Joe Biden’s troubling record

On the basis of this record, the former VP hardly seems like the best person to heal the divisions so fiercely stoked by Donald Trump, the Republican Party and well funded right-wing media over the last few years.

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With former Vice President Joe Biden finally announcing that he’s running for the U.S. presidency last week, he immediately became the presumed front runner in the Democratic primaries. While this early momentum probably comes from name recognition alone, another factor that seemed to be almost as important to the mainstream press was his first day fundraising total.

While Bernie Sanders started this trend when his campaign announced in February that he’d raised what was then a record $5.9 million in the first 24 hours of his candidacy, he was later ‘beaten’ in this metric, first by Beto O’Rourke who announced a $6.1 million haul on his first day in March, and now by the former Vice President, whose campaign reported he took in $6.3 million over the same period. However, there are problems with this narrative when one looks at the how the actual numbers break down between the candidates.

In the case of both O’Rourke and Biden, the number of individual donors is much smaller, meaning the average donation for each was higher than the average of $27 pledged to Sanders. In fact, the former Vice President had just 97,000 individual donors in comparison to Sanders’ 225,000. 

More worrying for U.S. progressives than this numbers game should probably be where some of Biden’s money comes from; as reported by The Intercept, “Like other Democratic candidates, Biden is launching his presidential bid with a pledge to reject federal lobbyist cash. But the lobbyists attending his Thursday fundraiser are either unregistered or registered with state entities, not the federal system… Democratic contenders Beto O’Rourke, Kamala Harris, and Cory Booker have all leveraged the same loophole to collect cash from corporat interests while pledging to eschew funding from federal lobbyists.” 

In fact, $700,000 of the candidate’s first day total came from a fundraiser held on the same day, with the cash coming from these kinds of donors, including Comcast Senior Executive Vice President David Cohen, whose home was used for the event.

While most of those currently in the race are concentrating on substantive policy issues and wisely spending less time talking about the current occupant of the White House, Biden’s campaign launched with an ad directly targeting the U.S. leader’s response to the carnage at the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in August of 2017.

While the ad is somewhat effective, Biden’s campaign, while more inclined to name the current President, is following a precedent set by other centrists in the field like Pete Buttigiegand Beto O’Rourke, who spend most of their time campaigning talking in vague terms about ‘values’. The thing both of these politicians have going for them are relatively thin records, especially in comparison to Biden’s 45+ years in public life.

On the basis of this record, the former VP, aside from being picked to be Barack Obama’s running mate in 2008, hardly seems like the best person to heal the divisions so fiercely stoked by Donald Trump, the Republican Party and well funded rightwing media over the last few years.

While it’s long ago, it’s important to note that when Biden campaigned and won a Senate seat representing Delaware in 1972 at age 30, the former VP came out strongly against busing to integrate schools and help African Americans begin to see greater equality of outcomes in terms of education. While this and his embrace of Bill Clinton’s 1994 omnibus crime bill may be viewed as ancient history by some, watching his speech before the Senate in support of the latter is as bracing as anything Hillary Clinton or her husband said at the time.

While his support of this bill has at times been excused because his office pushed the necessary Violence Against Women Act into law as part of it, his record on women’s issues is just as checkered as it is on race, just ask those complaining about his sometimes inappropriate behavior or better yet, Anita Hill.

Although less serious than his treatment of Hill, the former VP, or more likely his subordinates, have a recent history of using prominent women when it suits them to burnish the candidate’s credentials. First, in the lead up to the 2016 primaries that he eventually sat out of, the idea was floated that he would immediately name Elizabeth Warren as his running mate rather than waiting until he received the nomination.

Adding insult to injury, this time around, a former staffer in the Obama Administration, Jen Psaki, has already implied that the Senator from Massachusetts owes her public stature in part to Biden, an audacious rewriting of history, as the most domestic policy focused candidate in the lead up to 2020 became prominent as the result of disagreements she had with the then Senator from Delaware when she testified as an academic expert on bankruptcy law in 2005.

As Senator Warren said recently about the former Vice President, “Our disagreement is a matter of public record. When the biggest financial institutions in this country were trying to put the squeeze on millions of hardworking families who were in bankruptcy because of medical problems, job losses, divorce and death in the family, there was nobody to stand up for them. I got in that fight because they just didn’t have anyone, and Joe Biden was on the side of credit-card companies.” 

Related to his naming of Warren as a potential VP nominee in 2016, this time around his campaign floated Stacey Abrams, who narrowly lost the race for governor of Georgia in the 2018 midterms, as a running mate.

At least in the case of Warren he met with her first, something he doesn’t seem to have done with Abrams who disabused his campaign of the notion that she could be used in such a way in a television interview, saying, “I think you don’t run for second place. If I’m going to enter a primary, then I’m going to enter a primary. If I don’t enter a primary, my job is to make certain the best Democrat becomes the nominee and, whoever wins the primary, that we make certain that person gets elected in 2020,” 

Finally, in terms of foreign policy, an area he hasn’t really been asked about, Biden has supported every American intervention since at least the turn of the century, saying after the ouster and brutal murder of Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, “this is more of the prescription for how to deal with the world as we go forward than it has been in the past.” 

Until someone asks him about this, there is no way of knowing if he still feels this way today.

Joe Biden has long prided himself on being a candidate beloved by his country’s working people but he has rarely been their champion over a decades long political career. While he has suffered great personal tragedy in his own life and is deserving of compassion, he has never been a progressive and should not be allowed to appropriate the term in primaries where several voices to his left are already in the running.

A Biden victory could set up the Democratic Party to repeat the strategic mistakes of 2016 and once again target suburban Republicans by promising a return to ‘normalcy’ and a continuation of the center right neoliberalism that has dominated American political life since the 1980s instead of energizing the party’s base through policy proposals designed to improve the lives the 99%, uplift marginalized communities and tackle the environmental crises mostly ignored on a bipartisan basis by the country’s political class for far too long.

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