Joe Biden is the Democratic nominee for President in 2020. Those who keep fighting the good fight for progressive principles and Bernie Sanders should be lauded – if they fight the fight respectively.
Sometimes Sanders supporters behave like Jacobins in Revolutionary France. Agree with them 99% but cross them once and they’ll have your head chopped off. But the Democratic establishment is even worse. They demand complete conformity and hysterical cries of Russia did it, while implying everything Trump tweets could end the republic as we know it. Failure to agree with this means you’re hurting the party and country.
Meanwhile we have Joe Biden, the sure-fire nominee who probably does not fit into either camp.
Once again, this election is about white working class voters, largely Catholic in Rust Belt and Upper Midwest. We must also ensure heavy African-American turnout in the cities of that region and females in the suburbs of that region. That’s it. Period. That’s the Election. Either Biden wins these votes or Trump keeps these votes. The winner wins the Election. End of story.
I might lose all the Democrats here but as a person of color maybe I can get away with saying it with a little more deference I am sick and tired of hearing about Black votes in the south for Biden or Latino votes in California for Sanders or this group here or that group there. Those voters DO NOT MATTER IN 2020. Sorry, it’s the cold hard truth. The desire of party elites and their allies in the media to make the nominating process about this is once again evidence of how out of whack the Democrats are and why we consistently lose elections.
Anyway back to Biden.
The reputation of Biden as a centrist seems to have been cemented by being Barack Obama’s Vice President. I’ve said time and again I am disturbed by many of Obama’s foreign policy decisions (with the exception of Cuba and the Iran deal I would consider Obama to the right of Donald Trump on foreign affairs) and his administrations unwillingness to properly in my mind enforce antitrust laws on big business, Biden’s Senate career generally was to the left of that standard. Obama’s administration didn’t properly handle immigration reform either,
Biden in the Senate 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. Those votes and stands that now look conservative were to the left at the time. I can even defend the constant out of context commentary he gave on Social Security and Medicare in 1995- a time when the Democratic Party itself we feared might go out of existence after the jolt of the 1994 Election and Newt Gingrich’s crusade against government spending. Biden’s proposals and thoughts were to the left – the playing field was on the right and we as a party felt we needed to give some ground on entitlements. That’s why Biden spoke the way he did in 1995, in clips now widely circulating on Twitter.
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 or my Twitter feed – I stand by what I say but did not mean ti to apply to Biden personally. My critiques about the Democratic establishment, CNN and MSNBC remain valid and my belief. But those should not be conflated into think Biden is some sort of centrist even if he says he is and they promote him as such.
In fact, Biden was long a leading liberal. Perhaps sitting in 2020, making judgement about votes in 1980, bills sponsored in 1990 or speeches given on the floor in 1995, 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. That might also explain why younger millennials never exposed to Biden’s best days have no idea about him besides being an “Obama guy”. Biden’s record is generally left of where Obama’s ended up being. As Vice President he backed the Administration but my view is he may have done things differently particularly on immigration and foreign interventions if he had been President instead. For starters he may not have made Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State, which was one of the root causes of Obama’s hawkishness in my estimation.
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 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. It’s important progressives knowing Biden will be the Democratic standard bearer keep him to the left, where instinctively on many issues he resides.
I personally watched in the Senate gallery in 1996, Biden give a speech defending Social Security – yes he made reference to efforts to work with Chuck Grassley to cap spending in the 1980’s – but in the context of that discussion and one the previous year he was trying to establish credibility for opposing GOP cuts. Biden fought GOP attempts to raid the Social Security trust fund to protect the program for future generations in that period even if it meant on the surface giving some ground. The idea he wants to cut Social Security has been taken completely out of perspective – the program may have been gutted completely in that period.
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 even went to South Africa to try and meet Nelson Mandela (Biden’s embellishment of this claiming incorrectly he was arrested doesn’t take away the fact that he was an anti-apartheid champion) . I do worry though that with the current number of Republican foreign policy hawks of that era, now part of the Democrats efforts to defeat Donald Trump that Biden will become softer on these sorts of humanitarian matters and challenging right-wing dictatorships. So progressives need to make sure he stays true to his values.
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. It has to be remembered some of the compromises made were done so to get 60 votes in the Senate.
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.
Biden’s recent support from neoconservative Bush Republicans is unfortunate. But this shotgun alliance is about the anti-Trump obsession neocons share with Democrats, and we must work to ensure Biden does not fall into their hands once President . Neocons must find his Biden’s unpopular opposition to the 1991 Gulf War offensive, even if they liked his 2002 vote, cast like so many others in the Democratic Party out of fear of being labeled “soft on terrorism.”
Throughout the 1990’s Biden regularly fought 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.
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 millennium 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.
For those unhappy with the drift of the Democrats toward identity politics, Biden’s working class Roman Catholic background can help buck the trend and help in the state I reference above that matter the most.
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.
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.
He wasn’t my first choice for the nomination. But he’s the almost certainly the nominee and he’s a lot better than what could have been with Mike Bloomberg or the overly-robotic Pete Buttigieg. It’s time for progressives after the fight is finished internally to use our influence to keep Biden true to his past and not fall into the hands of the neoconservatives, party operatives and media commentators that want something that he isn’t and will keep trying to push him there.