How Far Left Do Mayor Durkan And Joe Biden Have To Go?


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By normal standards both Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and the Democrat’s Presidential nominee-to-be Joe Biden would be considered left of center. So you would think that the challenge they face would come from the right. Think again. Look left to see where danger lies for these local and national leaders.

Durkan is more immediately in the crosshairs. Biden still has the luxury of time and the on-going Trump Travesty Show (although Durkan has also had some benefit from Trump’s tweeted goads). But both are under pressure from the left that threatens to make them look like pandering non-leaders rather than principled leaders who know where they stand.

With Saturday night’s shootings in the Capitol Hill Organized Protest zone, Durkan’s remarks about a “Summer of Love,” sound not just naive, but dangerous. My guess is that Capitol Hill residents as well as others nearby, many of whom re-elected Kshama Sawant last fall, are thinking twice about whether they want to live proximate to an occupied zone that police cannot enter but where leading “demonstrators” are carrying AR-15’s.

Durkan, no doubt about it, is in a tough spot. While she has lots of real world experience, she doesn’t have a lot of experience as a political leader — a fact that is now becoming evident. Where is she willing to draw a line? If you don’t embrace Trump’s version of toughness — dominate the streets — is there another version of tough, one that is principled but won’t tolerate, or placate, fools?

Meanwhile, Joe Biden is under similar if less urgent (at the moment) pressures to lurch left in response to both the COVID recession and the renewed Black Lives Matter movement. In an understandable effort to broaden his appeal to the young who loved the grumpy Grandpa Bernie, Biden has opened dialogue with the democratic socialists and Bernie advisers. A rush to Bernie’s “Medicare-for-All” backfires, despite COVID, and risks losing those happy with the private medical insurance plan they have.

Now, he will be under pressure to chose between the one true story about America, that it all boils down to white supremacy? Or America as the land of hope and opportunity? His Vice-Presidential choice becomes the litmus test. But Biden has to manage both stories, honoring the long-delayed quest for racial justice and continuing to believe that justice-denied is not the entirety of the American story.

At some point, leaders are those who stand up and make their own “I Have A Dream” speech. Their own declaration of principle and “Here I Stand, I Can Do No Other.”  They articulate clearly their vision and their limits. They let their followers, and would-be followers, see the shape of the world they believe in, but also the lines that they will not cross, or allow others to cross, to get there.

Anthony B. Robinson
Anthony B. Robinson
Tony is a writer, teacher, speaker and ordained minister (United Church of Christ). He served as Senior Minister of Seattle’s Plymouth Congregational Church for fourteen years. His newest book is Useful Wisdom: Letters to Young (and not so young) Ministers. He divides his time between Seattle and a cabin in Wallowa County of northeastern Oregon. If you’d like to know more or receive his regular blogs in your email, go to his site listed above to sign-up.


  1. Tony, I think your suggestion that “pressure from the left” threatens to make Mayor Durkan seem a “pandering non-leader” confuses cause with effect. Durkan does not have the temperament of a leader. She has attempted to run the city like an accountant, as if its citizens were digits in a spreadsheet. She is so oblivious to the human context of politics that she couldn’t pander if she tried.

    As for the danger of leftist pressure on candidate Biden–have you checked his poll numbers recently?

  2. I agree with Roger about Durkan’s failings as a leader, and also with his assessment that Biden has nothing to lose by moving to the left. Truth is, he’s hardly a lefty; he’s merely a modern Democrat, which means he’s still starting way too far from the opponent’s goalpost to attempt field goal or even a hail Mary pass. It wouldn’t hurt him to try to establish a slightly better field position. And maybe the fans would appreciate it enough to wake up and believe we can win this thing.
    The current political environment, where Republicans are running a candidate who’s a lunatic, offers a pretty safe time to allow Joe to play to his base a little more. If the Democrats are afraid to do that right now, they are even more spineless than they appear.
    And I don’t think it’s a good strategy to make fun of “Grandpa Bernie” when your candidate is Joe Biden. Bernie will be 79 in September; Joe will be 78 in November. It’s not a meaningful or even useful distinction, especially when you acknowledge that Bernie brought young voters to the party with his enthusiasm while Joe is sleep-inducing on a good day. Maybe we should not remind voters of either camp that our old fogy is even older than their old mad emperor.
    I also agree that justice-denied is not the entirety of the American story. But we are where we are right now because it is without a doubt the part of the story that has been relentlessly downplayed, stifled and ignored. It’s way past time to acknowledge that, for too many citizens, for too many centuries, justice-denied is their only experience of the American story. No wonder they’re ticked off.

  3. Thought provoking reading and I thank you all. Durkan and Biden are suddenly in a new world, but they got to where they are growing through an old one. The question is: while in a moment of radical change, how does a leader become someone else?
    What I would like to read is what do they do from here. What’s the right thing? Name one thing or approach.
    Should they quit and if they did who is better?


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