In the eyes of some, Joe Biden is a strong moderate who in beating Bernie Sanders showed that he can rein in the Democratic Party’s progressive wing. A strong moderate is what many people believe is needed in a nation torn apart by opposing extremes. As William Kristol put it, “If you don’t want a ‘left-wing cultural revolution,’ or want to minimise the illiberal and deleterious aspects of such a revolution, I think it’s pretty clear you should want Biden as president for the next four years, not a re-elected Trump.”
On another view, Biden’s personal moderation is irrelevant. He would be – as Matthew Continetti put it in critiquing this idea – “a figurehead unable to control the revolutionary forces from which he initially benefited.” However moderate in his own inclinations, he would pave the way for a radical successor. This fear is intensified by Biden’s age. If elected, Biden would be the oldest first-term president in history – eight years older than the previous record holder, Donald Trump, who was sworn in at age 70. Perhaps Biden would lack the vigour and acuity needed to direct his subordinates, and instead would be directed by them. Just as George IV wielded power on behalf of his senile father during the Regency, young progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez could be the power behind Biden’s throne.
Though otherwise opposed, these views share the assumption that Biden is in fact a moderate. This impression is strengthened by Biden’s Catholic identity – not the same thing as Catholic devotion. He is glad to flaunt the cultural trappings of the Church, though he has little time for its teaching.
On economics and foreign policy Biden certainly is a moderate, if one understands “moderation” as unflinching support for credit-card companies and a willingness to go along with whatever the Washington foreign-policy consensus happens to be. Biden was a key force behind the 2005 Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act, a law that made it much harder for consumers to declare bankruptcy – ensuring that more people would remain entrapped in debt. He was also a prominent supporter of the Iraq War, a fact he tends to downplay.
Given this usage of the term “moderate”, which has come to be shorthand for the views of a failed elite, it is not clear why anyone should aspire to be one. But if the term is understood in its proper sense, as signifying the mean between two extremes, then Biden certainly does not qualify when it comes to social issues. He would not restrain the activists under him, nor would he be pushed forward by them. Particularly on issues of sexual orientation and gender identity, he would lead the way.
When Biden endorsed gay marriage in 2012 during an interview on Meet the Press, he blindsided the White House, prompting Barack Obama to endorse it a few days later. He was also an early and outspoken proponent of current transgender theories, and wrote the foreword for a book by a transgender activist in 2017. Biden described transgenderism as the “civil rights issue of our time”. This record, along with the increasingly radical stance of the Democratic Party, is why Chad Griffin, a longtime campaigner for LGBT causes, has said that Biden would be the “most pro-equality president we have ever had”.
Conservatives primarily concerned with economics or foreign policy may have relatively little to fear from a Biden administration. Social conservatives are not so lucky. The polarisation of America’s two parties is far more advanced on culture questions than on economic policy or military matters. A person mainly concerned with the latter two might be able to move between parties consistently and responsibly, while upholding the same principles. It would be difficult for a social conservative to do the same. That is especially true when the Democratic nominee is neither a strong moderate, nor a reluctant but weak-willed servant of progress, but a champion for causes that social conservatives oppose.
Even social conservatives who strongly dislike President Trump are unlikely to vote for Biden. As Ramesh Ponnuru said at the “Principled Conservatism Summit”, a gathering of Republicans and conservatives opposed to Trump, “My own principles will certainly include not voting for somebody who is complicit in grave injustice against unborn children and basically rejects all the principles that have helped make this country great.” Biden’s good ol’ boy shtick and occasional jangling of rosary beads do not make him any less extreme.
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