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Joe Biden
Joe Biden
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Endorsement: Joe Biden for designated driver in a country bingeing on discord

Bernie Sanders wants to embark on big road trips — “Medicare for all!” — on half a tank of gas with no map. And the guy behind the wheel now, Donald Trump, veers like a drunk all over the road of decency and values.

Thank you, Democrats, for the designated driver.

We were feeling despondent about our chances of getting home safely.

The guy behind the wheel now, Donald Trump, veers like a drunk all over the road of decency, driving into hate-filled ditches.

And the guy who looked like he was in the best position to grab the wheel away, the far more honorable Bernie Sanders, isn’t much of a driver himself. He’s got a way of talking up big road trips — “Medicare for all!” — on half a tank of gas with no map.

So, yes, we were relieved on Super Tuesday when you surprised everybody, you Democrats, and voted in big numbers to give Joe Biden the keys.

We know this presidential contest has a long ways to go, and we don’t mean to get ahead of ourselves. Sanders could come roaring back. Trump’s clown car could be tough to beat.

But when Biden crossed the finish line ahead of Sanders in 10 states on Tuesday, leaving him with a total of 638 pledged delegates to Sanders’ 563 as of Friday morning, he defied the predictions of all the smart people and, well, the sun peeked out.

Today, we are endorsing Biden in the March 17 Illinois primary — and in every other state Democratic primary that’s left — for three reasons:

  • Biden stands the best chance of beating Trump in November. Nothing matters more than that. He is supported by a broad coalition of Democrats. Sanders had predicted a big surge in the number of voters on Tuesday and there was indeed a surge — for the other guy. African Americans, suburban women and politically moderate whites of all backgrounds voted for Biden because, as they told reporters outside polling places, Trump’s gotta go.
  • Biden’s name at the top of the Democratic ticket, rather than Democratic Socialist Sanders, gives centrist Democrats running for Congress their best chance of winning. This is essential. We don’t even want to think about what another four years of Trump would look like if the Democrats were to lose the House.
  • Biden would be a better president than Sanders. He would govern in a moderately progressive manner, not unlike his old boss Barack Obama, and put together a competent crew of administrators.

Biden would defend and improve the Affordable Care Act, take action to make higher education more affordable, reinstate protections for immigrants and religious minorities, take climate change seriously, address tax advantages at the heart of runaway wealth inequality, and mend relations with tried-and-true allies around the world.

The progressive question

Would Biden be as progressive as Sanders’ supporters would like? Not at all. He wouldn’t even be as progressive as we might like. We wish, for one, that Biden, for all his talk about going after “Wall Street,” sincerely shared our sense of urgency that democracy is on the line if our country’s wealth gap is not reduced.

But if the results of Super Tuesday told us anything, it’s that a great many Democrats still believe in a politics of addition, which inherently runs to compromise and incremental progress. This is the Biden way. Far fewer Democrats appear to be sold on the politics of righteous ideology, which is the Sanders way.

Consider one example: Biden’s and Sanders’ competing plans to making a college education more affordable.

Biden would make two years of community college free. He would cut — but not wipe out — student loan obligations, particularly for those who work public service jobs. He would cancel undergraduate federal student loan debt for people earning less than $25,000, and cap loan payments for everybody else at 5% of their after-tax income.

His plan would reduce the cost of higher education for tens of millions of Americans. More to the point, it could become reality. We can well imagine Biden wrangling the votes in a Democratic-controlled House and maybe even, given his proclivity for bipartisanship, in a Republican Senate.

Sanders’ proposal is to make four years of public college free to all and to wipe away all student debt, which sounds great but is not about to happen. The votes will never be there among Republicans, of course, but also not among sufficient numbers of Democrats. They’re not about to ask their constituents to foot the college bill for kids born to multimillionaires.

When Sanders has been asked about that — how he might make Congress come around — he has replied that he would take his case to the public. He would “rally the American people” around his agenda.

Sanders should ask Trump how much good those MAGA rallies have done in flipping Democratic votes in the House. A better lefty candidate — we’re thinking Sen. Elizabeth Warren until she dropped out of the race — might generally share Sanders’ agenda but take a more pragmatic approach to achieving those goals.

Compassion, honor and decency

We endorse Biden while fully acknowledging the baggage he collected over 35 years in the Senate. He is just plain stuck with his poor handling of the 1990 Justice Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, his vote in 2002 in favor of the Iraq War, and his chief sponsorship of the 1994 Violent Crime Control Act, which encouraged states to lock up more non-violent people. We also hold our breath every time he gives an unscripted speech, hoping he says nothing goofy. Such as, you know, that he was “arrested” in South Africa.

But Biden is a man of compassion, honor and decency, unlike the man in the White House. Anybody can see that. And he has worked over a professional lifetime to improve in practical ways the lot of others. He worked closely with Obama to craft and make law the Affordable Care Act.

We can’t, as a nation, keep bingeing on discord.

We’re looking for a safe ride home, hoping it’s still there.

We’re happy to ride shotgun if Joe Biden is behind the wheel.

For more information about this race and others, including candidate questionnaires, go to our Illinois primary voting guide. Our newspaper is owned by a group of civic-minded and, in some cases, politically active investors; for details, see our owner information page.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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