When the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination quickly boiled down to a two-man race, the convenient characterization was that Joe Biden is the moderate while Bernie Sanders is the leftward extremist.
That depiction is true for Sanders, but not so true — at least not so far — for Biden.
According to Frank Bruni, a columnist for The New York Times, Biden is only a moderate by comparison to Sanders. When compared to other recent Democratic presidential nominees, includ-ing Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and John Kerry, the former vice president is definitely running to their left.
To support this observation, Bruni cites as evidence that Biden:
• Says passing a law to protect gays from discrimination would be a top priority of his administration.
• Supports providing health-care benefits to undocumented immigrants.
• Wants to spend $750 billion over the next decade expanding Obamacare; another $750 billion on education; and $1.7 trillion on combating climate change.
• Advocates $3.4 trillion in additional taxes on the wealthy to pay for all this extra spending.
Bruni credits Biden’s leftward shift, as well as the Democratic Party’s as a whole, to the impact of Sanders’ candidacy not just in 2020 but starting in his unsuccessful campaign in 2016.
Sanders has tapped into the so-called progressives in the party, who believe that moderation on the issues cost Democrats the first election against Donald Trump and that they don’t want to go down that road again. Bruni predicts that Sanders’ influence will continue into the party’s summer convention and beyond, even if, as is likely, Sanders again finishes as the runner-up.
It’s typical, however, during a contested primary for candidates to campaign to the ideological wing of their party, rather than the center, since primary voters disproportionately come from the uncompromising extremes. But in a general election, when independent voters enter the mix, the main party nominees gravitate toward more moderate positions in order to woo them. If Biden doesn’t do the same, it would be a surprise.