Should President Biden Run for Reelection? A “Nation” Forum

Should President Biden Run for Reelection? A “Nation” Forum

Should President Biden Run for Reelection? A Nation Forum

We wanted to know what prominent progressive Democrats, left-leaning independents, and battleground state activists were thinking. So we asked them.

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Joe Biden has given every indication that he plans to seek a second term. But alarm bells went off when a February Associated Press poll found that only 37 percent of Democrats wanted him to run again. The president’s numbers were especially weak among young voters—a critical constituency for Democrats. Even as Biden’s numbers ticked up following his impressive State of the Union address, 45 percent of Democrats (and independents who lean toward the party) still wanted someone else to be the nominee in 2024. That enthusiasm gap is a real issue for a president who surveys show is running even with—and in some cases behind—Donald Trump and Ron DeSantis. While many D.C. Democrats say they’re on board for a reelection run, we wanted to know what prominent progressive Democrats, left-leaning independents, and battleground-state activists were thinking. So we asked them whether the president should run again. Here’s what they had to say.

—John Nichols and D.D. Guttenplan

Arnie Arnesen

Urgency of the moment.

These four words will define our country’s 2024 campaign for president.

We face a fundamental threat from the well-funded antidemocratic fascist wing of the Republican Party that has made its purpose abundantly clear: to serve the rich and the powerful, and remove any real or perceived governmental obstacle to doing so. Joe Biden may indeed understand this threat. But does anyone really see him ginning up Democrat resistance to the GOP with the urgency the moment demands?

It is more than a question of his age. It is about “this” moment. This moment when white Christian nationalists and the radical right that control the public coffers of nearly two dozen states are moving forward at lightning speed to advance the implementation of their authoritarian schemes. This moment when scads of billionaire cash are ready to fund this assault. This moment when the reactionary conservative Supreme Court is poised to further impose its retrograde interpretation of the Constitution. The GOP has set the table. Democrats’ job is fourfold: Expand the size of that table, and lay out a menu that nourishes the insecure, ensures that America’s economic success is reflected in the pockets of all workers (not just CEO and shareholder portfolios), and supports all families.

We do that with a leader who energizes voters across multiple generations to seize the urgency presented by the consequential choices we face in 2024. Biden’s presidency is most assuredly one of great accomplishment. But this moment demands a leader who is ready to shatter our complacency and slam back against a terrifying future. Joe Biden does not fit that description.

Arnie Arnesen, a former New Hampshire legislator and gubernatorial candidate, is the host of The Attitude on WNHN 94.7 FM in Concord. N.H.

May Boeve

To the surprise of every single climate activist I know—equally divided in the Democratic primary on the best candidate—Joe Biden accomplished something no other US president has: meaningful climate legislation in the form of the Inflation Reduction Act.

We saw glimmers of it on the campaign trail: He took a page out of the best “climate change marketing 101” guides and connected climate to the economy and jobs. He wouldn’t commit to a full-on Green New Deal or phaseout of fossil fuels, but he understood that climate change is an important political issue. He knew that tying climate change policy to economic recovery from Covid was a winner, and he put $3 trillion on the table to do it. It wasn’t his fault that he couldn’t move Manchin and Sinema!

So, bravo, Joe Biden, and the movement to fight climate change, for getting us to the point where we’re racing to build infrastructure for a clean energy transition. And for what we haven’t yet won, we have to build more political power.

The need for that power is why I’m on the side of a second term for Joe Biden.

Progressives have to work together, and dividing our forces with a messy primary is not strategic. We may have gotten a climate deal, but we’re getting killed when it comes to abortion, immigration, racial justice, and a real economic recovery, all of which are necessary for climate justice. The authoritarian Republican party presents an existential threat. Four more years of a Biden presidency will allow us to harness our collective power and make real shifts on the issues that matter.

May Boeve is a founder and executive director of 350.org.

Larry Cohen

Biden has been actively running for months, so the real question is should he drop out?

Biden and his “campaign” team inside the White House compelled the DNC and its Rules Committee to change course, at the last possible moment, and adopt his primary calendar leading with South Carolina, the bottom in union membership, and a state not won by a Democrat since Carter in 1976.

Biden moved Cedric Richmond from deputy WH chief of staff to senior adviser at the DNC. Nearly every leading progressive Democrat is backing Biden and has done nothing to prepare for their own presidential campaign. Six moderate Democratic governors are well financed and ready to run, and they wouldn’t be a bit different.

The question is: What are we doing?

Biden and national Democratic House and Senate majority leaders Jeffries and Schumer all need to be challenged on their commitment to real change versus slick messaging. They have reversed on their commitment to battle the climate crisis and are now refusing to limit new fossil production. They talk a good union game but walk on the sidelines and refuse to hold federal contractors accountable for violating our lowest-in-the-world labor standards. Dirty money in the 2022 Democratic primaries skyrocketed while White House and DNC leaders blocked any discussion at the past two DNC meetings.

We need to focus on results—not talk—on these and other issues, including eliminating the filibuster as an essential element of change at the federal level. It’s the rules, not just the rulers.

Larry Cohen is the board chair of Our Revolution and was the president of the Communications Workers of America from 2005 to 2015.

Bill Fletcher Jr.

Should President Biden run for reelection? The short answer is “no.” The answer does not reflect my assessment of the administration. There have been significant achievements, particularly on the domestic front. There have, obviously, been weaknesses, particularly on the international front, ranging from the continued provocations of China to the refusal of the administration to back away from the US elite’s unqualified support of Israeli apartheid, as well as the continued US support of Morocco’s occupation of Western Sahara.

The answer “no” reflects my assessment that we need two important things: (1) a left-populist presidency, (2) a younger generation to assume leadership.

The Bernie Sanders campaign made it abundantly clear that there is a significant mass base that is looking for an alternative to both neoliberal economics and the growing threat of right-wing authoritarianism. Though Biden has shifted away from much of the neoliberal thinking that has permeated one presidency after another—since the Carter era—the Biden administration has failed to mount a full counterattack against right-wing authoritarianism and has additionally failed to inspire its supporters and potential supporters with the identification of the steps necessary to fully address the combined economic and environmental crises facing the planet.

The second factor is age. I am not trying to be ageist, but the time has come for a new generation to assume leadership. This is critical in appreciating that time is running out to save the planet from environmental disaster, further economic polarization, and devastating war.

I am glad that Biden defeated Trump. Now we need more.

Bill Fletcher Jr., a longtime trade unionist, is a past president of TransAfrica Forum.

Barbara Lawton

Joe Biden should solidify his legacy and personal dignity by not running for relection. My stomach clenches at the prospect of a venerable president becoming incapable of strong leadership for all the dangers of aging past 80, at the inevitable wince-worthy moments that may accrue to the point of putting our nation at risk. The Democratic Party has an impressive younger bench and new generations of voters to engage. The time for his announcement that he will step down will necessarily be an artful decision, but it must come.

Barbara Lawton is a former lieutenant governor of Wisconsin.

Michael Lighty

The decades-long alienation from government and the public good has reached new heights during the pandemic. This politically defining dynamic is the lens through which we can analyze whether President Biden should run for reelection.

President Biden has been in power during the 40-plus years of government failure to stem rampant inequality, the destruction of working-class urban and rural communities, and the expansion of corporate power. Mass incarceration has alienated Black and brown communities. The result is an anti-establishment passion that motivates voter antipathy and Trumpism and makes the GOP use of cultural issues especially potent.

To overcome this requires a non-establishment politician, not implicated in government failures, and not steeped in institutionalism, who is willing fight for political reform, to take power from and not just regulate corporations. This is not a bipartisan “moderate”: The voters we need to move are not centrist so much as identifiably alienated from politics. Bold democratic action that improves workers’ lives materially does not come from institutional centrism.

Despite modestly progressive reforms, some good appointments and strong rhetoric, and understanding the democratic parameters of executive power, presidential action has fallen short. Key anti-poverty programs have expired. The forced deal that took away rail workers’ right to strike and the tepid response to airline maleficence reveal an establishment approach that ensures nothing will fundamentally change under a second Biden term. Hence, we need a competitive Democratic primary without an incumbent to choose someone who can make a clean break from the politics that got us here.

Michael Lighty is long-time Medicare for All activist and trade unionist.

Ai-Jen Poo

Care is the quintessential kitchen table conversation. Every family in America is talking about how they will care for their kids, or their aging, ill, or disabled loved ones. President Biden not only recognizes the need to support families, he understands how fundamental childcare, paid leave and aging and disability care policies are to our economy. In his second State of the Union address, the president called upon Congress to “finish the job” and pass vital legislation supporting working families—including policies and plans to strengthen the country’s care infrastructure.

President Biden’s administration continues to use its power to make progress on this agenda, such as requiring semiconductor manufacturers to provide childcare to employees to access federal subsidies. A second term would allow us to continue this necessary work, including creating good jobs in the care economy. President Biden’s American Jobs Plan included a plan for unprecedented investments in home and community-based services for older people and people with disabilities, including the largest investment in the creation of good jobs that would directly benefit women, especially women of color, in the history of the United States. This is unfinished business that President Biden, if reelected, could address.

Fixing America’s patchwork care infrastructure is popular: We recently polled likely voters who overwhelmingly (89 percent) supported increasing government funding for home- and community-based services, guaranteeing paid family and medical leave (80 percent) and investing in increasing access to high-quality child care (73 percent). The country is ready to pass a Care Agenda. President Biden should run for reelection so he can lead Congress and finish the job.

Ai-jen Poo is the director and cofounder of the National Domestic Workers Alliance.

Robert Reich

Whether Joe Biden should run for reelection conflates five different questions that reporters, pollsters, and pundits continue to confuse. A clear-eyed view requires that the five be addressed separately.

(1) Has Biden done a good job so far? Yes. His accomplishments on the economy, climate, infrastructure, and defending democracy have been significant. While not a stirring speaker or a charismatic public presence, he has shown steadiness and resolve. And he has staffed his administration with highly capable and dedicated people.

(2) Should he run again if he wants to? Certainly. An incumbent president always has the prerogative of running for a second term. There’s no guarantee they’ll get a free pass for the nomination (e.g., Gene McCarthy’s and Bobby Kennedy’s assaults on Lyndon Johnson and Teddy Kennedy’s bid against Jimmy Carter). But with no serious Democratic opponent on the horizon, Biden should have a straight shot.

(3) If not Biden, who else? This is a trick question, because as long as Biden says he’ll be the Democratic nominee, other highly qualified Democrats are unlikely to identify themselves. If Biden announces within the next three months or so that he won’t be running again, potentially attractive Democratic candidates will emerge.

(4) Can Biden beat Trump or whomever else Republicans are likely to nominate, given his age? If it’s Trump, Biden can do it. He’s already beaten him once, and Trump is no spring chicken. If Republicans put up a younger candidate, the age issue will be a major problem for Biden.

(5) Would he be a capable leader of the United States when he’s in his mid-80s? I’ve had the privilege of working with four presidents, and I can tell you from experience and observation that the job of the American presidency is physically and mentally grueling even for people in their 40s. If reelected, Biden would be 86 at the end of his second term (assuming he made it to the end). That’s deeply worrying.

Robert Reich served as secretary of labor from 1993 to 1997.

Kshama Sawant

No, Biden should not run again. Working people are suffering from a historic cost-of-living crisis as Democrats fail to deliver. From dropping the $15 minimum wage to abandoning his health care “public option,” Biden has based himself entirely on what is acceptable to big business.

Working people need fighters on our side—not someone claiming to be a “labor president” as he betrays railroad workers and breaks their strike. Another Biden campaign also seriously risks handing the White House back to the right wing.

However, it’s likely Biden will run, because the Democratic establishment fears an open primary. After the examples of Bernie Sanders’s campaigns, which mobilized millions, they’re determined to avoid another left challenge.

Unfortunately, since Biden’s election, Bernie and “The Squad” have also failed working people—refusing to build movements, and instead, casting aside their promises and giving cover to Biden.

The route to working-class power doesn’t go through the Democratic Party or its primary, which belong to the bosses. Democratic leaders will again do everything possible to block the left and are already busy rigging the primary.

We need to learn the lessons of 2016 and 2020 and not go down the same road. A real left challenge would need to be prepared to do what Bernie wouldn’t—build a new party for working people and take the fight all the way.

But there are no shortcuts, and elections are not the main avenue for change. Most urgently, we need to rebuild a fighting labor movement—where worker power really resides.

Kshama Sawant is on the Seattle City Council and a member of Socialist Alternative.

Norman Solomon

In 2024, Joe Biden will represent the status quo if he runs for reelection—and that’s ominous. Polling for the past 18 months has consistently shown that seven in 10 Americans believe the country is moving in the wrong direction. “We have never before seen this level of sustained pessimism in the thirty-year-plus history of the poll,” NBC News reports.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, Biden was an albatross for his party in last fall’s midterm elections. The New York Times summed up candor from a House Democrat: “Biden’s numbers were ‘a huge drag’ on Democratic candidates, who won in spite of the president not thanks to him.” While generic ballot surveys show the two parties running neck-and-neck in voter preference, Biden’s public approval ratings have remained deep underwater.

Well below half of Democratic voters (just 37 percent and 31 percent in recent polls) say they want Biden to run for reelection. A stunning 94 percent of Democrats under age 30 said last summer that they wanted a different nominee. Among Americans overall, a recent Washington Post/ABC poll found, a mere 7 percent would be “enthusiastic” if Biden were reelected. That’s not surprising, given his inability to use the presidential bully pulpit to mobilize the public for a popular economic agenda.

The extreme crises that we face require bold, progressive leadership of the kind that President Biden has not provided. He may have exceeded low expectations, but Democrats need a better nominee at the top of the 2024 ticket.

Norman Solomon is the national director of RootsAction.org, which sponsors the Don’t Run Joe campaign.

Nina Turner

If President Joe Biden has a strong tug on his heart to run for reelection that’s rooted in service to the people of this country and not pure ego, he should absolutely run. What also must absolutely happen is a robust Democratic Party primary.

As someone who was front and center as a national surrogate in 2016 and a national cochair in 2020 for the presidential campaigns of Senator Bernard Sanders, I can tell you that our presence in those contests turned the tide of the discussion and shaped many of the contours of the Democratic Party’s platform. The issues of health care as a human right, a moral political economy, housing for all and education for all were centered during both presidential election cycles because we were there. The robustness of the debate was both timely and necessary. It gave the American public the opportunity to think about what they needed and deserved to live a good life. And today, polling shows that the American people want to see many of these key issues become part of our social contract regardless of party affiliation.

With the ripple effects of this global pandemic, inflation, and diminished quality of life suffocating most Americans, there is no time for a coronation. A robust debate of ideas is needed now more than ever. The American people deserve to have choice in their lives and having multiple candidates to choose from in a presidential election is no different.

The 2024 presidential election cycle should not be a trite exercise in voting for someone just because they hold the office now. The measure must be based on a vision to provide provision for the people of this nation. Anything less is not only unpatriotic, it’s a betrayal to progress.

Nina Turner is a former member of the Ohio Senate and the host of Unbossed on TYT.

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