Joe Biden has been a mainstay of the Democratic party for almost half a century. He was one of the movers and shakers in the centrist Democratic establishment who worked tirelessly to reposition the Democrat Party from its traditional focus on the needs of what at one time was seen as their ‘natural constituency — the 99% — to the finance and corporate barons whose contributions keep him and his friends afloat and in office. He and his centrist democratic pals have turned off a whole generation of former democrats who opt to stay home or go fishing rather than go voting. Although slightly more votes were cast in 2016 over 2012, only 56% percent of eligible voters bothered to vote. (Pew Research Center) On an international basis, the U.S. trails most other developed countries in the percentage of the voting age population that actually votes (26th place out of 32 countries).
What does this have to do with Joe Biden and his anticipated announcement of a run for the 2020 democratic presidential nomination? Simply put, Joe is part of the problem, not the solution. Over five decades — three as senator and nearly two as Obama’s vice-president— Joe’s positions were in line with the free-market, neo-liberal solutions beloved by his wealthy donors. Here he is scolding millennials for being concerned about the world they are inheriting — “The younger generation now tells me how tough things are. No, no, I have no empathy for it, give me a break.” (Los Angeles Times) Has Biden ever bothered to look at the challenges millennials face—although better educated than their parents, millennials make on average 20% less than boomers did at the same stage of life (Federal Reserve stats). Healthcare, housing and education are five times more expensive than they were a few decades earlier (Michael Hobbes, NPR), college tuition hikes and the doubling of student debt since 2009 to $1.5 trillion have taken their toll as fewer and fewer of those ages 28 to 30 can afford to buy a home. But the travails of those who are not card carrying members of the plutocracy are not on Biden’s radar.
In all respects, Joe’s political career is a troubling tale of unfettered greed and betrayal of the public trust in order to serve the interests of wealthy backers. Along the way, his unquenchable desire to stay in office has put him in bed with the shrillest voices of reactionary politics. It will become clear why Obama, who never had a hope that didn’t bring in big campaign dollars or contemplated a change that affected living conditions of the mass of people chose Joe Biden as his running mate. Here are some of those inconvenient memories that Joe’s backers hope you do not remember.
Like Biden’s flagrant and longstanding misogyny which surfaced in 1974 during his first term in Congress as a reaction to the decision in Roe v. Wade passed the year before — “Roe v. Wade went too far, I don’t think that a woman has the sole right to say what should happen to her body.” As if to solidify his anti-woman stance, he supported the Hyde amendment (1977) which prohibited federal health insurance programs, including Medicaid and Tri-Care (health care for members of the military) from funding abortions. To solidify his woman-hating credentials, he also threw his support behind the Helms amendment which banned the use of U.S. foreign aid to pay for abortions in other countries.
As it has for many politicians, Joe’s position on abortion rights has “evolved” (a favorite term in the politicians’ lexicon when trying to disavow past support of now unpopular legislation) although he has continued to vote against some forms of abortion even the misnamed “partial birth abortion.”
To be sure, abortion wasn’t the only woman’s issue Biden’s flubbed as he ascended the Democratic leadership ladder. As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1991, he presided over the confirmation hearing of George H.W. Bush’s nominee Clarence Thomas for a seat on the Supreme Court. When a former subordinate, Anita Hill, stepped forward to accuse Thomas of sexual harassment, the hearing devolved into a show of political expediency. Although Biden tried to frame his conduct as “a victory for decency,” he didn’t get a lot of kudos for his performance.
At the time, Democrats controlled the Senate 57-43, which meant they also controlled the Judiciary Committee. Clarence Thomas had two strikes against him. His sexual improprieties were on full display with the testimony of Anita Hill. But lurking in the background was Thomas’ well-deserved reputation for favoring far-right causes. Particularly ironic in that Thomas was nominated to fill the seat of Thurgood Marshall, one of the pre-eminent liberal voices on the Court.
Recently a new wrinkle regarding Joe’s pungent history on the woman question has emerged. The “touchy, feely” Joe has come under the microscope of the #MeToo movement. His response to the furor has been more of the non-apology defense he has used throughout his career. “I’m sorry I didn’t understand more. I’m not sorry for any of my intentions. I’m not sorry for anything that I have ever done. I have never been disrespectful intentionally to a man or a woman.
In the #MeToo era accusations of inappropriate touching should have slammed the door shut on his presidential aspirations. It didn’t. Even Democratic women running for the 2020 nomination tread lightly when it comes to criticizing one of the leaders of the Democratic establishment. That Biden is leading in the polls to defeat Trump has made the ‘Democrats Who Count’ (the leadership) sparing in their criticism.
Nancy Pelosi: “I don’t think that this disqualifies him from running for president at all.” (She coupled that statement with an inane remark suggesting Biden “join the straight arm club”)
Kirsten Gillibrand: [On whether she thinks Biden should leave the race] “No, I do not…it’s something he’s going to have to address.” Gillibrand’s moveable feast veers from 2017 when she pronounced judgment on Al Franken “there were eight credible allegations corroborated in real time (whatever that means)” to her carefully parsed non-judgment of Biden’s antics.
Biden has an even longer and more shameful history on the issue of desegregation. In his first campaign for the Senate in 1972, he declared his support for school integration. After blow-back from some Delaware bigots, he changed his tune explaining that he was for integration but against the best way to achieve it — busing.
In 2003 he delivered a eulogy at the funeral of the Strom Thurmond, one of the nastiest pro- segregationist of the Freedom Rider era, lauding him for starting a reading program in, of all places, segregated schools. Justifying the hateful rhetoric, the fight to keep African Americans out of the voting booths and white schools he defended Thurmond as “a product of his time… “a brave man [who] in the end made his choice and moved to the good side.” Is that all it takes to rewrite history? Apparently so, if like Thurmond you come from South Carolina, the first southern state to hold a primary and you are Joe Biden a scruple-less politician looking toward a presidential run in 2008. When that didn’t work out, Joe would insist to anyone who cared to listen that he went into politics to “fight the Strom Thurmonds.”
Biden’s later excuse for his anti-busing stance had all the faux sincerity of a practiced liar —“I cast the deciding vote to allow courts to keep busing as a remedy. Because there are some things that are worth losing over.” Busing not being one of them.
On the economic front, Joe’s continued to make the dreams of the banking industry come true. Limiting bankruptcy protection was at the top of their priority list. One bank in particular, MBNA (now a subsidiary of Bank of America), depended on the interest and penalty fees from student loans to keep the doors open. What did they do for Joe? Became his largest contributor writing checks that totaled $2 million. To sweeten the deal, they handed a lucrative consulting contract to his son, Hunter.
MBNA had bet on the right horse. Joe was delighted to oblige. On four occasions, he shepherded legislation through Congress tightening bankruptcy regulations. Even the 1990 Crime Control Act, which he wrote and sponsored, contained provisions further limiting bankruptcy protection for poor Americans (more on his part in the law enforcement provisions of that draconian measure later). The highpoint of his effort to screw working people occurred in 2005 with the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005. This law made student debt the only form of consumer debt not dischargeable in bankruptcy. Not only students but low income working people, single mothers, minorities, and the elderly felt the sting of the new law’s curtailment of bankruptcy protections. Biden’s fealty to his corporate masters was so absolute that he even prevented an Obama-sponsored amendment, giving bankruptcy protection to members of the military and those with medical debt from passing.
But Joe’s labors on behalf of his corporate and financial donors had an even longer history. The Reagan presidency may have been a disaster by even centrist Democrat standards, for Biden it was another opportunity to push the elitist agenda. He voted with the Republicans to slash the top tax rate (paid by the 1%) from 70% to 50% and created exemptions from the estate tax for some millionaires leading to a budget deficit of $88 billion. How to repair the damage? Joe had the answer. He called for a freeze on Social Security — ““While this program is severe, it is the only proposal that will halt the upward spiral of deficits, [which threatened] an economic and political crisis of extraordinary proportions.” (Joe Biden’s speech to Congress)
A lesser known inglorious milestone in Biden’s already checkered career occurred in 1983 when he introduced The Comprehensive Forfeiture Act which endowed the feds with unlimited power to seize all assets, including real estate, from private citizens without waiting for a judicial determination of guilt. (In February, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that many civil asset forfeiture laws are unconstitutional)
Despite his support of much of Reagan’s tax giveaways to the rich, Biden hit his stride during the Clinton presidency. Even Ronald Reagan would have blushed at the fall-out from the Clinton economic agenda which increased the share of the economy gobbled up by the 1% and put inequality on track to reach unparalleled heights. With Joe’s pushing for passage in the Senate, Clinton was able to cut taxes on capital gains for certain investors while workers received a 2.5% pay hike. In what turned out to be the self-described “biggest regret of his career” (2016), Joe voted to repeal Glass-Steagall, a depression-era law that barred commercial banks from engaging in risky security trading. As a result, Wall Street went on a merger binge creating too- big-to-fail, too-big-to-regulate behemoths like Citigroup and Wells Fargo. Then along came the 2000 Commodity Futures Modernization Act, another Biden fav. That act along with the revocation of Glass-Steagall morphed into the 2008 financial crisis. Eleven million Americans lost their homes and millions more saw their pensions and life savings go up in smoke. Obama and Biden’s response — According to CNBC: “$29 Trillion” to bail out the banks, shadow banks, and other lending institutions, foreclosure and homelessness to punish their victims.
Burdened with a track record of decades-long giveaways to the rich and powerful, Biden’s history needed a major scrub when Obama came calling. The “hope and change” crew came in with rhetorical SOS pads— “Senator Biden has a 35-year record fighting for people against powerful interests, whether it’s drug companies, oil companies or insurance companies…He took plenty of knocks from the largest employer in his state because he demanded changes in the bankruptcy bill. But legislating requires compromise. Senators cast tough votes. Congress worked on the bankruptcy bill for nearly a decade, over five Congresses, to forge a bipartisan compromise.” (Spokesperson for Obama Campaign committee, 2008). As the king of making “adjustments” (the ACA being the most note-worthy), Obama knew exactly the sleazy politician he needed to do the heavy lifting when he set in motion his murderous foreign policy and the corporate cronyism of his domestic policy. Biden proved he was worth his weight in gold as he took on the job of monitoring Obama’s Deficit Reduction Committee (staffed mostly by Republican austerity goons). He and Obama got the result they wanted. The committee came up with recommendation for cuts in Social Security “balanced” by a tiny increase in taxes for the wealthy. Fortunately, they never managed to come up with the votes to pass it.
When it came to U.S. armed intervention in countries all over the globe, Biden and Obama were on the same page. Any war would do, from the war on drugs in the U.S. to the eight wars the Obama-Biden team oversaw in their eight-year reign. An early advocate of NATO intervention in Bosnia in the mid-1990s, he joined with the hawkish John McCain in 1999 to sponsor a resolution authorizing President Clinton to send in American ground troops. With U.S. war lust at its zenith in 2002, Biden was a vocal supporter of the AUMF (authorization to use military force), which passed for a congressional declaration of war in Iraq. He justified his enthusiasm with this misguided logic— “I do not believe this is a rush to war. I believe it is a march to peace and security. I believe that failure to overwhelmingly support this resolution [AUMF] is likely to enhance the prospects that war will occur.” Neither the first nor last American politician to believe that making war brings peace. It never has and never will.
Blood lust being part of his DNA, Biden cut his teeth on laws legalizing vicious, tough on crime legislation targeted to poor people, African Americans in particular. Long before Joe became Obama’s shill, he was Reagan’s go-to guy supporting at least three tough on crime bills targeted at minorities in 1984, 1986 and 1988. Then Bill Clinton happened and Joe was Johnny-on-the-spot writing the 1994 crime bill which set in motion the mass incarceration of African Americans. Biden was especially vehement about the provision that called for life sentences without parole for criminals convicted of a violent felony after two or more prior convictions, including drug crimes (“three strikes and you’re out”) Echoing Hillary Clinton’s unfortunate description of African American young men as ‘super predators,’ he declared — “We must take back the streets… If we don’t … a portion of them [code for African American young men] will become the predators, 15 years from now… that society has, in fact, in part because of its neglect, created.
Considering Joe’s allegiance to his major donors, his support for Israel is par for the course. In the Biden bible, Israel has the right, in defiance of international law, the Geneva Conventions and the United Nations to occupy Palestinian territory, brutalize and murder Palestinians, steal their land and natural resources. Currently 95% of the water available to Palestinians is contaminated with sewage. The potable water has been stolen by the 700,000+ Israeli settles illegally occupying the West Bank and East Jerusalem. According to Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, Joe Biden “was a staunch supporter of Israel for the entirety of his 35 years on Capitol Hill… he advocated and initiated legislation supporting and funding Israel’s economic and military needs.” Make no mistake about it, Biden was amply rewarded for his labors, receiving over $400,000 from pro-Israeli PACS (political actions committees)
What to make of this tale of politics as usual? Thanks to politicians like Joe Biden, income inequality has become a national disgrace, forty-four million young people are consigned to the hell of indentured servitude, workers are subject to unlivable wages, abysmal working conditions, and unaffordable health insurance. While the U.S. is squandering trillions in the name of national security, forty million Americans, including twelve million children “lack consistent access to enough food for an active, healthy life.” (U.S. Department of Agriculture definition of “food insecurity,” aka. not having enough to eat), and, according to a Federal Reserve survey, 40% of American adults could not afford a $400 emergency.
Will Joe Biden rise to the challenge? Deliver what the majority of Americans want — single payer healthcare, a living wage, an end to war, an end to income inequality, a system where everyone pays their fair share. In other words, a total revamping of the social and political order. Biden’s good buddy, Delaware Senator, Chris Coons doesn’t think Joe’s history of service to the donor class should disqualify him — “Biden’s record on progressive causes is what should matter most.” This from the same Senator who labeled the Green New Deal “pie in the sky.“ History matters and Joe’s history reeks of pandering to the donor class, championing the cause of corporate and financial interests and toeing the AIPAC (Israel lobby) line when it comes to support for Israel. To hear Joe tell it — “The penalty people face for not being involved in politics is being governed by people worse than themselves. It’s wide open. Go out and change it.” Let’s take him at his word.
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