The 637th Democratic debate of the 2020 presidential season takes place in Iowa tonight, the last one before that state’s caucus voters head to the polls early next month.
What? Oh, sorry, it’s actually the seventh debate of the season, my bad. The anticipation is just eating me up.
Few things in life could be more stimulating than watching the candidates try to discuss war with Iran, impeachment, climate disruption, racism, anti-Semitism, gun violence, health care, education, LGBTQ rights, economic justice, prison reform, the generalized awfulness of Donald Trump, and the importance of being earnest in one-minute blurts with 30 seconds for rebuttal. What could go wrong?
I snark, but in point of fact, this debate in Iowa may turn out to be the one we’ve all been waiting for. There are six candidates on the stage — Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Tom Steyer, Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg and Joe Biden — instead of an entire college football team. Four of the six are essentially neck and neck in the most recent polls, and unlike the other debates, this one comes with near-term consequences at the voting booth.
Tension is high. According to reports, many Iowa voters are going into vapor lock trying to pick a horse. Things began getting a bit chippy between the frontrunners a few days ago, most notably between Sanders and Warren, whose tacit non-aggression pact lasted far longer than anyone expected. Predictably, their mild beefing sent the “mainstream” political press in search of the fainting couches, because primary season is when everyone is supposed to get along, right? Hello? Is this thing on?
The candidate who should be the most worried tonight? Joe Biden. Trump’s incredibly dangerous flirtation with Armageddon in Iran has motivated a number of Iraq War-related skeletons to come boogeying out of Biden’s closet.
Biden has been heaving to and fro trying to dodge the fact that he voted for the war and supported it well after it became the entirely predictable calamity many of us saw coming, but Bernie Sanders — a vocal opponent of the war from the beginning — will be waiting to pounce on him like a wise old leopard on a tree branch.
As ever, it is Biden’s own words that have grown sharp teeth and returned to gnaw on his legs. One moment in particular — Biden’s 2003 post-invasion remarks at the Brookings Institute — stands out in stark relief:
Some in my own party have said it was a mistake to go to Iraq in the first place, and believe it is not worth the cost, whatever benefit may flow from our engagement in Iraq. But the cost of not acting against Saddam, I think, would have been much greater. And so is the cost, so will be the cost, of not finishing this job. The president of the United States is a bold leader, and he is popular. The stakes are high, and the need for leadership is great. I wish he’d use some of his stored-up popularity to make what I admit is not a very popular case, but I and many others will support him when he makes the case.
Let’s take this line by line.
- “Some in my own party have said it was a mistake to go to Iraq in the first place, and believe it is not worth the cost, whatever benefit may flow from our engagement in Iraq.”
This is Biden slagging the liberal/progressive wing of his own party and everyone else who opposed the invasion, including Sanders, all of whom were right about the war before it began.
- “But the cost of not acting against Saddam, I think, would have been much greater.”
Some 17 years later, that “cost” is in the trillions of dollars, with tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers either killed, seriously injured, mired in PTSD or dead by their own hand. Millions of civilians were killed, seriously injured or displaced during the Iraq war, and the ongoing war in Syria is its next chapter.
- “The president of the United States is a bold leader, and he is popular.”
George W. Bush is currently in a footrace with Donald Trump for the title of Worst U.S. President Ever. The fact that such a comparison is being made at all tells me Biden’s judgment about “bold” leadership is more of his typical weathervane politics in the raw. As for the “and he is popular” bit, I am barred by the rules of decorum from deploying the kind of vocabulary required to properly characterize the odious nature of that sentiment.
- “The stakes are high, and the need for leadership is great.”
- “I wish he’d use some of his stored-up popularity to make what I admit is not a very popular case, but I and many others will support him when he makes the case.”
George W. Bush and his henchmen did make the case, and it was a vast raft of lies that became publicly exposed before the first missiles flew. Biden voted for the war anyway. When he said these words — after the invasion with no WMD found anywhere — the chickens were only just coming home to roost. With this statement, Biden was declaring, “I am with Bush,” for all to see. Today, he tries to pretend this never happened. He still doesn’t get it, and probably never will.
There are many more pro-war Biden comments like this out there, and they will continue to come up until the sun burns out, or until Biden decides to go home.
A large segment of the voting populace, I think, approaches the career of Joe Biden from a profoundly mistaken mindset. The idea that his longevity in politics automatically bestows merit upon him has taken deep root. “Biden was in the Senate for years!” goes the thinking. “If he was awful, someone would have challenged him and taken his seat!”
This reasoning omits a critical element: the Delaware corporate/banking/credit card industry, which at this point is a significant portion of the reason why Delaware exists. Biden made himself a friend to that industry, and the industry repaid his fealty by digging a financial moat around his Senate seat.
With the help of that industry, Biden could overwhelmingly outspend any challengers, and this became common knowledge in the state. He lacked viable primary opponents over the years because only a fool tries to fight a brick wall. The fact that he has survived in politics for five decades is not due to any wisdom or sagacity on his part. It’s because his friends had (have) money to burn in his defense.
All the money in the world, however, cannot erase the past, especially if you are standing on a debate stage next to a senator who did the right thing when you did not. As St. Paul said in Acts 26:26, this thing was not done in a corner. It went down in broad daylight, and the whole world was watching.
As then-Senator Barack Obama said when he was running for president against Biden in 2008, “You can’t undo a vote for war just because a war stops being popular…. This is not just about the past. It is about the future. Voters need to judge us on the judgments we’ve made and the lessons we’ve learned.”
That was during Joe Biden’s second presidential campaign. He withdrew after Iowa. I’m just sayin’, tonight could be pretty interesting. Will history rhyme?