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OPINION: Progressives, do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good

September 18, 2020

This piece represents the opinion of the author .
Shona Ortiz

Joe Biden is the only choice for progressive voters in this election. Abstaining from voting or voting for fringe third-party candidates cripples the progressive agenda and is not an option. Unfortunately, I am afraid that progressive voters do not see it this way because Joe Biden was not their top choice in the Democratic primary. As one underclassman colleague remarked to me, “[It’s] sad that [nominating Biden] means putting a lot of progressive polic[ies] under the rug for the chance of seizing power.” I think progressives need to overcome their sadness about Biden’s nomination, because this November, a vote for Joe Biden is a vote for a candidate who can win and who will take decisive steps to advance the progressive agenda.

In politics, you will almost never find a candidate with whom you agree on every issue. We must therefore pick candidates that most closely reflect our values and interests. One must keep in mind, however, that only the winning candidate gets to advance an agenda. Given our country’s ingrained two-party system, not voting—or voting third party—can inadvertently become an endorsement of an ideology contrary to your values.

Take the 2016 election as a warning. In pivotal states like Wisconsin, Hillary Clinton lost by about 23,000 votes out of nearly 3,000,000 cast. Green Party candidate Jill Stein, who served as an alternative over Clinton for liberal Democrats and Bernie Sanders supporters, garnered 31,072 votes, more than the vote margin between Clinton and our current president. Some Green party voters, in addition to non-voters, saw their actions as a protest, but by doing so they ironically betrayed their own progressive values. Rather than being content with a moderate liberal like Clinton (who would have embraced moderate progressivism), their decision contributed in part to the election of a far-right president who has consistently undermined progressive causes. In other words, their lack of support for a viable candidate who sought to promote some progressive policies gave us a president delivering the exact opposite of the progress they sought. Looking back, are they pleased with the outcome? Can you truly call yourself a progressive if your actions help elect a reactionary president?

I fear a repeat of the 2016 election because of the liberal obsession with political perfection. Biden may not be your perfect candidate, but he is a good one who will advance the progressive agenda. There is immense value in incremental change that takes steps towards your preferred policy goals, especially at a time when sweeping change is a political non-starter. I am troubled that some progressives cannot bring themselves to support a solution they see as less than perfect. On the issue of healthcare, although Biden has campaigned on expanding the Affordable Care Act and creating a public coverage option, supporters of Sanders’ Medicare for All plan decry Biden’s plan for not going far enough. But when presented with the choice between Biden (who supports taking tangible steps towards expanding healthcare access) and our current president (who has repeatedly sought to dismantle the Affordable Care Act), some progressives strangely disengage from the political process because neither candidate offers a perfect solution. To me, the choice could not be clearer: would you rather take steps forward or backward in terms of realizing your preferred policies?

Without Biden’s election in November, there is no chance that any progressive legislation will be enacted to address the important issues of our time. With subjects like climate change (the most pressing problem of our generation), there is no time to wait for a perfect solution. Progressives must follow the lead of groups like the Sunrise Movement that have cast aside policy minutia and thrown their support behind Biden. Joe Biden is the progressive choice in this race and a vote for anyone else is a stamp of approval for our current president.

Bowdoin progressives, do not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Too much is at stake. November 3, 2020, stand by your progressive values and vote for Joe Biden. Otherwise, witness another four years of a president completely antithetical to your cause.

Alex Banbury is a member of the Class of 2020


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  1. '21 says:

    This is a well-reasoned and important article.

    From a historical perspective, it’s also worth noting that Biden, by a wide margin, is the most progressive candidate ever nominated for a major party ticket.

  2. Christopher S Noel says:

    All Biden had to do to win my vote is support Medicare for all.

  3. Grace says:

    “crippled” is an ableist way to reference what you are describing. “Hinders” is more accurate and life-affirming. Abstinence is always an option, but it is one you are arguing against. Accuracy matters.

    Voting within carceral-capital-able-ism is a right, a privilege and a legal fiction all at the same time. Vote-gatekeeping historically excludes multiplicities of Black, Indigenous, Incarcerated, Criminalized, Undocumented, Disabled, AFAB and Poor People.

    We can leverage privilege within our liberation frameworks, through distributive + iterative life-affirming action – through voting, through organizing mutual aid, through donating money in abolition / reparation, through practicing transformative justice, etc.

    However, discourse that aims to *should* or *shame* a person (individual human body) to move in relation with a privileged institution, splits a binary between principles of utility and principles of consent, and interrupts our emergent nature in embodied liberation.

    • Wilma Phingerdoo - Harpswell says:


      We get it – you are smart. Maybe don’t work so hard at showing it off and come down to our level so that the common folk can understand what you are writing.

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