So Joe’s in now, and really, thank God. The corporate neoliberal “center” is dreadfully under-represented in the current tiny field of potential Democratic nominees. In the event candidates Buttigieg, Harris, O’Rourke, Booker, Klobuchar, Moulton, Inslee, Hickenlooper and Gillibrand fail to successfully advocate for continuing 30 years of failed conservative “centrist” Democratic policies, former Senator and Vice President Joe Biden (D-Delaware) will be there to shoot the gap.
“The third time’s lucky,” reads Alexander Hilsop’s 1862 compendium of Scottish proverbs. I guess we’re all going to find out how true that is over the course of the 79 weeks standing between this ragged little patch of time and the 2020 presidential election. Senator Biden’s first run at the brass ring began on June 9, 1987, and ended in searing disgrace only 106 days later after his campaign was subsumed by plagiarism accusations and his questionable relationship with the facts of his own life.
Biden ran for president for the second time 20 years later, after dancing right up to the edge of declaring his candidacy before stepping back in 1992 and again in 2004. Biden managed to stay in the 2008 race for 11 months while never polling above single digits, finally withdrawing after placing 5th in the Iowa caucus. He did get noticed, however, and ultimately accepted the number two slot on what became a victorious Obama/Biden ticket.
Biden kicked off his third presidential run on Thursday with an ominous and somewhat cumbersome 6:00 am tweet — “[E]verything that has made America — America — is at stake.” The announcement tweet failed to mention Biden’s plans to attend a big-dollar fundraiser hosted by David Cohen, chief lobbyist for Comcast, the most despised company in the country. This, morosely, is par for a very long course.
Though he labels himself a friend to working people, Biden has a record of harming workers that spans decades. “His energetic work on behalf of the credit card companies has earned him the affection of the banking industry,” wrote Sen. Elizabeth Warren in 2002, “and protected him from any well-funded challengers for his Senate seat.”
“State laws have made Delaware the domicile of choice for corporations, especially banks,” writes Andrew Cockburn for Harpers, “and it competes for business with more notorious entrepôts such as the Cayman Islands. Over half of all US public companies are legally headquartered there.” Joe Biden spent 36 years as a Delaware senator until Obama raised him up in 2008, and during that time he served his core constituency with vigor.
Biden voted in favor of one of the most ruthlessly anti-worker bills in modern legislative history, the 2005 Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act, depriving millions of the protections provided by Chapter 7 bankruptcy. For this, and for his pro-corporate labors stretching all the way back to 1978, he has earned the financial devotion of the too-big-to-fail club many times over.
Millennial voters are touted as the sleeping giant of the 2020 election: Turn them out in large numbers, goes the thinking, and you can practically start measuring the drapes in the Oval Office today. If this is true, and I believe it is, candidate Biden began his campaign behind an eight-ball roughly the size of, well, Delaware.
“Student debt broke $1.5 trillion in the first quarter of 2018 according to the Federal Reserve,” writes Mark Provost for Truthout. “Twenty percent of student borrowers default on their loan payments. Delaware’s own senator and former vice president of the United States, Joe Biden, is at the center of the decades-long campaign by lenders to eviscerate consumer debt protections.”
Biden became chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1987, at a time when Republicans were running actively racist campaigns under the gossamer veil of being “tough on crime.” Chairman Biden, who was about to spend 106 days failing to become president at the time, was not about to miss the boat. By 1994, he had become the Democratic champion for the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, a vicious piece of legislation which ushered in an age of mass incarceration that lawmakers today are still laboring to dismantle.
Biden’s problems on the matter of race go far beyond his full-throated support for the 1994 crime bill. “I do not buy the concept, popular in the ’60s, which said, ‘We have suppressed the Black man for 300 years and the white man is now far ahead in the race for everything our society offers,’” he said in 1975 regarding school desegregation. “‘In order to even the score, we must now give the Black man a head start, or even hold the white man back, to even the race.’ I don’t buy that.”
You can expect to see that quote at least once a day for as long as his campaign remains active. One can try to shrug off a 44-year-old quote as the words of a man whose opinions on race have “evolved” — he shared the ticket with Obama! — but his record on the issue is unavoidably long and bleak. “Joe Biden’s greatest strength is that he’s been in the mainstream of American politics for the last 50 years,” writes the NBC politics blog, The Fix. “And that’s his greatest weakness, too.”
In this, Biden mirrors the history of the party whose nomination he seeks, a party that was firmly on the wrong side of racial justice until the middle of the 1960s. “My state was a slave state,” he told Fox News in 2006. “My state is a border state. My state has the eighth-largest Black population in the country. My state is anything [but] a Northeast liberal state.” Later that same year, before a mostly Republican crowd in South Carolina, Biden joked that Delaware only stayed in the Union during the Civil War “because we couldn’t figure out how to get to the South.”
Joe Biden voted in favor of George W. Bush’s invasion and occupation of Iraq. I have spent the last 17 years of my life writing about that horrific war, and expect to still be writing about it right up until they wind me in my shroud. There is no lack of irony to be found in the fact that Biden ultimately decided not to run for president in 1992 because he voted against George H.W. Bush’s Gulf War resolution, believing that vote irretrievably damaged his chances for victory. Some 26 years later, his vote in favor of a different Iraq war will be around his neck like a blood-soaked millstone, and justly so.
And then there is the matter of Anita Hill, which rolls many of the most pressing issues of the day — women’s rights, the patriarchy, racism, the conservative balance of the Supreme Court, collusion with a Republican Party that thinks “bipartisanship” is hilarious — into a very hard ball.
“Joe Biden was the ringleader of the hostile and sexist hearing that put Anita Hill, not Clarence Thomas, on trial,” writes Shaunna Thomas, co-founder and executive director of the women’s group, UltraViolet. “In doing so, Biden caused tremendous harm to all survivors, he set back the movement, and he helped put Clarence Thomas on the Supreme Court. This is not a subject he can sweep under the rug. This is not something he can just get out of the way before announcing his candidacy. This is not something one line in a speech or interview will fix.”
Prior to announcing his candidacy, Biden expressed regret for his treatment of Anita Hill, going so far as to say “I’m sorry” on the Today show in September 2018, which speaks volumes about how long he has been contemplating this campaign (Hill was not present in the studio to hear the apology). On the day he announced this third run, CNBC reported that Biden had spoken to Hill personally. “They had a private discussion,” said a campaign spokesperson, “where he shared with her directly his regret for what she endured and his admiration for everything she has done to change the culture around sexual harassment in this country.”
According to The New York Times, however, Hill was having none of it. “Ms. Hill, in an interview Wednesday, said she left the conversation feeling deeply unsatisfied and declined to characterize his words to her as an apology,” reported the Times. “She said she is not convinced that Mr. Biden truly accepts the harm he caused her and other women who suffered sexual harassment and gender violence.”
“I cannot be satisfied by simply saying I’m sorry for what happened to you,” Hill is quoted as saying. “I will be satisfied when I know there is real change and real accountability and real purpose. The focus on apology, to me, is one thing. But he needs to give an apology to the other women and to the American public because we know now how deeply disappointed Americans around the country were about what they saw. And not just women. There are women and men now who have just really lost confidence in our government to respond to the problem of gender violence.”
Joe Biden’s first three public endorsements — from conservative Democratic Senators Chris Coons (Delaware), Bob Casey (Pennsylvania) and Doug Jones (Alabama) — tell you all you need to know about who is rooting for his candidacy. A significant number of the policies he has devoted his life to are simply terrible. He’s a bannerman for a failed Democratic Party experiment, and the only people who don’t seem capable of perceiving that failure are the “centrist” Democrats cheering him on.
Biden is planning to run on the same “But I can win!” platform that worked out so poorly in the last election. The politics blog Crystal Ball labels him as potentially “The Most Experienced New President Ever,” which was also what some people were saying about Hillary Clinton in 2016. Even in the short time between now and then, a great many Democratic voters have demonstrably left him behind.
Three decades of watching conservative Democrats assist Republicans as they drove the country to the right is enough already. Alexander Hilsop’s proverb, I strongly suspect, is dead wrong on this one. Joe Biden is leading in the polls at the moment, but if he’s still in the race after Super Tuesday, I will be stunned. At least he’ll know how to find the exit. He’s done it before.