Say It Ain’t Joe: Why Anointing Biden for 2020 Is a Terrible Idea

When will the Democrats learn that Americans don’t want centrism?

Joel Bleifuss May 7, 2018

Of the 6 people considered the most likely 2020 Democratic presidential contenders, only “Middle-Class Joe” doesn't support single payer. (Photo by Alexander Pohl/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

The Democ­rats lost about 1,000 seats in state leg­is­la­tures over the course of the Oba­ma years. In 2016, they lost the pres­i­den­cy to a car­toon­ish­ly racist and wide­ly despised real­i­ty tele­vi­sion per­son­al­i­ty. Some­thing hasn’t been work­ing for the brand. This appears lost on the sec­tor of the par­ty that hopes to woo vot­ers in 2020 with the same old cen­trist agen­da. This time, it’s dressed up in the down-home pack­age of Joe Biden— Mid­dle-Class Joe,” as he calls himself.

Biden voted for NAFTA in 1993 and the Iraq War in 2003.

At The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Strate­gist (a web­site man­aged by Ed Kil­go­re, for­mer vice pres­i­dent for pol­i­cy at the cor­po­rate-ori­ent­ed Demo­c­ra­t­ic Lead­er­ship Coun­cil), a post argues that Biden’s March vis­it to Penn­syl­va­nia, in which he stumped for House Demo­c­ra­t­ic can­di­date Conor Lamb, amped up the buzz for Biden’s pos­si­ble 2020 cam­paign, and pro­vid­ed Democ­rats with an elo­quent, heart­felt rhetor­i­cal tem­plate for appeal­ing to white work­ing – class voters.”

I think he should run,” said MSNBC’s Chris Matthews in Novem­ber 2017. The blue-col­lar roots are key. … [The Democ­rats have] lost the work­ing-class whites … and they’ve got to get them back.”

But is Mid­dle-Class Joe” the can­di­date on which Dems should hitch their wag­on? Let’s take a trip down mem­o­ry lane.

As chair of the Sen­ate Judi­cia­ry Com­mit­tee, Biden presided over Clarence Thomas’ 1991 Sen­ate con­fir­ma­tion hear­ing. He and the 14 oth­er white men on that com­mit­tee treat­ed Ani­ta Hill’s tes­ti­mo­ny about sex­u­al harass­ment with skep­ti­cism and hos­til­i­ty. In a 2014 inter­view with the Huff­in­g­ton Post, Hill said Biden did a dis­ser­vice to [her, and] a dis­ser­vice, more impor­tant­ly, to the pub­lic” by fail­ing to call three cor­rob­o­rat­ing wit­ness­es. Biden has since expressed belat­ed regret.

Biden was the prin­ci­pal author of the 1994 Vio­lent Crime and Law Enforce­ment Act. Yes, the law tem­porar­i­ly banned assault weapons and includ­ed the Vio­lence Against Women Act, but it also intro­duced the Three Strikes, You’re Out” pro­vi­sion into fed­er­al law, allo­cat­ed bil­lions toward pris­ons, cre­at­ed dozens of new death penal­ty offens­es and barred peo­ple in prison from receiv­ing Pell Grants to pur­sue a col­lege degree. In Octo­ber 2014, Bill Clin­ton admit­ted the law was too harsh. But Biden, in April 2016, said he’s not at all” ashamed of the bill.

Biden vot­ed for NAF­TA in 1993 and the Iraq War in 2003. In 2007, cam­paign­ing for the Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion in Iowa, he called the Iraq vote a mis­take.” Oops.

Biden cham­pi­oned the oxy­moron­ic Bank­rupt­cy Abuse Pre­ven­tion and Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion Act of 2005. This law stripped con­sumers of bank­rupt­cy pro­tec­tions while dereg­u­lat­ing cred­it card issuers. At the time, the largest such com­pa­ny was MBNA — also one of Biden’s largest donors.

An indi­ca­tion of what a Biden White House might look like can be gleaned from look­ing at the 30 mem­bers on the advi­so­ry board of the Biden Insti­tute, a pol­i­cy out­fit estab­lished last year at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Delaware. They include four peo­ple who have worked for hedge funds, three as bank exec­u­tives, two as cor­po­rate con­sul­tants and one as the for­mer CEO of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Lead­er­ship Council.

It is lit­tle won­der, then, that of the six peo­ple con­sid­ered the most like­ly 2020 Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial con­tenders — Bernie Sanders, Eliz­a­beth War­ren, Kamala Har­ris, Cory Book­er, Kirsten Gilli­brand and Biden — only Mid­dle-Class Joe” does not sup­port sin­gle-pay­er healthcare.

At long last, the Democ­rats are poised to make big gains in the com­ing elec­toral cycles. Will they allow for a healthy, open, con­test­ed pres­i­den­tial pri­ma­ry process, or will the estab­lish­ment close ranks around the insid­ers’ 2020 favorite? Will they take advan­tage of the favor­able polit­i­cal winds, or will they snatch defeat from the jaws of vic­to­ry and nom­i­nate Joe Biden?

Joel Blei­fuss, a for­mer direc­tor of the Peace Stud­ies Pro­gram at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­souri-Colum­bia, is the edi­tor & pub­lish­er of In These Times, where he has worked since Octo­ber 1986.

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