.

In his speech at the Republican National Convention in August, Vice President Mike Pence referred to former Vice President Joe Biden as “a Trojan horse for the radical left,” a quote other administration officials, including the president himself, reiterated. This line of argument was one of the more interesting approaches used during last month’s convention, in part because of its juxtaposition with the attacks on Biden’s record on issues like criminal justice reform. More importantly, this imagery suggests a Biden administration would bring about much more progressive policies than his campaign has indicated, a proposition some of my more progressive friends would look at with skepticism.  

The reality is, for many young liberals, the prospect of a Biden administration has generated much more apathy than excitement. Biden was not the first choice among younger voters in the primary; he was vastly outperformed by Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. The reluctant acceptance of Biden as a presidential candidate has become a movement in and of itself, with “Settle for Biden” as a common refrain on both Twitter and Instagram. 

This hashtag represents disaffected progressives’ attempt to muster support for a candidate they truly wish were someone else. The official website for Settle for Biden argues that, although Biden is a flawed candidate, the prospect of four more years of Trump is incalculably worse. This argument may prevent some from taking on a “Bernie or bust” approach like they did in 2016 — but in terms of strategy, it presents a deeply flawed way of looking at presidential elections that could just as easily be applied to the other side. 

The first mistake the Settle for Biden argument makes is that it separates Joe Biden, the person, from what a Joe Biden administration would look like on policy. For many that will begrudgingly vote for Biden, he is likely only a placeholder for what they hope will be a different path for our country. This may work as an attempt to rationalize one’s support for Biden, but upon further examination, this kind of internal bargain is hardly different from those who begrudgingly support our current president. 

Pro-life voters, moderate conservatives and members of the white working class were faced with a similar dilemma in 2016: a deeply-flawed candidate with policies they support. By presenting a vote for Biden as a comparable situation, you are legitimizing a kind of dangerous thought process that has gotten us to where we are now. 

This brings me to a related point, one that was just as relevant in 2016: No one wants to vote for the lesser of two evils. There’s no question that Biden is not a particularly energizing candidate, but this alone does not mean he should be portrayed to voters as an unfortunate best option. In this way, the #SettleforBiden argument fails to appeal to the genuine desire of people to feel good about who they vote for, even if they aren’t particularly motivated. 

Any successful argument in favor of Joe Biden begins by inserting character back into the conversation about what it means to be president. It doesn’t involve white-washing Biden’s past, but it puts his mistakes as a politician into context as someone who has been a public servant for nearly half a century. 

This kind of argument would be especially effective among independents and moderates, who are typically less ideological. If younger progressives want to provide a distinguishable argument in this upcoming election, they can begin by portraying a more positive image of their candidate — and presenting a choice that voters can be proud to make. 

Evan Crum is a junior government and politics and psychology major. He can be reached at ecrum42@umd.edu.

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