This piece isn’t an endorsement of Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders, nor intended as a negative hit on any other Democratic candidate for President. It is a piece of historical analysis and perspective I feel needs to be written. It does not reflect the views of any other writer who has published on this site. As someone no longer dependent on politics to make a living nor involved in the petty, personality-driven squabbles that have taken the party to its lowest ebb in terms of percentage of total elected officials nearly 100 years, I am free to express my opinions without reservation.
However, in this current landscape of personality-driven, identity-oriented Democratic Party politics, lack of historical analysis or lack of perspective on events, I expect to come out of publishing this scared and being accused hackery or worse paid propaganda. Such terminology comes with the territory as any writer in the Trump era can appreciate – balance and perspective aren’t traits appreciated in political analysis any longer, and since so few people read entire articles and balance what is in them, it’s even harder.
On Wednesday night CNN hosted a Town Hall meeting in New Hampshire with Joe Biden. During the course of the sit-down Biden discussed overcoming his stuttering problem and gave an impassioned close on how we as Americans can do better. If the speech had been delivered by another candidate let’s say Amy Klobuchar, I believe it would have been big news. However, Biden has become for some reason unknown to this writer, a source of derision on social media and among many in the chattering class of Democratic Party insiders.
This is a departure from the set of non-party aligned political commentators and analysts (including many traditional liberals and conservatives) who still hold Biden in high regard, and believe he’d make the best President of the current crop running in either party.
The Democratic race for President has suffered from a double-standard in coverage. One standard for “fresh faces” many of whom have dropped out of the race but still get glowing coverage after withdrawing and another for established septuagenarian male officeholders, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. The scrutiny of both Biden and Sanders record has been much greater from where I sit than that of other candidates. The misunderstanding of Sanders includes some Democrats reflexively continuing their post-2016 new Cold War ideology by conflating socialism with communism. But since Sanders like President Trump has attracted the type of following that takes any mild critique of him or his record as a personal insult from someone who has been paid off by the deep state conspiracy and then impugn motivations of anyone making such critiques, he’s had plenty of backup to push back on these claims. So no need to defend him even though this week was particularly brutal for him as the elements of the media most closely aligned with the Democratic Party took shots at Sanders that were in my opinion below-the-belt. So I will focus on defending Biden.
Biden is someone who has spent just about his entire public life in elected office. I feel the deep need to set the record straight from my perspective with whatever small influence I have about the former Vice President. His record, his career, his personality, everything from my perspective has been skewed in this race.
The claims that Joe Biden is somehow some sort of conservative Democrat or the media narrative that Biden represents the moderate third way which was been aided by the attacks of other candidates for Democratic nomination are absolutely from where I sit, FALSE. The media’s acceptance of this sort of thinking without any real historical grounding or perspective has been shocking to me.
In fact, Biden was long a leading liberal. Perhaps sitting in 2020, making judgement about votes in 1980 or bills sponsored in 1990 without any sort of perspective on the times and the atmosphere in the Senate it is easy to say “he wasn’t one of us.” Well that sort of selective memory and cherry-picking of facts might explain why the Democrats as a whole are so bad at defining their message, or winning elections.
It’s become a trait of Democrats to take shots at the “established leader ” It has become also a cottage industry for analysts who make their money off lobbying or Democratic campaigns to find “flaws” in that established leader to drum up business or attention for themselves. I see all of this in the consistent questioning of Biden and the acceptance of what some of his former opponents in the race claimed about him.
So here is the true Joe Biden as I have observed him through the years. Yes he has some bad votes on financial regulation (MBNA is based in Delaware) and mixed record on reproductive choice which was no different from Democratic leaders of the era such as Dick Gephardt, David Bonior, Harry Reid and others. The 2002 Iraq War vote was unfortunate and something I opposed at the time, but considering how many liberal Democrats in both chambers cast the same vote, it’s tough to single Biden out on it. This is especially true given Biden in 2006 had in my view, the ONLY realistic plan in my opinion by a Democrat or Republican to get out of the war and create a situation where the region would not continue to fall deeper and deeper into sectarian violence.
I also do not like the way he treated Anita Hill, but seems to have grown from that rather sad chapter in his legislative career which was now almost 30 years ago. The Hill episode was a sorry tale, and Biden wasn’t alone in the crime. But it is something he’s had to own up for and largely inexcusable. But people make mistakes, I bet if we pried deeper into the record of those taking shots at Biden we’d find similar lapses in judgement. The current Democratic front-runner, whose elected highlight is that is a former Mayor of South Bend, Indiana (a city with less residents than Coral Springs, my hometown) has not been held to anywhere near the standard Biden has. That’s the fault of the media in my opinion.
In spite of Iraq, Hill and MBNA I think he has so much more of his record was positive. His Senate votes were closer to established liberal lions like Howard Metzenbaum and Ted Kennedy than conservative Democrats like David Boren, Jim Exon, John Breuax or Ben Nighthorse Campbell (who switched parties in 1995). Biden was a liberal, period. Was he Paul Wellstone? No, but he was probably closer in spirit to Wellstone than he was to Bill Clinton if I am perfectly honest. Biden was NEVER associated with the “third way,” DLC politics of Clinton, Joe Lieberman or Dave McCurdy.
I personally watched in the Senate gallery in 1996, Biden give a speech defending Social Security. He consistently fought GOP attempts to raid the Social Security trust fund to protect the program for future generations in that period. The idea he wants to cut Social Security has been taken completely out of perspective.
Biden first came to my attention as young boy obsessed with the news in the 1980’s because he was one of the loudest voices condemning the Reagan Administration’s softness of the Apartheid South African government. He went directly after Robert Bork, the most dangerous Supreme Court nominee of my lifetime to that point, killing his nomination. Biden paid for this stand when his health declined right after and he was accused of plagiarism driving him out of the 1988 Presidential race. Make no mistake about it – the plagiarism charge stemmed from the early days of the right-wing propaganda machine (which would dominate politics in the 1990’s) as revenge for his killing of the Bork nomination which resulted in the much more pragmatic Anthony Kennedy ending up on the court.
He was then prime sponsor of the Assault Weapons Ban and carried the Brady Bill through the Senate against intense opposition. The oft-cited and misinterpreted Crime Bill he sponsored was considered liberal at the time. Just check the voting record – the VAST majority of left-leaning Democrats voted for the bill. The VAST majority. I bet if Corey Booker and Kamala Harris were in the Senate then, they’d have voted for it also. Heck they may have even openly aided Biden in securing the votes to break a Republican filibuster to pass it!
Among the 2020 candidates, Biden is the most progressive on firearms. Period. Rhetoric from other candidates might match Biden’s but his record is flawless- not only votes but leadership. If you really care about gun violence, you owe it to yourself to consider Biden’s candidacy. Biden has never been an NRA-favorite like one of the other candidates in this race, but instead an NRA target for forty years.
Biden also showed leadership on getting President Clinton’s tax increases through the Senate, ending the Bush tax cuts, pushing legislation on Climate Change before it was on most people’s radar and backing serious Campaign Finance Reform.
I hear Biden is a “neoliberal,” or neoconservative” on foreign policy. How do you then explain Biden’s unpopular opposition to the 1991 Gulf War? (I chalk up his 2002 vote as a reaction to backlash to his 1991 stand much as I do with John Kerry as well). I must have been in some sort of 1990’s decade-long trance when I observed Biden regularly fight Jesse Helms and the reactionary wing of the GOP on issues of foreign aid, humanitarian assistance and US military engagements abroad. In 1999, right in the middle of the period Helms and the GOP were trying to run a foreign policy out of the Senate that bucked the Clinton Administration, Biden was ranked by National Journal, the single most liberal member of the Senate on foreign affairs.
During that period, Biden supported the important actions in the Balkans, opposed by isolationist Republicans who now have become MAGA-hate wearing officials. These action saved Muslims in the region from total slaughter at the hands of the Serbs.
Throughout the 1990’s Biden’s record tended to be to the left on social issues, with the exception of his support for the Hyde Amendment (which was at the time supported by other members of the Democratic leadership) and his wishy-washy stance on other abortion restrictions. On foreign policy, he tended to stick to the Democratic line and support multilateral efforts, the sort of alliance building abandoned by George W. Bush and rejected completely by Donald Trump. At the time his leadership on foreign affairs was critical to pushing back against the radicalization of the right on international policy and the extreme push toward unilateralism.
In the 1990’s and Bush II years, Biden often aggressively clashed with Republicans on these issues. Understanding this requires trying to get a grasp on foreign policy as the complex set of times it is, not just reflexively saying “Biden voted for the Iraq War he is a neo-conservative.” But in this era nuance and actual evaluation of these complex issues seems to be lacking, allowing other Democrats and their media allies to misrepresent Biden’s very positive record on foreign affairs.
As this Presidential race has taken shape, I have become more and more angry at the attacks without reason or perspective on someone who has served his country and his party for a half century. It shows what politics has become and how out whack so many Democrats are with reality in this Trump era. Biden is traditional a liberal with pragmatic instincts and one who as an effective legislator cultivated friendships around the entire spectrum of government. His record should be lauded not ripped – his service commended not torn apart.
It’s fair if Democrats and media analysts feel someone other than Biden or Sanders should be nominated. But what is not proper is holding two candidates to one very skewed standard, whether it is because of age, gender, race or time in office while holding everyone else to another arbitrary standard. I’m not here to defend Sanders today because plenty of other people do that, but not enough folks who know better are defending Biden. That bothers me and makes me lose faith in a process that should be an objective and open discussion about candidates, issues, policies and perspectives. Right now it is not that at all.