As it becomes apparent that former Vice-President Joe Biden has more than the 270 electoral votes needed to become the next president, the political left—nominally embodied by the Democratic party—will cheer, celebrate, and cast predictions for good things to come.
But even for the Democrats, and certainly for true progressives in this country, too much uncertainty lies ahead for our nation to claim a true victory.
For the second consecutive presidential election, our country finds itself with a president-elect that reflects the limits and flaws inherent in the only two-party system of the world’s industrialized democracies.
For different reasons, the Democratic and Republican parties have failed their members and our democracy as a whole by producing in 2016 and 2020 winning candidates who belie the depth, insight, expertise, accomplishment, and leadership of the rich fields of primary candidates from which they emerged.
And in the current instance, Joe Biden’s nomination last summer constituted an unfortunate compromise of the ideals that Democrats claim to represent in American politics.
To be sure, President-elect Biden has had an illustrious, accomplished career in public service. He has achieved for our democracy far more than the vast majority of Americans can ever hope to attempt.
Nevertheless, he belongs to a train of high-profile Democrats who over the decades needed time to evolve on critical progressive imperatives—same-sex marriage and school bussing for the purpose of racial integration, to name but two. Regrettably, in this context, evolving means waiting until political expedience catches up to one’s conscience. This is the opposite of leadership.
Pragmatism, however, appeared to be the order of the day for this election. The Democratic party sought to nominate a candidate who could unseat President Trump. With due respect to differences many have with the president, the personalized agenda served only to lower standards for the Democratic party as a political entity, as well as for our nation as a whole.
Joe Biden can look proudly back on a list of accomplishments that has on balance benefitted this nation, but in doing so he gazes through a distance of years and the haze of setbacks his party helped to create. His selection as a candidate from a pack that included diverse, intelligent, proven leaders whose forward momentum continues to hold such promise only indicates yet another failure of a simplified, binary American party system.
In the midst of this, we can savor one significant yet long-overdue advance—the election of the first vice-president who happens not to be male and white. But even as we mark this important moment, the attacks Vice-President-elect Harris has suffered for daring to have had a romantic life that once involved a powerful man only shows us the challenges that remain for women as they continue their endeavor to claim their share of opportunities to contribute as leaders.
And, lest we forget, this election has reminded us vividly of the deep, venomous divisions that pervade our culture. For progressives, this may be a time for relief, but it is far too soon to celebrate. All Americans must first look to our leaders to help bring about a meaningful cause for celebration. We can all do our part by setting aside the toxic contempt that pervades political thought and discourse–on both sides of the binary ideological divide.
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