He’s running—or so it would seem. Former Vice President Joe Biden has been making the rounds for his American Promise Tour, promoting (among other things) his new memoir, Promise Me Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose, which centers around the death of his son, and his plans for the future. Naturally, the book is a hit.
In the last week and a half, Newsweek has run two articles pitching a single-term Biden presidency to restore normalcy to American politics—one by Matthew Cooper titled, “Joe Biden Can Beat Trump in 2020, But Will the Democratic Party Let Him Run?,” and another by Gertz Kuntzman titled, “Biden Should Make James K. Polk’s One-Term Pledge and ‘Make America Normal Again.’”
”[H]e certainly has the résumé,” Cooper writes. “After 36 years in the Senate and two terms in the White House alongside Obama, he knows how to get things done in D.C.—from pushing the Clinton administration to get more involved in the Balkans wars in the ’90s to spearheading the massive stimulus program under Obama after the 2008 financial crisis.”
Kuntzman takes a similar approach, arguing that “Biden is a mainstream, old-school pol who appeals to the broad middle,” but going on to explain that he’d support “a normal Republican” like Senator Susan Collins.
But not everyone is as excited about the prospect of the 73-year-old Biden throwing his hat in the ring, and a new hashtag is growing on Twitter: #NeverBiden.
Many progressives are anxious that he’s too conservative and lacks the leadership ability to guide the country and address its most pressing concerns. These fears are rooted in the former Vice President’s record when he was a Delaware senator.
To be fair, there’s plenty in Biden’s past to make Democrats wary.
He’s been a strong Wall Street ally
One of the main criticisms of Hillary Clinton this past election was that she was inexorably close to Wall Street, having accepted campaign contributions from the likes of Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, and of course, her paid speeches. Well, Biden may just be worse.
The former Delaware Senator’s top campaign donor over two decades was the financial services company MBNA. As one might expect, Biden was a reliable ‘yea’ vote for President Bill Clinton’s bank deregulation. He voted for the Riegle-Neal Interstate Banking and Branching Efficiency Act of 1994, enabling commercial banks to do business across state lines, and the Gramm-Leach-Blilely Act of 1999, overturning Glass-Steagall, which separated commercial and investment banks. According to the Senate report on the subprime mortgage crisis, “Wall Street and the Financial Crisis: Anatomy of a Financial Collapse,” the effect of these two laws was to centralize the decentralized US banking system, consolidating power and risk into a few institutions now referred to as “too-big-to-fail.”
Biden called his Gramm-Leach-Blilely vote, “the worst vote I ever cast in my entire time in the U.S. Senate.”
Biden also demonstrated his fealty to finance in 2005 when he, like Hillary Clinton, backed the innocuously named Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act, heavily pushed by MBNA, which weakened bankruptcy protections for consumers. As the New York Times noted in August of 2008, Biden was one of the earliest supporters of the bill, voting for it four times until it passed. He “was one of five Democrats in March 2005 who voted against a proposal to require credit card companies to provide more effective warnings to consumers about the consequences of paying only the minimum amount due each month.” Biden also helped “defeat amendments aimed at strengthening protections for people forced into bankruptcy who have large medical debts or are in the military,” and “was one of four Democrats who sided with Republicans to defeat an effort…to shift responsibility in certain cases from debtors to the predatory lenders who helped push them into bankruptcy.”
During this process, the Times pointed out, Biden’s son had a consulting agreement with MBNA.
He voted to gut welfare
In her article for The Nation, “Why Hillary Clinton Doesn’t Deserve the Black Vote,” “New Jim Crow” author Michelle Alexander took specific aim at the former Secretary of State’s role in securing the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, which her husband signed. Biden voted “yea” on this controversial bill referred to as “welfare reform” which, among other things, added work requirements and a five-year lifetime limit on the program TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families). Sold as a means of curbing “abuse,” the measures had the effect of forcing people off the rolls while doing little to address their needs. While the administration touted the decline in the number of families on welfare, the number in extreme poverty—defined as households in which individuals live on $2 in cash per day—rose. Today, the number is roughly double what it was in 1996. Barnard professor Premilla Nadasen summed up the problem in a Washington Post editorial last month:
The number of families on welfare declined from 4.6 million in 1996 to 1.1 million this year. The decline of the welfare rolls has not meant a decline in poverty, however.
Instead, the shredding of the safety net led to a rise in poverty. Forty million Americans live in poverty, nearly half in deep poverty — which U.N. investigators defined as people reporting income less than one-half of the poverty threshold. The United States has the highest child poverty rates — 25 percent — in the developed world. Then there are the extremely poor who live on less than $2 per day per person and don’t have access to basic human services such as sanitation, shelter, education and health care. These are people who cannot find work, who have used up their five-year lifetime limit on assistance, who do not qualify for any other programs or who may live in remote areas. They are disconnected from both the safety net and the job market.
He wrote the original ‘94 crime bill and has defended it ever since
Another Clinton-era policy Alexander targeted the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee for was the 1994 crime bill which, among other things, allocated $10 billion for the construction of new prisons and incentivised states to pass “truth-in-sentencing” laws. Such laws take discretion away from judges by requiring violent offenders to serve a minimum of 85 percent of their prison terms. Hillary Clinton’s infamous and racially-charged justification for the law—gangs of kids called “superpredators” needed to be brought “to heel”—became a hurdle her campaign arguably failed to clear in the general.
Biden wrote the original bill, and unlike Clinton who tried to walk back her support for some of the measures, he has yet to do anything other than defend the legislation—even in the face of backlash and statistics indicating it at least contributed to rising rates of incarceration, particularly in communities of color.
He’s a proponent of the War on Drugs
If progressives weren’t thrilled with Hillary Clinton’s milquetoast answers regarding medical marijuana, they’re really going to despise Biden’s record on drug policy. As Matt Ferner and Nick Wing of Huffington Post reported back in September of 2015, he co-sponsored the Comprehensive Crime Control Act of 1984 which expanded civil asset forfeitures in which law enforcement seize property suspected of being involved in a crime, without Due Process. Ferner and Wing continue on to explain that “Biden authored portions of the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, which created a 100-to-1 sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine.”
“Until reforms were made in 2010, individuals caught with just 5 grams of crack were subject to the same mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison as those caught with 500 grams of powder cocaine,” the HuffPost journalists explained. “The higher penalties for crack fueled mass incarceration and disproportionately affected African-American communities.”
But it doesn’t end there. Biden also backed the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, which imposed harsher penalties for drug possession. Ferner’s and Wing’s article goes on to detail how the Delaware Senator took specific aim at ecstasy in 2003, and has been a strong supporter of global anti-drug initiatives like U.S. actions in Colombia.
In 2014, TIME’s Zeke J. Miller described Biden’s record thusly:
In the Senate, Biden was on the forefront of the Democratic Party’s war on crime, authoring or co-sponsoring legislation that created the federal “drug czar” and mandatory minimum sentencing for marijuana and the sentencing disparity for crack and powder cocaine.
At a time when Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ efforts to ramp up the war on legal cannabis have drawn bipartisan backlash, and opened up an opportunity for Democrats to come out ahead on the issue, Biden’s views seem dinosauric.
“There’s a difference between sending someone to jail for a few ounces and legalizing it,” he said in 2010. “The punishment should fit the crime. But I think legalization is a mistake. I still believe it’s a gateway drug. I’ve spent a lot of my life as chairman of the Judiciary Committee dealing with this. I think it would be a mistake to legalize.”
He voted for the Iraq War
Yet another major problem Hillary Clinton faced among left-wing voters was her willingness to use military intervention to promote U.S. interests abroad—specifically her vote for the 2003 Iraq invasion. Though Biden often found himself working to check Clinton’s hawkish impulses during the Obama years, erring on the side of caution, he too voted for the Iraq War. In the past, Biden has indeed shown willingness to support military intervention. For example, in an interview last January, Biden told Politico that the U.S. should be pursuing a military solution as well as a political solution in Syria.
“We do know that it would be better if we can reach a political solution, but we are prepared — we are prepared if that’s not possible to make — to have a military solution to this operation in taking out Daesh [ISIS],” he explained.
In a recent article about how to hit back at Russia, co-authored by Michael Carpenter, Senior Director at the Penn Biden Center at the University of Pennsylvania, Biden also glossed over the U.S.’s role in causing the deaths of millions of Russians during the ‘90’s.
After the Cold War, Western democracy became the model of choice for postcommunist countries in central and eastern Europe. Guided by the enlightened hands of NATO and the EU, many of those countries boldly embarked on the transition from dictatorship to democracy. Remarkably, most succeeded. Post-Soviet Russia also had an opportunity to reinvent itself. Many in Europe and the United States hoped that by integrating Russia into international organizations (such as the Council of Europe, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund), they could help Russia become a responsible member of the rules-based international order and develop a domestic constituency for democratic reforms. Many Russians also dreamed of creating a democratic, stable, and prosperous Russia. But that dream is now more distant than at any time since the Cold War’s end.
Missing is the context of how Vladimir Putin rose to power: The western-backed Yeltsin government used the military to destroy parliament and consolidated authority in the president, after which it implemented a series of economic “reforms” commonly known as ‘shock therapy.’ These plunged the country into a deep depression (in two parts) in which millions of adults prematurely died. Russia’s population declined at a rate unheard of since World War II.
Putin’s ascent was built on the back of the ensuing anti-western sentiment.
Though Biden has arguably shown better judgment than Clinton in terms of foreign entanglements, he is, at his core, a neoliberal.
He voted and likely laid the groundwork for the USA PATRIOT Act
Clinton’s position on national security also came up during the 2016 primary—specifically her ‘yea’ vote for the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act. Then-Congressman Bernie Sanders voted ‘nay.’ The act greatly increased the powers of the executive branch to surveil American citizens and businesses and provides for the indefinite detention of non-citizens.
Biden not only voted ‘yea,’ like Clinton, he arguably helped lay the foundation of the PATRIOT Act half a decade before it was passed, as CNET noted in August 2008:
The next year, months before the Oklahoma City bombing took place, Biden introduced another bill called the Omnibus Counterterrorism Act of 1995:. It previewed the 2001 Patriot Act by allowing secret evidence to be used in prosecutions, expanding the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and wiretap laws, creating a new federal crime of “terrorism” that could be invoked based on political beliefs, permitting the U.S. military to be used in civilian law enforcement, and allowing permanent detection of non-U.S. citizens without judicial review. The Center for National Security Studies said the bill would erode “constitutional and statutory due process protections” and would “authorize the Justice Department to pick and choose crimes to investigate and prosecute based on political beliefs and associations.”
He voted for the 2006 border fence
An issue that made an appearance in the 2016 primaries, but never really gained much traction was Hillary Clinton’s vote for the Secure Fence Act of 2006, authorizing around 700 miles of fencing along the U.S. border with Mexico. Progressives were quick to note the similarity to Donald Trump’s promised border wall, largely seen as an appeal to anti-immigrant animosity among poor white voters.
Again like Clinton, then-Senator Biden cast a ‘yea’ vote for the bill.
He’s unreliable (at best) on Net Neutrality
With Federal Communications Commission’s recent vote to reinterpret Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 overturning the Obama-era classification of internet service providers as common carriers, net neutrality is effectively dead (for now). Progressives—along with most of the country—disagreed with the FCC’s decision. Weeks before the vote, and the day of, Twitter erupted in anger at the agency’s new chair, Ajit Pai, who initially pushed the proposal. However, one account that was notably silent was that of Joe Biden.
Biden has long been a skeptic of net neutrality. In 2006, as a senator, he expressed the view that preemptive regulation on ISPs to guarantee the free and open internet were unnecessary. That position hadn’t changed by 2008.
He voted for NAFTA and supported the TPP
Biden has not supported every free trade bill he’s been presented with—’yea’ on free trade with Australia and Morocco;‘nay’ on free trade with Oman, Singapore, and Chile, as well as implementing the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement. In the past the former Vice President stressed the need for worker and environmental protections in trade agreements, although, like Clinton, he did vote for the North American Free Trade Agreement, credited with causing a substantial loss of American jobs. That tune changed in 2008 after Barack Obama selected him as a running mate. Biden went on record to say he supported renegotiating the deal to be more favorable to the U.S. As Vice President, he also voiced full-throated support the Trans Pacific Partnership, much as Clinton had. Unlike Clinton, however, he never backtracked from that position.
He allowed Anita Hill to be silenced and shamed
The country has undergone an awakening about sexual harassment and violence towards women in the last year, seemingly since accused sexual predator Donald Trump’s defeated Hillary Clinton, whose husband was similarly accused. The Harvey Weinstein revelations and the domino effect they had, as well as the #MeToo Movement have changed American politics and society. As such, it is completely understandable why some might feel let down by Biden’s role in Clarence Thomas’s ascension to the Supreme Court bench.
Thomas had been accused of sexual harassment by his employee from the Department of Education and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Anita Hill. The Senate hearings which Biden presided over, were particularly galling in retrospect as Hill’s testimony gave rise to interrogation by white men who attacked her personal credibility. Ultimately, Thomas was cleared and his nomination given the green light.
An unlikely choice
It is unlikely, given his past, that Biden will be able to win over the left to become the face of the Democratic Party which is still trying to move beyond 2016. His candidacy would inevitably mean rehashing the same battles which Clinton’s 2016 general election loss already settled. Much as journalists and pundits are looking for familiarity in the face of a changing political landscape, polling at this point seems to indicate that if a septuagenarian is going to be the nominee, it will likely be the most popular active politician, Sen. Bernie Sanders. What better formula could there be for winning the next election than running the candidate who arguably would have won the last one?