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.
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.