Pollak: Is There Any Difference Left Between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders?

Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders (Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty)
Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty

Joe Biden has begun sounding like Bernie Sanders.

Not only does the Biden-Sanders “Unity” Platform propose many of the same ideas Sanders campaigned on — even lifting language directly from the Sanders website — but Biden himself has begun using the same radical left-wing buzzwords that Sanders used in his campaign stump speeches.

For example:

  • May 4: Biden calls coronavirus an “incredible opportunity … to fundamentally transform the country”
  • May 11: Biden says America needs “revolutionary institutional changes”
  • June 2: Biden calls for America to deal with “systemic racism”
  • July 4: Biden promises to “transform” America and “rip the roots of systemic racism out of this country”
  • July 9: Biden vows an “end to the era of shareholder capitalism”
  • July 13: Biden promises “systemic” and “institutional” changes
  • July 28: Biden promises to be “one of the most progressive presidents in U.S. history”

The Washington Post noted the change in June, noting that Biden had once promised “nothing would fundamentally change” and said the country was “looking for results, not a revolution,” but had since completely changed his tone.

And Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), the antisemitic “democratic socialist” member of the far-left “Squad,” who campaigned hard for Sanders to the end of the primary, endorsed Biden this week, saying the left “had an opportunity to move his platform to be more progressive, the most progressive platform a president [sic] has ever run on on the Democratic side.”

On Friday, former congressman Phil Gramm noted in the Wall Street Journal that Biden had taken a hard left turn since securing his party’s nomination, adopting the socialist agenda of former rivals Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. As a result, Gramm said, the election was no longer a referendum on Trump, but a referendum on the survival of America.

When I tweeted the article on Friday morning, it received an immediate pushback from liberal writer Gary Legum. He repeated the conventional wisdom on the left that Biden cannot possibly be a socialist.

But, tellingly, he gave no reasons.

Cartoonist and pundit Scott Adams, who has written and spoken extensively about the art of persuasion, calls this response “cognitive dissonance.” Presented with unfamiliar facts, a person who has committed to a perspective that cannot explain the new information will sometimes react with nonsensical words, sarcasm, or emotional outbursts.

But let me try to make the argument for Legum, and others.

Here are the few differences left between Biden and Sanders:

1. Biden does not call himself a socialist. Sanders is open about the fact that he is a socialist. Though he calls for ending “shareholder capitalism,” Biden says his new left-wing policies are “not inconsistent with capitalism.” But then again, Elizabeth Warren also said that she was a capitalist, and she backed Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, student debt forgiveness, and a wealth tax. These positions are indistinguishable from Sanders’s socialism.

The question then becomes whether Biden, too, supports these defining positions of the Sanders-Warren socialist agenda.

2. Biden and Medicare for All. This was the key distinction between Biden and Sanders in the primary. In May, Biden reiterated that “I will not support Medicare for all.” But as Politico reported in an article titled “Leftward ho! Biden pivots to progressives,” Biden has conceded ground to Sanders on that policy, agreeing to lower the eligible age for Medicare to 60 years old. The only remaining difference is that for Americans between 26 and 60, Biden would make Medicare a choice, not a requirement. How long that choice lasts depends on how radical Democrats in Congress decide to be.

3. Biden and the Green New Deal. Biden campaigned in 2008 on “clean coal” and began his 2020 campaign promising a “middle ground” on climate change. Since then, the Washington Post reported Friday, he has shifted radically to the left. He has embraced the Green New Deal of Rep.Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who is now a Biden campaign adviser. The only difference is that he wants to eliminate fossil fuels by 2035, not 2030. Biden also says that nuclear power can be part of the mix, and he is unclear on fracking, which he said last year he would to eliminate; he has since backtracked.

4. Biden and Student Debt. Biden has shifted further and further left, toward the Sanders-Warren position of forgiving almost all student loans. In April, according to Politico, he proposed “forgiving all student debt for low- and middle-income people who attended public colleges and universities, as well as those who attended private Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other institutions that serve minority students.” In the Biden-Sanders manifesto, he goes even further, capping student loan payments, and forgiving all student loans after 20 years. There is no difference left.

So, in sum, the only policy differences remaining between Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are that Biden won’t call himself a socialist; wants Medicare for All to be a choice for Americans under 60; and wants the Green New Deal five years later.

Are those real differences?

Given that Biden has begun talking about “revolution,” “fundamentally transform[ing] the country,” “systemic racism,” and ending “shareholder capitalism,” those distinctions seem so narrow as to be insignificant.

A Biden presidency will not be a victory for moderation or a return to “normal.” It will ratify the left-wing mandate that Sanders sought.

Even if Biden had, once, been different, it is clear that he is no longer in control of his own agenda.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). His new book, RED NOVEMBER, tells the story of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary from a conservative perspective. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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