Today's Super Tuesday contests present Democratic primary voters with a stark choice between the Democratic Party of old, represented by former Vice President Joe Biden, and a radical vision of what the party could be, offered by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.). Neither is good news for liberty.
Sanders heads into Super Tuesday as the presumptive frontrunner, having come in first or second place in every primary and caucus held so far, and leading the delegate count by a slim margin.
Biden's 30-point blowout in South Carolina on Saturday, meanwhile, has breathed fresh life into his once-flagging campaign, pushing him to first place in the popular vote count, and convincing his moderate rivals Pete Buttigieg and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D–Minn.) to drop out and endorse him.
Of the 14 states that vote today, Sanders leads in California (which awards 415 of the 1,357 delegates up for grabs) and his home state of Vermont. FiveThirtyEight has Biden the heavy favorite in North Carolina, Virginia, and Alabama.
Still holding out hopes of winning a few delegates are Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D–Mass.) and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D–Hawaii) is also still in the running.
Effectively, we're down to a two-person race. Or as New York Times columnist David Leonhardt put it, it's "Bernie or Biden. Period."
The candidates offer Democratic-leaning voters a clear choice: Restore the Democratic Party or revolutionize it.
Biden is the self-styled candidate of restoration. His oft-repeated line is that he is running to "restore the soul of this country" after the damaging aberration that has been the presidency of Donald Trump. His campaign literature is peppered with references to the successes of the "Obama-Biden" administration, an implicit promise that a Biden presidency would be a return to the Democratic-led normalcy of the pre-2016 word.
On policy, the former vice president isn't above proposing expensive new initiatives. Yet, when making the case for his candidacy, he talks almost exclusively about what he's already done.
Take his answer in the last CBS debate, when asked why voters should trust him to take on the issue of mass shootings. "Because I am the only one that's ever got it done nationally. I've beat the NRA twice. I've got assault weapons banned. I got magazines that could hold more than 10 rounds, I got them eliminated," said Biden.
He's taken the same tack on healthcare. After his opposition to Medicare for All surfaced prominently in the first Democratic debate, Biden released a video in which he told voters, "I understand the appeal of Medicare for All. But folks supporting it should be clear. It means getting rid of Obamacare, and I'm not for that."
There's nary an issue on which Biden doesn't pitch his presidency as a return to the best parts of a past he helped create.
That is in complete contrast with Sanders. His campaign is predicated on the idea of overthrowing a long-outdated status quo. The Vermont independent proudly wears the label of "democratic socialist." He talks openly of taking on the Democratic establishment, right alongside Republicans.
The pre-Trump past that Biden likes to cast in positive terms is, to Sanders, just decade after decade of wage stagnation for the working class. Low unemployment and GDP growth are, to Sanders, just more indicators that the rich are getting richer.
"The economy is doing really great for people like Mr. Bloomberg and other billionaires," said Sanders at last Tuesday's debate, when asked if his message of radical change could succeed during good economic times. "In the last three years," Sanders said, "billionaires in this country saw an $850 billion increase in their wealth. But you know what? For the ordinary American, things are not so good."
Sanders' policy proposals are radical. He wants a Green New Deal. He wants national rent control. He wants a federal jobs guarantee and protectionist tariffs. He wants to raise middle-class taxes to pay for a $32 trillion health care plan that also bans private insurance.
When asked how he'll get any of this ambitious agenda passed, Sanders answer is that he'll mobilize a flood of new voters who're chomping at the bit for real, socialist change. A New York Times article from last week quotes Sanders on the campaign trail promising he can "bring millions of people into the political process who normally do not vote."
The differences between Biden and Sanders couldn't be more apparent. For libertarians, however, it's a hard call determining which is the lesser of two evils.
For each of Sanders' budget-busting, property rights-destroying proposals, there's another one that reveals a genuine appreciation for civil liberties. He's in favor of radical criminal justice reform and of bringing the troops home. His immigration plan is pretty good, past statements about wage suppression and billionaire conspiracies notwithstanding. While Biden is still flip-flopping on marijuana, Sanders is promising to legalize pot on day one by executive order.
Biden's aversion to anything even remotely radical means the country would likely be safe from socialism with him in the White House. But his absence of a radical vision for the future is undercut by a past record that's been none too good for liberty.
The long-serving Delaware senator helped pass major federal tough on crime legislation that contributed to mass incarceration. He supported the Iraq war and the PATRIOT Act. He's a drug warrior and a gun grabber. Sanders' Medicare for All plan is currently just a promise. Biden helped give us Obamacare, which remains the law of the land.
As Reason's Eric Boehm has documented, Biden's career "is one long lesson about the dangers of bipartisan consensus politics."
Today, Democratic voters will choose between these two visions. Unfortunately, neither one leaves much room for limited government.