Opinion: Biden Should Campaign on Mass Debt Relief

Hard as it may be to believe, the 2024 presidential election is now little more than a year away.

Despite four criminal indictments, Donald Trump’s defiance of political gravity shows no signs of abating, even as he has defended the January 6 insurrection and vowed to lock up his political opponents.

Given Trump’s penchant for authoritarianism and the threat his followers pose to our political system — especially in light of Democrats’ failure to pass desperately needed democratic reforms—President Biden’s temptation in the next year will likely be to deploy the same emotive, content-light ​“battle for the soul of the nation” argument that he used in 2022, ahead of the midterms.

After all, there’s precedent for Democrats: Party strategists employed a similar framing tactic in 2016, when Hillary Clinton turned the election into a referendum on whether America is ​“better than Donald Trump” and claimed punningly that ​“love trumps hate.”

It is worth reminding voters of all the ways that Trumpism imperils our freedoms. If he becomes the Republican presidential nominee, Trump threatens to impose frightening changes like the revocation of birthright citizenship and instituting Schedule F, which would purge the federal bureaucracy of 50,000 career civil servants and replace them with far-right extremists and allies. He also promises to reverse progress on mitigating climate change while centralizing power and punishing his political enemies. 

But if President Biden and the Democrats want to defeat Trump and his MAGA movement, along with highlighting the dangers of a vindictive demagogue winning in 2024, they will need to run on a positive platform which would improve the material lives of working people. Central to that program should be taking on the fight to eliminate student and medical debt. 

We learned in 2016 that voting negatively, to defend against a bogeyman, is rarely as motivating as voting positively, for a concrete cause.

A 2019 report found that ​“there is no evidence supporting common wisdom about negative campaigning representing an effective strategy for maximizing votes.” And there is considerable evidence that negative, personality-based attacks poison the political waters, motivating Democratic and Republican partisans to become more entrenched in their allegiances to corporate-dominated parties and candidacies, even as independent voters and the politically disenchanted sour further on the electoral system.

It may be justified, in the abstract, to wring our hands over the slow erosion of democratic norms and governmental structures. But framing our contemporary crisis in those terms — as if partisanship and ​“extremism” are the culprits, rather than an obscenely inegalitarian economy and a political system captured by hyper capitalists—obfuscates the problem.

As Bernie Sanders articulated in his presidential campaigns, the root of our political crisis lies in the fact that the majority of Americans who care about having good jobs, healthcare, and education in a just society do not feel represented by our current politics.

This is a segment of a blog that originally appeared in full at In These Times on Oct. 9, 2023. Republished with permission.

About the Author: Scott Remer received a master’s degree in political thought and intellectual history at the University of Cambridge, with a specialization in the political philosophy of the Frankfurt School. He graduated Yale University summa cum laude in Ethics, Politics, and Economics and wrote his thesis on Occupy Wall Street and the history of American social movements. He blogs at soulof​so​cial​ism​.word​press​.com.

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