Most of the Democratic candidates for the 2020 Presidential campaign have signed onto the We are Indivisible Pledge, created and promoted by Indivisible, a progressive organization aiming to join together grass roots movements and activists around the country. By signing the pledge, candidates (and supporters) agree to engage in a primary that stays positive and constructive, focusing on “our hopes for the future, and a robust debate of values, vision and the contest of ideas.” The pledge also asserts that the signer will back winner of the primary and do what is necessary to beat the sitting President in the 2020 election.
I like the idea of this pledge. Candidates and supporters are essentially saying from the start that this election needs to be about getting the best candidate out of the primary and going all in behind her or him. Presumably, the pledge looks to avoid the disaster of 2016 when some Bernie supporters were so anti-Hilary as to make the road harder for her in the general election.
What it can’t be
Democrats – candidates and supporters – must still call out bad decisions, poor policy choices, and hypocrisy when they see it in other Democratic candidates. Not all candidates are created equal. Some of these candidates have made some bad decisions, and it’s okay to call them out on their bad decisions. Are some ways of doing that are better than others? Sure. But it still needs to be done.
Shaun King and Biden
If you aren’t familiar with Shaun King, here’s some quick background. Shaun has been a journalist and social justice activist for most of his life. He gained my attention – and I think wider national attention – during the Ferguson protests, when he live tweeted and promoted the Black Lives Matter movement. He is the co-founder of the Real Justice PAC (a political action committee focused on getting prosecutors elected in key areas who will reform the criminal justice system), and co-founder / CEO of The North Star (a media company free of any corporate ownership or money that aims at speaking truth to power). If someone were choosing an adjective to describe King’s brand of activism, uncompromising is far more likely choice than cooperative.
As an avowed Bernie guy, King has some really good justification for his support of Sanders. I have a different perspective, but I certainly respect King’s. Recently, it is his opposition to Biden, however, that has gained a lot of attention. And on this point, I fully share King’s perspective.
King’s primary critique of Biden is based on his legacy (not just one single vote) of supporting policies that have led to mass incarceration and a criminal justice system that continues to become less and less about justice. As recently as 2016, Biden has directly responded that he has no regrets about his support of those policies. Of course, being Biden, he switched his position in January 2019 in advance of announcing his Presidential run to say that he did regret it. (Biden also fought against school integration legislation in the 1970’s because his white constituents felt threatened. I don’t know if Joe has regrets about that decision. Someone should ask him.)
Just today, King posted an episode of his podcast The Breakdown, for which his headline is Joe Biden is the father of modern mass incarceration. King has a great written intro to the podcast and a link available in a public FB post that you can access here. I actually haven’t had a chance to listen to the podcast yet – I started writing this post before I became aware of this most recent piece by Shaun King.
Indivisible doesn’t mean Unaccountable
In reaction to FB and Twitter posts by King regarding Biden, a number of people have pointed to the Indivisible pledge and suggested that King is going to help the sitting President get re-elected by highlighting concerns with Biden’s candidacy. And that is, to put it bluntly, bullshit.
Biden’s flaws as a candidate aren’t trivial. The only truly positive thing that I’ve heard from anyone who supports Biden at this point is that they believe he can get elected in a general election. You might also point to his experience as a benefit to his candidacy. But he’s “electable” because he’s familiar, and his long career is one of supporting a number of really bad policies and making bad decisions.
Let Shaun King be Shaun King
If your argument against calling Biden out is that you don’t want the primary to devolve into negative campaigning, then allowing someone like Shaun King to do the heavy lifting on calling Biden to the carpet for his record is exactly the right way to go.
Keep doing what you do, Shaun.
Photo credit: Shaun King’s FB profile photos.