This column reflects the personal opinion of Kartik Krishnaiyer and not of other TFS writers or contributors.
One of the wonderful things about no longer relying on politicians or political campaigns to make a living is you can take a step back and see things more clearly. Rather than be emotionally invested in a candidate, elected official or ideology, you can be practical. Rather than having to suck up activists or those who depend on political campaigns to make a living, you can call it like it is.
It’s therefore been with a great deal of shock that I’ve observed many on the left characterizing Joe Biden as some sort of DLC-type neoliberal. If anything, Biden’s mainstream liberalism in the 1980’s and 1990’s was among the most effective in the then-establishment pushback on the DLC and drift toward neoliberalism in the Democratic Party. Biden was never any sort of mushy moderate like Bill Clinton, Joe Lieberman, Bob Kerrey and so many others that he served with or was around.
The implication he is somehow similar to the Clinton’s and Lieberman’s of the world is not only incorrect – it’s an indication how hysterical the left has become. I personally regret my own role in feeding this sort of hysteria in the past on the pages of this website.
I regret the name-calling which eventually led to disaster in 2018 as Florida Democrats nominated the ethically-questionable Andrew Gillum for Governor because he had connected with the “aggressive progressive” mantra better than his primary opponents. That we long advocated that mantra here is something I regret in hindsight because it led Florida Democrats down a path to disaster in what should have been a victorious 2018. Even months after the election, Gillum’s alleged transgressions are in the news.
Practicality is something many of the more vocal elements on the Democratic left seem to be lacking these days. But even more lacking is context- Joe Biden’s 36-year Senate record is being dissected as if those 36 years were all served in the world the new millenium has created, with today’s political and social standards. I for one have been offended by this drumbeat of selective memory bordering on outright ignorance without any sort of context.
In a world where politicians including some champions of leftist economics enrich themselves, Biden stands as a politician that hasn’t gotten filthy rich. He’s not enriching himself making the speeches in front of Wall Street forms that Hillary Clinton did for example. He’s remained a regular guy, or as much of one as a long-standing high-level office holder can be.
This past week, Joe Biden’s long-standing position on the Hyde Amendment were in focus. I disagree with Biden’s position on that issue and have always supported federal (and state) funding for reproductive health issues. However, it must be noted Biden’s position on the issue was no different than former Democratic House Leader Dick Gephardt, former Democratic House Whip David Bonior and any number of other liberal Democrats who were also Roman Catholics from the Midwest and Northeast.
While his Hyde Amendment views are being disected in the context of the MSNBC/Huffington Post era of Democratic politics, the reality is that position was even acceptable on the left so long as you didn’t favor major restrictions on abortion. In fact, Biden helped hold the line in the Senate on any number of abortion bills in the 1990’s, the exception being the Partial-Birth abortion ban. This is a position I personally disagree with, as I believe in no legal restrictions on abortion whatsoever. But I concede my position on this issue which has evolved (Once upon a time I was more conservative on abortion, to right of Biden’s position) has evolved with time as I come to see reproductive rights as a straight economic issue not a moral one.
Biden in those days had the classic record of what we would call a New Deal Democrat. Someone who advocated more progressive economics and had shown a strong support for issues related to Civil Rights and social justice in that era. He had an unusually passionate environmental streak also. Somehow once again these views without the context of the times have led some progressives to imply he’s a neoliberal or moderate. Nothing could be further from the truth.
In an era where Democrats were running from more liberal economic stands, Biden generally embraced them. Opposing tax cuts for the rich and embracing tax increases when needed, Biden also showed a unique leadership on Climate Change as early as the 1980’s. As a Floridian, Biden’s consistent stands against expanded oil drilling has been appreciated.
While some of Biden’s votes in the Senate look conservative in the lens of 2019, they certainly weren’t in the lens of 1983, 1993 or 2003. Context as stated several times in this piece is severely lacking.
Those who lazily compare Joe Biden to Bill Clinton claiming the former is some sort of DLC-oriented neoliberal are missing completely the context of the 1980’s and 1990’s in American politics. Biden has ALWAYS been to the left of the DLC-Clinton sphere, in fact perhaps radically to the left by comparison. Many of the bad votes he cast were also cast by other Democrats who at the time were perceived to be to far left. The likes of Ted Kennedy, Howard Metzenbaum, Paul Wellstone, etc.
As someone who spent much of my 20’s and 30’s geeking out on voting record and interest group scores, Joe Biden was consistently one of the best Democrats around, routinely scoring high from liberal, environmental and labor groups while poorly from conservative and anti-tax groups. In fact if put in the proper context of the times, his voting record is no different from the US Senators now running for the Democratic nomination whose records have been compiled in an era where the Democratic mainstream is further left.
But today’s progressives often confuse anyone in the party establishment, in fact anyone who has ascended to any sort of leadership position in the party as a neoliberal or a “me too Republican.” As someone for years has stressed the need for the Democrats to be a values-based progressive party, and as someone generally turned off by the Clinton’s I am absolutely stunned that Joe Biden is being painted with the same brush.
Biden’s regrettable vote for the Iraq War was no different than many Democrats – however what was different was Biden’s foreign policy credentials led him to give a far more coherent and logical plan for getting the US out of that war and preventing further bloodshed than just about any elected official in EITHER party. Biden also led the charge after the Democrats regained the Senate in January 2007 to get us out of that war.
Gun safety is an area where Biden excelled, taking far-left positions on the issue (unlike Bernie Sanders) long before Gun Control was universally accepted among Democrats as a necessity. Much has been made of the 1994 Crime Bill lately but that legislation was at the time seen as a far left effort to remake the criminal justice system and limit access to guns. Sometimes over the following decades laws don’t work out as intended but for some progressives to adopt the Trumpian critiques of that legislation is just flat out intellectually dishonest. At the time it was seen as a liberal piece of legislation that very few Democrats on the left opposed.
In the late 1990’s as the Ranking Member of the Foreign Relations Committee Biden regularly swatted down neoconservative talking points both in committee and on the floor. Biden’s views on foreign policy were traditionally liberal – his 2002 Iraq War vote as noted above was regrettable but his actions after were not that of a neoliberal at all. Biden’s views on foreign policy put him odds with the prevailing post Cold War winds which emphasized unilateralism of a single superpower.
As a titan of the left in the Senate, Biden won the respect of his colleagues. Conservatives such as Trent Lott, the longtime GOP leader found Biden a formidable foe, someone whose ideological leanings were clear and while willing to compromise, would not give that much ground. He’s also respected by world leaders, something the current occupant of the White House is not.
I happen to think much of Russia’s hostility to the United States including the decision to meddle in US elections and efforts to prop up notoriously anti-American regimes in Iran & Venezuela (among others) is due more to US imperialist overreach and efforts via NATO to encircle Russia. The new cold war in my opinion is more down to the United States than Russia.
However, with many Democrats and left-leaning cable news channels obsessive about Russia, Biden should be the guy for these folks. His views on Russia during the Obama Administration were far more aggressive than that of the President whose efforts to reset the relationship with the Kremlin eventually ended in acrimony and Russian annexation of the Crimea.
For those unhappy with the drift of the Democrats toward identity politics, Biden’s working class Roman Catholic background can help buck the trend. Heck, he’s even perfectly unfiltered at times as his 2006 comments about Indian-Americans in Delaware indicate. Those comments as an Indian-American did not offend me – they made me realize it was important for our community to further assimilate in middle class American culture, as they had in Delaware. Biden in his own way had given a valuable lesson.
While some might consider that moment a Biden gaffe, it shows how quick on his feet he is. In a political culture dominated by bully’s like Donald Trump and a growing cult of personality on the far left around Bernie Sanders, Biden might be the perfect counterweight which helps Democrats up-and-down the ticket. This is particularly critical in Florida after the disaster of the Gillum nomination and its impact down-ballot.
I’m not sure who I am backing for President yet. However, Biden is a strong consideration. Along with Elizabeth Warren, Pete Buttigieg, Cory Booker and one or two other candidates, he seems to be taking a thoughtful policy-oriented approach to this campaign. His record which is being dissected seemingly to create a narrative. However, one thing that does concern me in this #metoo era is the allegations of sexual harassment. If those are sustained, I would strongly oppose his candidacy.
While I am not sure who I am backing yet, I felt it was necessary to do my part to clear up the misperceptions developing over Biden’s history and record.