With lightning speed, last week’s Super Tuesday’s primary voters clarified the race for the Democratic nomination for president: Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders versus former Vice President Joe Biden, two septuagenarians who have spent decades in Washington. They appeal to different types of voters generally, and different types of Jewish voters — some 75% of whom vote Democrat.
Sanders, the socialist, is laser focused on his view of America’s problems: the high cost of medical care, the high cost of education and climate change. His articulated solutions are expensive and he seems impervious to the prospect of compromise, as he rails incessantly against his bêtes noires — “the corporate establishment, the greed of Wall Street, the greed of the drug companies and the greed of the insurance companies.”
Sanders’ idealism and focused message attract younger voters. But his hectoring, arm-waving and Johnny-one-note positions are a turnoff to many older voters, who see the need for compromise and moderation if the Democrats are to reclaim the White House.
Compromise and moderation are where Biden is strongest. A seasoned old-time liberal, he has a largely moderate record and was an able and honorable vice president to Barack Obama. He spent his career reaching across the aisle, constantly striving to reach agreement. And while some of his votes and vocabulary raise concern in today’s environment, Biden’s decency and sense of fairness are consistent and calming to an otherwise nervous electorate and party.
Both Biden and Sanders speak of what they understand the U.S. aspires to be, but address the issues differently. Sanders speaks about a coalition of interest groups — African Americans, Latinos, women, LGBT+ people, the working class, while Biden talks more broadly about people who are our neighbors:
“These are people that build our bridges, repair our roads, keep our water safe, who teach our kids, look, who race into burning buildings to protect other people, who grow our food, build our cars, pick up our garbage, our streets, veterans, dreamers, single moms, and by the way, every dreamer, have hope, because I’m coming and you’re not going anywhere.” And that invites more buy-in.
Surveys have shown that most Jews do not vote for a candidate based solely on his or her position on Israel. But in close choices, Israel can help tip the balance. Biden has always been a solid, reliable friend of Israel. Sanders’ support for Israel is more nuanced, and he has very public alliances with political friends who concern many older, more moderate Jewish Democrats. But even with all that, Sanders speaks to a rising generation of Jews who feel that a strong Israel needs some tough love from its closest ally.
We will be watching very carefully as the primary season continues.