A Critical Examination Of Joe Biden’s Political History

Joe Biden rejected progressive values throughout his political career. Ava DeSantis writes on Biden’s Senate and Vice Presidential tenures, and current platform, in the wake of Biden becoming the Democratic presidential nominee.

Photo by Lawrence Jackson / Biden for President

Biden’s policy agenda is not satisfactory to any progressive. To pacify former Sanders’ supporters, Biden’s campaign created a unity task force to work with Sanders on his policy platform. The task force, said Biden, helped, “build a bold, transformative platform for our party and for our country.” Except it did not.

After the task force disbanded, Biden’s policy platform remained largely unchanged. He does not support Medicare for All. He does not support the Green New Deal. He will not Abolish ICE. He will not cancel college debt. He will not legalize marijuana. He will not refuse corporate PAC money or donations from dark money nonprofit groups. He will not move the US embassy from Jerusalem back to Tel Aviv. He will not suspend US military aid to Israel, regardless of any past or future violations of international law. He will not abolish the electoral college. He will not allow currently incarcerated felons to vote. He does not support reparations. He will not Defund the Police, and last week he chose former prosecutor Kamala Harris as his running mate.

It is not surprising that in his attempt to court progressives, Biden refused to support Sanders’ defining policies and failed to meet the basic progressive policy standards. Sanders endorsed Biden and left the primary contest three months before the meeting. When progressives acquiesce and pledge our support regardless of policy, there remains no incentive for moderates to support progressive policy.

Biden’s record is even less inspiring than his current platform. As Mother Jones reporter Hannah Levintova recounted after Biden announced his 2020 bid for the Democratic Party nomination, Biden fell on the right of virtually every social and economic issue during his tenure in the Senate. Biden's record implores us not to trust his commitment to progressivism, because every time he gets in power he acts conservatively.

Banking

Photo by Adam Schultz / Biden for President

For decades, Biden’s top campaign contributor was MBNA, a financial services company and now a Bank of America subsidiary. When Biden’s son, Hunter, finished law school he was immediately hired by MBNA. Four separate times, Biden, alongside financial industry lobbyists, pushed for legislation that made it more difficult for families to declare bankruptcy in order to escape crushing debt. The Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act passed under President Bush in 2005.

Women’s rights and sexual misconduct

In 1991, Biden notoriously chaired the Anita Hill hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee. Anita Hill accused Justice Clarence Thomas of repeated sexual harassment while she was his employee. Biden allowed a panel composed exclusively of white men to ask aggressive, dismissive, and degrading questions of Hill. Biden did not use his power to intervene in questioning, even as he watched his colleague, Sen. Howell Heflin, ask Hill: “now, in trying to determine if you are telling falsehoods or not, I have got to determine what your motivation might be. Are you a scorned woman?” When she said “no,” he asked “do you have a martyr complex?” 

Biden’s multiple apologies for his failure to intervene admit no real fault of his own. In 2019, Biden’s ‘apology’ was to say, “I regret I couldn’t come up with a way to get her the kind of hearing she deserved, given the courage she showed by reaching out to us.” Remember, Biden chaired these hearings. If he is truly so incompetent, he could not ‘come up with a way’ to use his power during a Senate hearing he chaired, then for progressives it is unfathomable how he could successfully lead the country. 

Biden’s failures at the Anita Hill hearings not only allowed a harasser onto the Supreme Court, they allowed a conservative anti-choice justice onto the Court. If you believe women, Biden’s treatment of Anita Hill is unsurprising, because he was accused of sexual assault, himself. 

Tara Reade, a former Biden staffer, accused him of pressing her against a wall on Capitol Hill, kissing her, and penetrating her.

Reade’s claims were corroborated by two sources, on the record with Business Insider. Lynda LaCasse, Reade’s neighbor while Reade worked for Biden, told the reporter “I remember [Reade] saying, here was this person that she was working for and she idolized him. And he kind of put her up against a wall. And he put his hand up her skirt and he put his fingers inside her.” Lorraine Sanchez, Reade’s coworker in Biden’s office, corroborated Reade’s additional accusations of repeated sexual harassment within the office. 

Reade’s brother confirmed her sexual assault claim with the Washington Post. Biden denied both allegations on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, saying “they aren’t true. This never happened.”

Biden’s history is not solidly in support of female autonomy on abortion rights either. In 1980, he voted for an amendment to allow states to overturn Roe v. Wade. In the present, Biden continues flip-flop on the Hyde Amendment. Last June, Biden’s campaign said he does not believe federal funds should be used for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest, and when the life of the mother is at risk, which the Hyde Amendment disallows. A few days later, Biden’s campaign said he no longer supports the Amendment.

Racial justice

Photo by Adam Schultz / Biden for President

On racial justice, Biden misled voters during his 1972 campaign by saying he supported busing to end school segregation. Once elected, he voted for Sen. Jesse Helms’ anti-busing measure, saying he changed his stance on the issue. Sen. Jesse Helms was an open segregationist; he opposed the creation of a national holiday to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who he called a “Negro hoodlum,” and supported Apartheid in South Africa. 

In 1976, Biden introduced legislation to stop the Justice Department from using busing to desegregate schools. Three times in 1977, he supported bills and an amendment to stop federally mandated busing. His office sought support from another segregationist, Sen. Eastland, for this work. CNN released records of correspondence between Biden’s office and Eastland’s office, in which Biden repeatedly thanked Eastland for his opposition to busing measures.

During the early democratic debates, Biden defended his position on busing. Instead of renouncing it as antiquated, or more accurately, racist, he made a semantic distinction between federally mandated busing and locally mandated busing. “I did not oppose busing in America,” he said. “What I opposed is busing ordered by the Department of Education. That’s what I opposed.” Busing ordered by the federal government, or “non-orderly,” busing, Biden feared, in a 1977 congressional hearing, would cause his children to “grow up in a racial jungle.”

In 1993, Biden pushed for a crime bill which became notorious for its contribution to mass incarceration, an issue which disproportionately affects Black and Brown communities. In the Senate debate, Biden invoked racist tropes in favor of the bill. “We have predators on our streets that society has in fact, in part because of its neglect, created,” he argued. These ‘predators,’ he continued, must be “[taken] out of society.”

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, Biden said, would target “a cadre of young people, tens of thousands of them, born out of wedlock, without parents, without supervision, without any structure, without any conscience developing because they literally… because they literally have not been socialized.”

Biden called the bill “the Biden Crime Bill,” multiple times over the years, taking significant credit for the legislation. The bill is responsible for, in large part, imprisonment rates doubling from 1994 to 2009. The bill authorized the death penalty for 60 existing and new federal crimes, implemented three-strike laws which mandated life sentences for repeat felony offenders, and allowed prosecutors to charge 13-year-old children as adults for some offenses. 

The bill was applied exactly as Biden promoted it, to lock up and punish people of color. Following its passage, 74% of death penalty recommendations were ruled against people of color. By 2016, 78.5% of incarcerated people serving life sentences in federal prison were people of color. Today, even, the bill’s measure on juvenile sentencing continues to be applied to lock up the “cadre of young people '' Biden fear-mongered the Senate about in 1993. Two-thirds of Americans sentenced to life in prison as juveniles are Black.

Ten years after he pushed for his crime bill, in 2003, Biden flew to South Carolina to eulogize segregationist Senator Strom Thurmond. In his speech, Biden excused Thurmond’s racism as a product of his time. According to Biden, the vile segregationist who used his power to oppose important civil rights legislation for the majority of his time in government, was a “brave man, who in the end made his choice and moved to the good side.”  Thurmond softened his views by the early 1980s, supporting a renewal of the voting rights act, but never renounced his pro-segregation views.

Foreign policy

Biden is a consistently militaristic, interventionist presence in the Senate. Take Iraq, for example. It is conservatively estimated that 650,000 military personnel and civilians lost their lives as a result of this regime change war. No progressive supported American military intervention in Iraq, but Joe Biden did.

Biden not only supported the war, but pushed for intervention in Iraq before the war was proposed. In 1998, Biden argued that no inspections of Iraqi facilities to confirm the existence of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) could ensure that Saddam Hussein was not building WMDs. In other words, five years before the Iraq war, Biden argued the U.S. had no choice but to remove Hussein.

“All of us here really know,” he said to the assembled Senators, “and it’s a thing we have to face, that the only way, the only way we’re going to get rid of Saddam Hussein is we’re going to end up having to start it alone.” Biden argued the US needed to put men “in uniform to be back on foot in the desert taking this son of a - taking Saddam down.” 

In September 2002, Biden heard credible evidence that the WMDs were a myth. He sat in a classified meeting with the then CIA director, George Tenet, and asked him what evidence of WMDs the US had “technically collected.” Tenet replied “none, Senator.” A month later, Biden voted for the Iraq war resolution. 

Biden dedicated significant time to ensuring that the war was carried out. In December, he made trips to four foreign countries to create a coalition for the war. In July 2003, he said “I voted to go into Iraq, and I’d vote to do it again.”

As President Obama’s VP, Biden continued to support unchallenged interventionism by the executive branch: expanding drone strikes, intensifying the war in Afghanistan, and intervening in Libya, Syria, and Yemen.

Biden’s history, at home and abroad, is a rejection of the progressive values the Democratic Party now claims.

 


 

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