With Bernie Sanders suspending his presidential campaign on Wednesday, Joe Biden is the last candidate remaining of the twenty-plus who campaigned for the Democratic presidential nomination. The suspense has now ended in a wild primary campaign that began in late 2018.
A President Sanders would have meant a welcome move toward social democracy in the U.S. and support for the vital Green New Deal. There were also reasons to be concerned about Sanders, such as his position on international trade that risked hurting developing countries.
The structural change that Sanders promised, representing a departure from the politics of the Obama-era Democratic Party, excited young people and progressives, and his exit from the race is undoubtedly a disappointment for many. But there are still reasons for progressive optimism. As Jamelle Bouie wrote in his New York Times column on March 11:
If Biden goes on to win the White House, there’s real space for the pro-Sanders left to work its will on policy. It can use its influence to steer Biden toward its preferred outcomes. It can fulfill some of its goals under the cover of Biden’s moderation, from raising the minimum wage nationally to pushing the American health care system closer to single-payer.
Bouie makes the case that this is because Sanders has moved the center of the Democratic Party to the left, and Biden will advance the policies supported by the party’s mainstream.
One question in this presidential election is, quite simply, whether we wish to have a livable planet. While Biden’s climate plan does not match Sanders’, its framing—such as the acknowledgment that “the Green New Deal is a crucial framework for meeting the climate challenges we face”—reflects the success of the climate justice movement in pushing even comparative moderates like Biden toward something resembling a reckoning with the crisis.
Donald Trump has not only failed to take the necessary action to combat climate change, he has done everything in his power to make the crisis worse. Preventing runaway climate change in the small window of time that we have left requires replacing Trump in November. To win climate justice, activists would need to push a Biden administration every day and every hour. There is a serious risk that he would not do enough to prevent catastrophe. But with Biden we would have a fighting chance, and that makes all the difference.