Primary Colors: Where’s Biden?

Graphic by Aidan Menchaca / The Tufts Daily

As the United States enters a new phase of this global pandemic, the Democratic Party needs a leader. Even though Joe Biden became the presumptive nominee for president last week, he seems to be missing from the conversation. Instead of looking to Biden’s recreation room satellite calls as the party’s foil to Trump’s daily briefings, some voters seem to be paying more attention to Governor Andrew Cuomo. So, what can Biden do to regain his upper hand?

I hate to admit it, but New York Times opinion columnist Thomas Friedman actually had a decent idea. Friedman called on Biden to announce a “national unity cabinet,” a collection of individuals from across the political spectrum to act as a pseudo-shadow government. Friedman named some potential cabinet secretaries from the Sanders wing of the party: Ro Khanna for secretary of labor, U.N. Ambassador Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and coronavirus recovery czar Elizabeth Warren.

Friedman also recommended some truly laughable candidates from the corporate world or, even worse, the Republican Party. Biden naming Michael Bloomberg for treasury secretary, American Express CEO Ken Chenault for commerce and Mitt Romney at the State Department would do nothing more than win over “Never Trump” Republicans, like neoconservative commentator Bill Kristol, who are already going to vote for Biden. Even more dangerous to Biden’s general election candidacy is the likelihood of failing to win over Bernie Sanders supporters and anyone else who sat out on the 2016 election. Promising to put Bloomberg or Romney in his cabinet would ignite a righteous fire from the progressive left. Whatever you think of the merits of putting these men in the cabinet, it would be a deadly campaign strategy. 

What Biden needs to do now is prove that he can be a progressive champion and an effective manager of this crisis. Making entreaties to Sanders’ advisors and inner circle Ro Khanna, Rashida Tlaib, AOC, Jeff Merkley and Nina Turner — behind the scenes would prove to Sanders and his most entrenched supporters that Biden can be trusted. 

Making policy concessions would be just as effective. As a start, and as Clinton did in 2016, Biden should call for lowering the Medicare eligibility age to 50. Shutting Sanders’ people out would do nothing but foster animosity on the left flank of the Democratic party. 

On the managerial side, Biden should host daily, remote briefings with progressive members of the senate including Elizabeth Warren, Chris Murphy, Jeff Merkley and Brian Schatz. As a side note, Merkley would be a far better secretary of state than Romney. Biden also needs to make a greater effort to just be visible. Lis Smith, a senior advisor to Pete Buttigieg, wrote about Dr. Anthony Fauci’s “go everywhere” media strategy. Biden needs to make a concerted effort to act as a president should: informing the public about social distancing, medical advances and strategies to slow the spread of the virus. 

As somebody who voted for Sanders in the primary, I know Biden needs to do a better job to win over our votes. And it’s not just Sanders voters. To anyone who was inspired to vote in the Democratic primary by Warren, Harris, Booker, Buttigieg or Klobuchar, I know Biden needs to prove to all of us that he is up to the task.