Joe Biden’s claim that he has the most progressive record of any Democratic Presidential candidate is ludicrous.
Historically, Biden has been financially backed by the wealthy and the powerful. The Delaware Democrat was first elected to serve in the United States Senate in 1972 — a position he held until 2009 when he was sworn-in as President Barack Obama’s Vice President.
During nearly four decades in the Senate, Biden racked-up what Andrew Cockburn, a veteran progressive journalist at Harper’s, described as a “disastrous legislative history”. As set forth below, that legislative history included many instances in which Biden embraced regressive policy positions that were closer to those of the Republican Party than they were to those of his own.
That history suggests that Joe Biden is the least progressive amongst the nearly two dozen candidates who are now seeking to become the Democratic Party’s 2020 Presidential Nominee…
Biden has repeatedly sided with Wall Street and the banking industry over ordinary citizens. This has included deregulation of the predatory credit card industry and support for the Republican-backed “Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention Act of 2005” — legislation designed to make it harder for that industry’s victims to declare bankruptcy. Indeed, during the 1990s, Biden aggressively pushed for the same legislation, only to be undercut by Elizabeth Warren, then a Harvard Law Professor, who persuaded the Clintons that the bankruptcy bill was a very bad idea.
Biden was one of only five Democrats who voted against an amendment to the 2005 bankruptcy bill which would have compelled “credit card companies to provide more effective warnings to consumers about the consequences of paying only the minimum amount each month,” according to The New York Times. As a result, by December 2017, total American consumer credit card debt quietly grew to $834 billion. Biden, The New York Times added, even went so far as to oppose an amendment to the bankruptcy bill offered by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) that would have prevented the industry from forum shopping in order to obtain the most industry-friendly venue with respect to bankruptcies.
In 1999, Biden voted to repeal the Glass Steagall Act of 1933. That Act, which was signed into law by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, separated commercial from investment banking and created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). The Glass Steagall repeal allowed commercial banks to engage in Wall Street’s oft fraudulent speculations — a factor that played a major role in the 2008 financial meltdown. Biden then completed the coup de grâce to Wall Street accountability by voting in favor of the massive Wall Street bailout. Bernie Sanders voted against the bailout.
Biden has been an unapologetic supporter of the 1994 crime bill and the “war on drugs“. Both have led to mass incarceration and the rise of the prison-industrial complex. Indeed, as observed by German Lopez of Vox, Biden not only backed but authored many of the major crime and war on drugs bills that were passed between 1984 and 2003 — legislation that helped ensure that a disproportionate number of African-Americans would wind up behind bars. And, even at this late date, Biden appears to be the only Democratic Presidential candidate who continues to oppose federal legalization of marijuana.
The United States, [aka “the land of the free”], locks up more people than any other nation: a half-million more than China, which has a population five times greater than ours. Statistics reveal that the United States holds 25% of the world’s prison population, but only 5% of the world’s people.
Mass incarceration, which disproportionately affects the poor and people of color, is the product of a draconian “war on drugs” and the perverse economic incentives behind the prison-industrial complex: (1) a privatized prison industry whose financial success depends on greater numbers of prisoners serving lengthier sentences, and (2) the ability of large corporations to exploit prison slave labor, paying as little as 17 cents per hour.
Recently, when confronted, Biden dismissed the idea of a commitment to reduce the U.S. prison population by one-half, or even by one-third, as irrational.
In 1988 Biden was forced to drop out of his first run for President due to multiple instances of plagiarism. It was an issue that would again quickly surface.
Biden’s past relationship with teachers’ unions has been described as “toxic” — a difficulty occasioned by the fact that charter school enrollments doubled during the Obama administration. But Biden was not the direct source of the concerns raised by the teachers’ unions. Instead, it was Obama’s Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, who aggressively sought to transform the U.S. education system via a “privatization” scheme in which public education dollars would be funneled into the privately-run charter schools.
Desperate to swiftly distance himself from Duncan’s privatization scheme, Biden copied and pasted from Bernie Sanders’s education policy and presented them as his own. Sanders’s comprehensive education plan includes the eventual elimination of for-profit charter schools. Charters are a drain public tax dollars that should go to public schools. They have also served as vehicles for corruption. That was underscored when eleven people associated with California’s charter schools were indicted for the theft of more than $50 million in public education funds,
Biden claimed he took part in civil rights marches. He didn’t. Indeed, during the 1970s, Biden sided with segregationists, voting against two of President Carter’s African-American nominees, to the U.S. Department of Justice and for Solicitor General, because they supported school busing to achieve integration.
As Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the 1991 confirmation of the extremist right-wing Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, Biden, in the words of former Sen. Howard Metzenbaum (D-OH), “bent over too far backwards to accommodate the Republicans, who were going to get Thomas on the Court come hell or high water.” Biden not only refused to call witnesses who could have confirmed Anita Hill’s allegations of sexual harassment, but permitted Senate Republicans to viciously smear her character and attempt to humiliate her, according to The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer.
Recently, Biden boasted about his support for the Hyde amendment, the 1976 law that prohibits using federal funds in support of a woman’s right to choose. That boast was promptly hammered by Senators Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Warren’s critique was especially poignant. She noted that the Hyde amendment does nothing to prevent wealthy women from getting abortions. Instead, it adversely impacts primarily working-class women and women of color.
Obviously embarrassed, Biden performed a 180 degree reversal: “I can’t justify leaving millions of women without access to the care they need and their ability to exercise their constitutionally protected right,” Biden said just one day after he had insisted on doing so via the Hyde amendment. “If I believe healthcare is a right as I do,” Biden added, “I can no longer support an amendment that makes that right dependent on someone’s zip code.”
The reference to a woman’s zip code entailed more than an abrupt reversal of Biden’s support for the Hyde amendment. It amounted to a 180 degree change with respect to the Delaware Democrat’s previous support for a bill that would have allowed the states to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Biden’s concession that “healthcare is a right” is worthy of note. A number of Biden’s opponents, Senators Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand and Elizabeth Warren, all co-sponsored Bernie Sanders’s Medicare for All Act of 2017, a single-payer bill that would, for most purposes, eliminate the need for private insurance.
At his kickoff rally, Biden rejected Medicare for All, advocating instead for a buy-in public option and a continuation of employer-based private insurance — this despite the fact “employee deductibles have risen 212% over the last decade, raising out-of-pocket costs enough to negate wage increases,” according to Fortune’s Richard Master.
War and Peace
Biden, who avoided service in Vietnam through school and medical deferments, never met a military budget he didn’t like. Research failed to uncover a single instance in which Biden voted against a National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) during the nearly four decades he served in the Senate.
Two of Biden’s Presidential primary opponents, Kirsten Gillibrand and Bernie Sanders, voted against the 2018 NDAA. The next year, Gillibrand and Sanders were joined by fellow Presidential candidates, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren, in voting against the $716 billion 2019 NDAA.
Biden voted to authorize the Iraq War.
As a result of the still-in-force 2001 Congressional Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), the United States has been at war over the past 18 years, with no end in sight. This entails a perpetual “war on terror” on a global scale.
The U.S. global war machine not only operates out of more than 800 military bases located in more than 70 countries, but has also deployed its Special Operations Forces in 150 countries to carry out what Nick Turse refers to as the “shadow war” — a war that goes largely unnoticed until it goes terribly wrong, as occurred when four Americans were killed when ambushed in a remote region of Niger. The already $6 trillion cost for the Middle East portion of the “shadow war” will likely grow to $7 trillion if our irrational, never-ending “war on terror” continues through 2020.
Sadly, we are arriving at the point where military personnel who were born after 9/11 risk giving last their last measure of devotion on remote battlefields.
Confronted with that reality, Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, along with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), signed a pledge to end “Forever Wars”. They were soon joined by Andrew Yang and former Sen. Mike Gravel, who also signed the pledge to end “Forever Wars”. Yet, Joe Biden, who has never signed the pledge, wants us to believe he’s the most progressive candidate?
Prior to the release of his “environmental policy”, Greenpeace USA graded Biden’s environmental policies as a “D minus” — making Biden’s rating the second lowest amongst Democratic Presidential candidates. WA Governor Jay Inslee’s environmental policies were graded as an “A minus”, followed by Bernie Sanders and Cory Booker, who were each awarded a “B plus”.
The Greenpeace “D-minus” Biden grade was not all that surprising. As a Senator, Biden voted 23 times against renewable energy. During the 2008 Vice Presidential debate, Biden touted his 25-year record of having supported “clean coal” — a patently ridiculous remark in light of the reality that “clean coal” is essentially an oxymoron; an “advertising slogan” invented by the coal industry.
After it was released, Biden’s climate plan was described by Dayton Martindale of In These Times as “mostly fluff” — a plan that “avoids taking on the fossil fuel industry”. Although the Biden plan is replete with lofty rhetoric, such as purporting to embrace the Green New Deal, rather than call for “economic transformation,” per Martindale, the Biden plan “seems designed to salvage the the status quo” via “modest market-based actions” to reduce carbon emissions. Where the Green New Deal envisions a “ten-year mobilization” to achieve zero electricity emissions, Biden offers a “less ambitious” goal of “net-zero emissions by 2050.”
(United Nations scientists have issued a stern warning that we must reduce greenhouse gas emissions to net zero within the next twelve years, or face dire climate consequences.)
Martindale notes that Biden dropped the the Green New Deal’s jobs guarantees and included an “apparently plagiarized” sentence that exposes Biden’s undue reliance upon “carbon capture”, along with yet to exist technologies. On the positive side, Biden does propose an end to fossil fuel subsidies, but as Martindale observed, the elimination of fossil fuel subsidies is a position that simply aligns Biden’s current stance with that of almost all other Democratic Presidential candidates.
Eric Levitz of The Intelligencer offered an intriguing observation in the wake of Biden’s “new” Climate Plan. Levitz described Candidate Biden as a “weather vane.” Biden’s abrupt reversal on the Hyde amendment, his newly released, partially plagiarized “Climate Plan,” and, indeed, his feckless assertion that he’s the most progressive Democratic candidate, are nothing more than a recognition of the direction in which the 21st century political winds are blowing — gale force winds in the case of the blistering criticisms he encountered with respect to the Hyde amendment and his previous calls for a middle-of-the-road approach to the climate crisis.
Irrespective of what Joe “The Weather Vane” Biden may say, the former Vice President is not and never has been a progressive.