Joe Biden is almost certain to enter the 2020 presidential campaign. Perhaps his name recognition and longevity are the main reasons why he is already a front-runner, polling slightly ahead of Bernie Sanders and well ahead of candidates like Elizabeth Warren and Beto O’Rourke. But Biden’s extensive involvement in politics (36 years as a senator and eight as vice president) also means that his political associations and policy stances are very clear.
Mike the “Nice Guy”
Biden has never shied away from showing his solidarity with particularly problematic state actors in the United States and internationally. When eulogizing racist war criminal John McCain, Biden started by saying, “My name is Joe Biden. I’m a Democrat, and I loved John McCain.”
Biden has shared his admiration for the capitalist class on multiple occasions. During a speech in Alabama in 2017, he boasted, “Guys, the wealthy are as patriotic as the poor. I know Bernie doesn’t like me saying that, but they are.” A year later, he spoke to the Brookings Institute, a Washington-based think tank, and boldly declared, “I don’t think 500 billionaires are the reason we’re in trouble. The folks at the top aren’t bad guys.”
Most recently, during a speech in Omaha, Biden described Mike Pence as a “decent guy” and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as a “good guy.”
Why might Biden feel drawn to Pence and Pompeo’s politics? Both Biden and Pence share a disregard for reproductive rights among those who need them the most. Pence has spearheaded a national campaign to ban abortion. Like Pence, Biden is a practicing Catholic, and although he does not oppose abortion laws, he opposes using federal money to fund the practice. With less funding, many working-class and poor women are essentially blocked from access to abortions.
As secretary of state, Pompeo is directly responsible for helping design the current coup attempt in Venezuela, along with others in the Trump administration. Like the “good guy” Pompeo, Biden has endorsed a coup against the democratically elected Maduro government, insisted that Venezuela accept the United States’ hypocritical “aid”, and called for recognition of the right-wing leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s president.
Socialism for the Rich and Capitalism for the Poor
Biden played an active role in saving the banks during the Great Recession as a senator and vice president. By voting in favor of rescuing the banks that were responsible for one of the most catastrophic worldwide economic crises, Biden supported the effective theft of $700 billion from predominantly working-class people, to save the profits of the parasitic financial institutions responsible for the crash. Biden’s actions directly led to millions of dollars in bonuses for the executives who were “bailed out.”
In 2010, Biden was interviewed by Jon Stewart on Comedy Central’s Daily Show. Asked about the bailout, Biden recalled a “great expression” of his grandfather, Ambrose Finnegan: “It’s socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor,” thereby acknowledging the favored status that financial institutions enjoy in Washington D.C. It would have come off as a joke if it weren’t for the thousands of people who lost their jobs, their houses and their livelihoods because of the crisis and because of the U.S. government’s “solution” to it.
This may have been Biden’s single biggest contribution to the banking industry, but it’s not the only one. In 2005, Biden voted in favor of the “bankruptcy bill” that made it more difficult for working-class and low-income people to get protection through bankruptcy. At the time this law was being discussed, Biden’s son Hunter was receiving consulting fees from MBNA, one of the companies that benefited the most from the legislation. MBNA is also a financial services company based in Biden’s state of Delaware and established in a similar fashion to the offshore tax havens that protect the wealthy around the world. MBNA and the Bidens denied any wrongdoing, but it’s not hard to believe that the company that was the largest financial backer of Biden’s Senate campaigns was involved with Biden’s career as a politician.
Tough on Crime
Joe Biden was sworn into office in the Senate for the first time in 1973. In 1984, he was Democratic floor manager for the passage of the Comprehensive Crime Control Act. The act authorized courts to consider a suspect’s dangerousness when setting bail conditions and allowed courts to establish pretrial detention if necessary, effectively increasing the state’s power to criminalize people. The act also increased many federal penalties for drug and narcotic offenses, which are often pinned onto Black and Latinx people.
Biden solidified his position as a carceral state expansionist in 1994 when he wrote the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, creating 60 new death penalty offenses under 41 federal capital statutes. In addition, the act provided funding for 100,000 new police officers and $9.7 billion for prisons. This law also overturned a section of the Higher Education Act of 1965 that allowed inmates to apply for a grant to complete their education while incarcerated.
In a system in which the prisons profit by having more and more prisoners, this law funded the resources and mechanisms used to incarcerate more people. Consequently, a disproportionate percentage of Black and Latinx folks continue to be incarcerated, the penitentiary system is overcrowded, and formerly incarcerated people are economically disadvantaged because they have fewer resources to receive an education.
In response to the legislation, Biden proudly described his bill as “much tougher than the president’s,” with “more penalties for death for more offenses.” He added that “we do everything but hang people for jaywalking.”
Joe the Warmonger
While in the Senate, Biden was part of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and chaired it several times. During this time, he was one of the proponents of the “lift and strike” policy during the Bosnian War that advocated air strikes against the Bosnian Serbs, one of the sides of the conflict. In the Kosovo War he cosponsored the McCain-Biden resolution, which called on President Clinton to use all necessary force, including ground troops.
Biden strongly supported the war in Afghanistan in 2001, leading to a still-ongoing U.S. intervention that continues to have catastrophic consequences for the Afghan people; the country remains sunken in poverty, and the devastated infrastructure will take years to reconstruct. According to a UN report released last year, the war’s civilian death toll is over 5,000, and over 3,000 people have been injured. After nearly two decades of intervention, the U.S. government is negotiating an accord that might leave the Taliban as rulers of the country again.
Biden voted in favor of the Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq in 2002, justifying the Iraq War, whose architect was Elliot Abrams, one of the men behind the current coup attempt in Venezuela. Abrams was in charge of fabricating the falsified claim that Iraq held “weapons of mass destruction” to justify the invasion of Iraq and the hanging of Saddam Hussein.
This is merely Biden’s record in the Senate. While he served as Vice President during the Obama administration, an administration that deported a record number of people and carried on the inherited wars in the Middle East as state policy, he continued supporting a litany of horrors. Among these foreign policy failures was his continued support for the Israeli-U.S. military industrial complex.
Biden was even described by Chuck Schumer, one of the most hawkish allies of Israel, as “the best friend of Israel in the administration.” As a legislator, “[Biden] has a sterling voting record on pro-Israel issues, and as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee has helped shepherd through key pro-Israel legislation,” according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Clearly, if elected, Biden would be the standard-bearer of Democratic “liberal hawk” policy, which means support for imperialist regimes and the bourgeoisie’s profit over the lives and livelihoods of the working class and the poor, in the United States and the rest of the world.
In the wake of Brett Kavanaugh’s outrageous confirmation to the Supreme Court, many are re-examining the similar confirmation process of Clarence Thomas. Who was at the helm of the misogynist hearings on Thomas’ record of sexual harassment? Joe Biden.
Back in 1991 while Biden was the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Anita Hill came forward to share details of how Clarence Thomas, a former colleague of hers, had sexually harassed her for many years.
In this episode of American politics, Biden was most remembered for doing everything possible to throw Hill under the bus. His handling of the hearings characterized Hill as a liar, someone who was mentally unstable and opportunistic. Biden also refused to call on three key witnesses, women who were ready to corroborate Hill’s public testimony. He also allowed Thomas to testify before and after Hill, giving into a Republican ploy to undermine her.
Biden recently attempted to publicly make amends by apologizing to Hill, in response to the media’s rekindling of Biden’s haunting behavior during Thomas’ confirmation hearings. Hill rebutted by saying “I still don’t think he takes ownership of his role in what happened.”
Biden was likely thinking of his 2020 aspirations when considering an apology to Hill. Unfortunately, his apology does not erase the fact that Thomas, one of the most conservative supreme court justices, continues to sit on the court. By silencing Hill, Biden also continued a legacy of downplaying the voices of women of color and upholding a system of patriarchal control.
We Don’t Need Another Racist President
Early on in Biden’s Senate career, he established himself as a fierce opponent of racial integration. At the time, school busing was one of the primary ways to give white and black students the opportunity to attend schools outside their respective neighborhoods and thereby to better integrate suburban and inner-city schools.
Biden did everything possible to weaken the program by introducing legislation and ramping up antibusing rhetoric. He once described busing as “the single most devastating issue that could occur to Delaware.”
Biden further cemented his problematic beliefs on race by commenting to a Delaware newspaper, “I do not buy the concept, popular in the ’60s, which said, ‘We have suppressed the black man for 300 years and the white man is now far ahead in the race for everything our society offers. In order to even the score, we must now give the black man a head start, or even hold the white man back, to even the race.’ I don’t buy that.”
Breaking Past Biden
Biden’s repressive and ruthless political initiatives reverberate deeply among black Americans, who still feel the repercussions of mass incarceration, and among the millions of college students who are now buried in enormous amounts of debt. Many within the working class can look to Biden’s support of vicious policies as a source of their struggle.
These actions are not merely staining on Biden’s record. Biden should be viewed as the patron saint of the corporate political establishment. How should socialists and the working class react to his latest presidential campaign?
Socialists, in particular, should strongly oppose Biden’s political platforms by looking to his advocacy for the ultra-predatory systems and institutions that govern the lives of the working class. But we should make it clear that beyond Biden, the Democratic Party also represents the U.S. regime, its imperialist policy, and its capitalist class. Socialists should staunchly oppose both Biden and the party he operates under.
Without a doubt, Biden will attempt to tap into a “middle of the road” political ideology to appeal to both working people and the rungs of corporate power. This approach should be revealed for what it truly is: a veiled attempt at advancing a failed capitalist political agenda that has already done so much to weaken workers all over the world.