Joe Biden's political career has contributed to many things. It has contributed to a three-decade explosion in the U.S. prison population, a phenomenon that mainly targets Black Americans. It has solidified the dominance of finance capital through austerity, deregulation, and government bailout relief for the banks in periods of economic crisis. But perhaps most glaringly, Biden's career has given us endless wars in nations all over the world. He helped spearhead Democratic Party support for the invasion of Iraq and, as Obama's vice president, led a hostile and aggressive military policy toward Russia that compelled the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists to conclude that a worldwide nuclear war is closer now than ever before in human history. So why did Tulsi Gabbard, the self-proclaimed anti-war and anti-foreign policy establishment candidate, endorse Joe Biden when his career is the very anti-thesis of what she has stood for throughout her campaign?
The answer is simple, but multifaceted. Tulsi Gabbard is a Democrat. And as a Democrat, individual principles no matter how strong are eventually suppressed by the ruling class forces that control the party apparatus. The DNC has once again smothered Bernie Sanders' campaign and has spent much of the last year smearing and attacking Tulsi Gabbard as an asset of Russia, a possible third-party candidate, and a Trump sympathizer. None of these things were true. Gabbard had always been a loyal Democrat but the external attacks on her campaign succeeded in creating fertile conditions for Gabbard to take that loyalty to another level by supporting Biden.
Still, this is only part of the explanation. Gabbard could have followed Elizabeth Warren and decided not to endorse anyone. There were many of us on the left who believed Gabbard to be more principled than Warren and thus made the conscious decision of limiting public critique of her 2020 campaign. While Gabbard certainly didn't check all the boxes of what constitutes an anti-war platform, she did raise the important issue of Washington's New Cold War policy toward Russia and China. She also opposed the U.S.' ongoing war in Syria. Journalists and activists such as Abby Martin were openly critical of Gabbard throughout her 2020 campaign. The Hawaiian Congresswoman said little to nothing in defense of Palestine and valorized the military in troubling ways. Gabbard also legitimized the War on Terror's so-called mission of eliminating "radical Islamic terrorism" even as she rightly condemned ISIS and Al Qaeda as a creation of dictatorial regimes such as Saudi Arabia. Her approach to foreign policy exposed contradictions that help us understand a bit better why she would take the seemingly illogical action of endorsing Joe Biden in this period of crisis.
The United States is the land of individualism and celebrity, so it is far easier to scrutinize Gabbard's politics than to provide a broader explanation for her endorsement of Biden. However, any valid explanation for Gabbard's endorsement must weigh the internal and external conditions together. Gabbard was a member of the War Party from the outset. Her voting record on issues of war and peace is not consistent. Gabbard has voted in favor of 19 of the last 29 military spending bills including proposals to renovate and update the U.S.' massive nuclear weapons arsenal. She also voted in favor of sanctions against Iran, Russia, and the DPRK in 2017. Tulsi Gabbard has never sought to transcend the engine of war or try to destroy. Instead, she worked within it and believed that her leadership could steer her enemies on the right path.
The Democratic Party is the engine of the War Party, but it also serves as a graveyard for any kind of social protest against the ills of empire, capitalism, and white supremacy. Neither Tulsi Gabbard nor Bernie Sanders had the foresight to understand this reality and respond accordingly. No matter how much the most militant sections of Gabbard and Sanders' supporters want to blame the opposing candidate for their lack of unity in the primary, the truth is that both Bernie Sanders and Tulsi Gabbard possess the same fatal limitation. Gabbard's endorsement of Biden the warmonger is no different than Sanders rejecting his democratic socialist principles by repeatedly stating that he will get behind his "friend" Joe Biden should he win the nomination. Both indicate that the need to appease the War Party is a far greater imperative for all Democratic Party candidates than the interests of the constituents who support them.
Gabbard's support for Joe Biden is another sign that the time has come for anyone who believes in peace and social justice to abandon the Democratic Party and the two-party duopoly all together. Joe Biden helped Barack Obama build a deadly drone arsenal, boasted about the expansion of NATO along Russia's border, and played a huge role in the expansion of Patriot Act surveillance. Gabbard called out Kamala Harris for her role in terrorizing Black American families in California but never once mentioned how Biden pushed through several key pieces of legislation that ballooned the prison state. Biden, as an extension of Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, represents the backbone of the Democratic Party elite. And as such, Tulsi Gabbard was always inclined to support him if she wished to remain a Democrat beyond the election.
In the end, supporters of Tulsi Gabbard and Bernie Sanders have a decision to make. Either leave the Democratic Party or continue to watch as their insurgent candidates are marginalized and excluded from the political process. Gabbard has far more appeal with a fringe rightwing base than Sanders for her military background, her tough line on terrorism, and her adherence to the idea of a united American under the banner of "God." Sanders' base is principally young people and low-wage workers who stand to the left of the neoliberal Democratic Party establishment. While some overlap exists between the two camps, the differences will ultimately help determine which direction their supporters will go once Joe Biden is anointed the nominee. A major problem is that the attractiveness of running electoral campaigns within the machine may be too strong at this moment to allow for a mass exit from the grips of the War Party. Political activists, journalists, and scholars need to study and organize ways to engage those who embrace Gabbard's anti-interventionism and Sanders' democratic socialism that pull them away from seeking power in the Democratic Party and toward a new conception of power.
In the immediate term, it is quite understandable to be angry at the fact that Tulsi Gabbard threw her endorsement to Joe Biden. A good number of people, even anti-war journalists such as myself, defended Gabbard for taking difficult anti-war positions in a hostile political environment. But support for anti-war positions doesn't excuse opportunism and it certainly doesn't change the fact that the Democratic Party is designed to crush all progressive and anti-establishment politics at the alter of bourgeois civility and American exceptionalism. Tulsi Gabbard, like Sanders, never sought to break from a political party that despises her. She was a member of the War Party from the beginning and for this reason, could never be trusted to actualize her anti-war politics or make the decision to break from the Democratic Party altogether. Gabbard's endorsement of Biden makes clear that these tasks are the responsibility of the people, and the people alone.