Why do Democrats fight so much

United States

Prof. Dr. Christian Lammert

Prof. Dr. Christian Lammert

Prof. Dr. Christian Lammert is Professor of Politics in North America at the John F. Kennedy Institute at the Free University of Berlin.

Criticism of Donald Trump is at the center of the Democratic Party's election campaign and its top candidates. In addition, the effects of the corona pandemic and the protests against racism and police violence determine Biden's election campaign.

People walk past a big screen that reads "Biden - Harris, for the people", Hartford, Connecticut. (& copy picture-alliance, Associated Press / Jessica Hill)

After a relatively short primary campaign in a very large field of applicants, Joe Biden secured the nomination for the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party. In the Democratic primary campaign, it became clear that two wings within the party represent different priorities and political ideas. Biden and several other more moderate candidates stood in the programmatic tradition of the Obama administration, while the progressive wing of the party - represented by Bernie Sanders, who has represented the state of Vermont in the US Senate since 2007, and Elisabeth Warren, who has represented the state of Vermont since 2013 also represents the state of Massachusetts in the United States Senate - stood for more radical policy content, especially in health and environmental policy, but also in issues of redistribution and the role of the state.

Uncertainty: The Economic, Social, and Political Context of Choice

After an overall positive development of the US economy during Trump's first three years in office, the USA was hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The current economic crisis is primarily evident in the labor market. As a result of the closure of key areas of the economy, the US and the Trump administration are faced with a historically high unemployment rate of 14.7 percent (April 2020). Despite falling unemployment, the situation remains tense. In the election campaign, the focus is on health, economy and labor market policy. At the same time, following the death of the black American George Floyd as a result of police violence, the issue of structural racism is high on the election campaign agenda in the USA. The protests, some of which were violent, and the successful mobilization by the Black Lives Matter-Move.

The different crises and developments in 2020 force Biden's election campaign to constantly adapt the election campaign messages. At the beginning of the primary campaign, Biden had presented himself as a moderate candidate who wanted to bring about constructive results and not revolutions. In the context of the current crisis (s), there is a change in election rhetoric. Biden now describes the coming government period as a transformative time in which the government and the state must play a central role. In this way, Biden clearly differs from the incumbent Donald Trump administration, which wants to downsize the state and primarily relies on the mechanisms of the market in many areas of politics.

Social, labor market and economic policy issues

In general, Joe Biden is assigned to the moderate wing of the Democrats and programmatically his ideas are in a strong continuity with the politics of the Obama administration (2009-2017). This applies in particular to his ideas about health policy reform. Biden defends the basic elements of Obama's health reform from 2010 and wants to continue and expand it. The focus is on the introduction of a so-called "public option", a public health insurance that is to be offered in competition with private programs. Citizens could then decide for themselves whether they want to stay in their private health insurance or whether they want to switch to the public program. That was also what Obama's health care reform envisaged at the beginning public option was then taken out of the reform under pressure from the insurance and pharmaceutical industries.

Within the Democratic Party, however, the conception of health policy diverges significantly. In particular, Bernie Sanders propagated a radical system change in health policy in the primary campaign: Analogous to public pension insurance for pensioners (Medicare) all citizens should be publicly insured in a 'single-payer' system. Publicly organized health insurances would dominate the health sector, private insurances would then only cover special treatments. In the meantime, Biden has become more and more open to the positions of the progressive wing and there are signs of broader reform options in the health system should Biden win the election.

Surprisingly for many observers, Biden said little about the problem of economic and social inequality in the USA in the pre-election campaign. In numerous public appearances, he spoke out in favor of expanding the social welfare sector in order to counteract the growing problem of poverty in the USA. On the other hand, Biden warns against a demonization of wealth and rejects a massive redistribution of income. Overall, he calls for a policy to strengthen the US middle class. On the one hand, the tax reforms of the Trump administration are to be reversed and the minimum wage at the federal level is to be increased from $ 7.25 to $ 15. In addition, the low-wage sector is to be regulated more closely in order to better protect the interests of employees. Analogous to the system of short-time work benefits in Germany, the Obama administration had already taken the first steps to establish a comparable program in the USA. 27 states are currently participating in such a program. Biden now wants to expand this to all 50 states and finance the program entirely with federal funds. Overall, Biden presents himself as a representative of the interests of the working population, without having so far taken up the more radical demands of the left wing of the Democrats. Among other things, they are calling for a more progressive tax system, a tax on the wealthy and the expansion of existing social assistance programs in order to combat the sharp rise in income inequality.

Climate, Immigration and Gun Possession

In terms of climate and environmental policy, the Biden campaign has presented an ambitious and comprehensive climate plan that corresponds to the ideas of the left wing of the party and goes far beyond Obama's approach to climate policy. Biden's declared goal is a complete conversion to renewable energies and a complete reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. In addition, Biden has already presented a far-reaching infrastructure plan to modernize the ailing road network, water supply and school system in the USA. The aim is also to expand local and long-distance public transport and invest in electromobility. Increased investments are to be made in structurally weak regions in order to better integrate them into the overall infrastructure of the USA.

In immigration policy, Biden represents moderate to conservative positions within the Democratic Party. So far, Biden has rejected a fundamental decriminalization of illegal immigration - a position that has now found a clear majority in the Democratic Party. However, Biden calls for fundamental corrections to the Trump administration's existing immigration policy and the establishment of a just and humane immigration system. According to this, Trump's policy of deporting illegal immigrants in particular should be reversed as quickly as possible. In addition, Biden wants to pave the way to citizenship for the eleven million undocumented immigrants in the USA and to expand the various visa and refugee programs. The DACA agreement (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) passed by decree under Obama, which grants a right of residence to around 800,000 illegal immigrants who came to the USA as small children and so far have no citizenship, Biden wants to further consolidate and through a Confirm Act of Congress.

When it comes to gun ownership, Biden advocates a ban on fully automatic guns and a mandatory inspection of gun buyers (background check). In addition, Biden calls for a fundamental reform of the criminal justice system, in particular to reduce the extremely high incarceration rate in the USA. At the same time, reintegration and prevention measures are to be significantly expanded. It is to be expected that the Biden campaign will follow the ongoing protests of the Black Lives MatterMovement will present concrete ideas on how, in particular, structural racism in the police and in the judicial system can be countered. One focus of Biden's reform proposals is the People of Color (PoC) or black population in the USA. Here, small and medium-sized companies are to be specifically supported in order to improve the chances of economic participation for Afro-Americans.

Trump as the main election issue

Biden's dominant election campaign topic, however, will be the balance sheet of incumbent President Donald Trump. This was shown by Biden's nomination speech at the Democratic Party conference and numerous election advertisements. Biden not only denies Trump the character traits for the office of president, but accuses him of a complete failure of leadership in view of the current crises. In contrast, Biden presents himself as an experienced and empathetic politician who wants and can overcome the social and political divisions in the USA. With the election slogan "The best days are still ahead", the Biden campaign is entering the hot phase of the election campaign. The extent to which Biden can implement his key campaign promises after a possible election victory also depends on the results of the congressional elections. Should the Republicans still be able to hold a majority in at least one chamber of Congress, Biden can hardly hope to find political majorities for his projects in the context of the current political polarization.