When critics say that Joe Biden isn’t progressive enough, they’re mostly referring to his record and positions on policy. But the former vice president’s messaging is literally backward-looking. Biden is running a campaign of restoration—returning the United States to its rightful place before (as he sees it) the current president came onto the scene and trashed the joint.
“If we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation,” Biden warned in his announcement video.
It’s not just that Biden’s message over the first few days of his campaign has been aimed straight at the #Resistance—though it has, even as other Democratic hopefuls have largely opted against head-on attacks on Trump. Biden is running on open nostalgia. He wants to take the country back, all the way to the dim and distant days of 2015 or so, when the Obama administration he served in ran the country and Trump was merely a punch line.
Appealing to nostalgia is a favorite play for Republican candidates. While Trump’s “Make America great again” slogan makes the return to an imagined past more explicit than most, backward-looking campaigns dovetail neatly with conservatism. But they’re a tougher sell in the Democratic Party. Even before the party’s recent leftward shift, Democratic candidates have tried to strike a balance between praising fundamental principles of the country and offering something new and innovative.