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Coronavirus Exposes the Stark Differences Between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden

WASHINGTON — They started the evening with an elbow bump. But from that moment on, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders tried to turn their responses to the coronavirus pandemic into the core argument for their candidacies: steady hand vs. political revolution. During the first head-to-head Democratic presidential debate of the 2020 cycle, the former vice…

Coronavirus Exposes the Stark Differences Between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden

WASHINGTON — They started the evening with an elbow bump. But from that moment on, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders tried to turn their responses to the coronavirus pandemic into the core argument for their candidacies: steady hand vs. political revolution.

During the first head-to-head Democratic presidential debate of the 2020 cycle, the former vice president said the pandemic cries out for experienced leadership. For the Vermont senator, the crisis proves the need for a fundamental transformation of society to meet the needs of working people.

“Let’s be honest and understand that this coronavirus pandemic exposes the incredible weakness and dysfunctionality of our current healthcare system,” Sanders said. “And the [coronavirus] crisis is also, I think, exposing the cruelty and injustice of our economy today.”

“People are looking for results, not a revolution,” Biden retorted.

The exchange, as cities across the country are shutting down schools, libraries, and businesses, and the global coronavirus body count grows by the day, made clear the choice Democrats have ahead of them as states vote on Tuesday and beyond. Should they choose someone who has been in the room before in times of crisis? Or should they choose someone promising a different path?

Biden has pitched himself as the experienced leader capable of returning the country to normalcy. In the section of the debate dealing with coronavirus he drilled into that theme, referencing things he has done during his time as vice president to address crises.

“We’ve been through this before,” he said, referencing the Obama administration’s work on H1N1 and Ebola. “I would call into the Situation Room all of the experts in America dealing with the crisis. I would sit them down and do exactly what we did then: What is it that we need? Listen to the experts.”

Send in the military

Biden said he’d bring in the military and FEMA to help with temporary hospitals and other operational concerns, while looking to the World Health Organization and other countries to address the shortage in available testing. Then he’d address the economic fallout individuals are facing from loss of work or high medical bills.

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Sanders, by contrast, said he would focus on alleviating citizens’ fears that they wouldn’t be able to afford testing if they suspect they’re sick or health care if they are sick. Then he would focus on making sure hospitals have the supplies they need to treat people, and reassure the public that they will be made whole if they face loss of income due to the virus.

“I obviously agree with Medicare for All. I will fight for that as president,” he said. “But right now, in this emergency, I want every person in this country to understand that when you get sick, you go to the doctor. When you get sick, if you have the virus, that will be paid for.”

Economic inequality

Sanders, however, has campaigned as a revolutionary, as always. He said it’s important to use the coronavirus crisis as an entry point to talk about economic inequality and lack of health care, while Biden wanted to focus mostly on the task at hand.

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