Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders convened yesterday for the most somber debate of the 2020 primary, appearing in a quiet television studio rather than a rowdy auditorium and refraining from the customary handshake in nods to the coronavirus pandemic and the social distancing it necessitates. The rivals agreed that President Donald Trump has performed poorly during this global crisis, that he ought to defer more to public-health experts, and that the federal government rather than individual patients should foot the bill for 100 percent of coronavirus testing and treatments.
Then they rehashed many familiar disagreements. In broad strokes, Biden favors a return to normalcy and incremental expansions of the Obama administration’s agenda, such as expanding the Affordable Care Act by adding an option to get insurance from the government, while Sanders favors more sweeping changes––he calls it a democratic-socialist revolution––such as abolishing medical insurance that people get through their employer in favor of a government-run system, as in Canada.
If Sanders were winning more primaries, breaking turnout records, and demonstrating an ability to stride into the White House with democratic-socialist members of Congress on his coattails, Democratic voters would have a reason to look more closely at what would happen if his most ambitious plans became law. But there is no reason to believe that Sanders could get his agenda through the Senate or the House when he can’t beat a centrist in many Democratic primaries. Indeed, I suspect that Biden would fail to get some of his more centrist agenda items through Congress. So I’m less interested in the policy differences between these men than in their respective characters. And it’s apparent that both would be more morally upstanding, less cruel, more inclined to heed good advice from public-health experts, and less likely to lie about a crisis than Trump.