Sunday, May 05, 2019

Progressive Perspectives on Joe Biden's Presidential Run

To a certain kind of Democratic Party establishmentarian, Hillary Clinton lost in 2016 because she was not “likable” enough – a sentiment that may or may not be thinly veiled code for saying that she’s a woman. Their solution in 2020 is good old Joe Biden.

. . . [Yet] what brought Clinton down was public exposure not to her personality – which was sparkling enough to make her the most admired woman in America for 17 years straight before losing the claim to Michelle Obama in 2018 – but extended public scrutiny of every detail of a decades-long career in public life. This, in turn, is the exact same problem Biden will inevitably face as a presidential candidate. Americans like outsiders and fresh faces, not veteran insiders who bear the scars of every political controversy of the past two generations.

– Matthew Yglesias
Excerpted from “Joe Biden Is the Hillary Clinton of 2020
April 25, 2019

[B]iden offers a return to normal after these harrowing Trump years. But 40 years of normal (stagnant wages for most, declining job security, obscene wealth at the top, big money corruption of politics) brought us Trump. Joe is a good guy, but we dare not go back to normal.

Robert Reich
via Facebook
April 30, 2019

It’s not surprising that Biden, of all the Democratic contenders, would come closest to a Democratic version of "Make America Great Again." He served in the Senate from 1973 until he became vice president in 2009. He has to defend the pre-Trump era. If he described Trump the way [progressive presidential candidates such as] Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren [and Marianne Williamson] do – as the product of a decades-long, bipartisan descent into oligarchy – he’d be condemning himself.

– Peter Beinart
Excerpted from “Unlike His Rivals,
Biden Sees Trump as an Aberration

The Atlantic
April 25, 2019

Let’s be blunt: As a supposed friend of American workers, Joe Biden is a phony. And now that he’s running for president, Biden’s huge task is to hide his phoniness.

From the outset, with dim prospects from small donors, the Biden campaign is depending on big checks from the rich and corporate elites who greatly appreciate his services rendered. “He must rely heavily, at least at first, upon an old-fashioned network of money bundlers – political insiders, former ambassadors and business executives,” the New York Times reported on Tuesday.

Biden has a media image that exudes down-to-earth caring and advocacy for regular folks. But his actual record is a very different story.

During the 1970s, in his first Senate term, Biden spouted white backlash rhetoric, used tropes pandering to racism and teamed up with arch segregationists against measures like busing for school integration. He went on to be a fount of racially charged appeals and “predators on our streets” oratory on the Senate floor as he led the successful effort to pass the now-notorious 1994 crime bill.

A gavel in Biden’s hand repeatedly proved to be dangerous. In 1991, as chair of the Judiciary Committee, Biden prevented key witnesses from testifying to corroborate Anita Hill’s accusations of sexual harassment during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings for the Supreme Court. In 2002, as chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, Biden was the Senate’s most crucial supporter of the Iraq invasion.

Meanwhile, for well over four decades – while corporate media preened his image as “Lunch Bucket Joe” fighting for the middle class – Biden continued his assist for strengthening oligarchy as a powerful champion of legalizing corporate plunder on a mind-boggling scale.

Now, Joe Biden has arrived as a presidential candidate to rescue the Democratic Party from Bernie Sanders.

Urgency is in the media air. Last week, the New York Times told readers that “Stop Sanders” Democrats were “agonizing over his momentum.” The story was front-page news. At the Washington Post, a two-sentence headline appeared just above a nice photo of Biden: “Far-Left Policies Will Drive a 2020 Defeat, Centrist Democrats Fear. So They’re Floating Alternatives.”

Biden is the most reliable alternative for corporate America. He has what Sanders completely lacks – vast experience as an elected official serving the interests of credit-card companies, big banks, insurance firms and other parts of the financial services industry. His alignment with corporate interests has been comprehensive. It was a fulcrum of his entire political career when, in 1993, Sen. Biden voted yes while most Democrats in Congress voted against NAFTA.

. . . Indications of being a “moderate” and a “centrist” play well with the Washington press corps and corporate media, but amount to a surefire way to undermine enthusiasm and voter turnout from the base of the Democratic Party. The consequences have been catastrophic, and the danger of the party’s deference to corporate power looms ahead. Much touted by the same kind of insular punditry that insisted Hillary Clinton was an ideal candidate to defeat Donald Trump, the ostensible “electability” of Joe Biden has been refuted by careful analysis of data.

As a former Sanders delegate to the 2016 Democratic National Convention and a current coordinator of the relaunched independent Bernie Delegates Network for 2019, I remain convinced that the media meme about choosing between strong progressive commitments and capacity to defeat Trump is a false choice. On the contrary, Biden exemplifies a disastrous approach of jettisoning progressive principles and failing to provide a progressive populist alternative to right-wing populism. That’s the history of 2016. It should not be repeated.

– Norman Solomon
Excerpted from “Joe Biden Reality Check:
The Puffery vs. the Record

Common Dreams
April 24, 2019

Criticizing Joe Biden isn't “attacking my own side” because Biden isn't on my side. Biden is on the side of the credit card industry, the pharmaceutical lobby, defense contractors, private prison investors, and weapons manufacturers. We share zero common interests.

Aidan Smith
via Facebook
May 5, 2019

Polling broadly shows Democratic voters thinking Joe Biden has the best chance at winning the general election. That is exactly what Biden would like everyone to think, and that belief practically constitutes the sole argument for his candidacy.

Interestingly, the other beneficiary of the “electability” frame, for now, seems to be independent senator and democratic socialist Bernie Sanders. This is a very funny development. In 2016, Sanders was clearly and proudly the candidate for Democratic primary voters and caucus-goers who rejected the emphasis on “electability.” As Dave Weigel observed, 2016 exit polling showed Sanders’s Michigan primary victory happened because the majority of primary voters there ranked “honest and trustworthy” over “could win in November.”

“Electability” is a crock of shit. It is defined, like political “moderation,” only in terms of opposition to things people want, but are told they can’t have, ranging from antiwar politics to left-wing economic populism to even the “cultural liberalism” that is seemingly the cornerstone of the modern Democratic Party. (Back in 2004, supporting civil unions, not even marriage, for same-sex couples was a threat to a Democrat’s perceived “electability.”) While the impulse to vote according to how you think a candidate would appeal to people who don’t share your priorities might make sense in theory, practice has revealed time and time again that no one involved in electoral politics – from the pundits down to the caucus-goers – has a clue who or what Americans will actually vote for. That was supposed to be, as the political scientist Masket says, the main lesson of Trump’s election.

But Democratic voters did not teach themselves to prioritize electability over their own actual concerns. They were trained to, over many years, by party figures who over-interpreted the loss of George McGovern, or who wanted to use the fear of McGovern to maintain their power over the Democratic candidate pipeline and nomination process. “Electability” is a way to get voters to carry out a contrary agenda – not their own – while convincing them they’re being “responsible.”

And now Democratic candidates and their most loyal voters are stuck in an absurd feedback loop. The politicians campaign and govern as if they themselves don’t believe a majority of voters prefer their agenda, signaling to their most loyal voters that they must vote not for what they want, but for what they imagine their more-conservative neighbors might want. But when voters in 2016 did exactly that, and nominated the candidate they were repeatedly told was most qualified to defeat Trump in the general election, they chose a person who went on to lose to him.

How are committed, pragmatic voters supposed to react when the person sold to them as not just the most “electable” person in this particular race, but among the most “electable” people in recent political history, loses a freak election to a preening, venal huckster who was treated as a great big joke for almost the entirety of the campaign?

If “electability” previously meant “the candidate most associated with the hawkish and business-friendly wing of the party,” it now seems to have become purely and nakedly demographic. Former Clinton voters are flocking to the various white men in the race, avoiding candidates they actually might like, because they see their own affinity for those candidates as a political liability.

The Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a populist liberal PAC, polled its own members, asking why they supported their candidates of choice, and found basically an inverse relationship between which candidate’s supporters thought their pick would make the “best president” (Warren by a landslide) and which ones were motivated by their belief that their candidate is the most “electable” (Biden). As PCCC co-founder Adam Green put it: “Barely a majority of Biden’s own current supporters believe he would be the best Democratic president.”

Because of the way the “electability” question was framed in 2016, and the way it then backfired, it looks very much like the Democratic Party’s rank-and-file took from that election the lesson that “a smart and capable woman isn’t electable,” not that “an establishment fixture with a tremendous amount of political baggage who is also easily and convincingly portrayed as corrupt isn’t electable.” I’m guessing many of the people who worked very hard to elect Hillary Clinton president would like to see Warren win the Democratic nomination rather than Biden, but decades of party brass (aided by a political press that spends every single election cycle talking about the electorate like it’s still Nixon’s Silent Majority) leaning on “electability” arguments to kneecap outsider candidates is currently working against that outcome.

– Alex Pareene
Excerpted from “Democrats Have Created an 'Electability' Monster
The New Republic
May 1, 2019

Certainly the biggest difference between [Bernie] Sanders and Biden is in their economic views. Sanders has been a die-hard advocate of unions, taxing the rich, regulating corporate abuses (especially in finance), fair trade, and social insurance for his entire career. It's what he cares about most, and where his messaging is most consistent. (In an amusing interview on The Today Show from 1981, Sanders said: "In our society, theoretically a democratic society, you have a handful of people who control our economy. You have maybe 2 percent of the population who owns one third of the entire wealth of America, 80 percent of the stocks, 90 percent of the bonds.") As Mayor of Burlington, he worked to preserve public housing, enable worker and consumer cooperatives, and ensure public ownership and control of the city waterfront.

Biden, by contrast, has been a bag man for big corporations for his entire career. Delaware is like the Luxembourg of U.S. states — a tiny tax haven and flag of convenience for corporations who own the local political system outright, and Biden is no exception. His economic policy career has been one disgrace after the next – sponsoring or voting for multiple rounds of financial deregulation, trade deals that savaged the American manufacturing base, and bankruptcy "reform" that made it much harder to discharge consumer debt (and nearly impossible to get rid of student debt). It's no surprise at all that on the same day he launched his campaign, Biden held a fundraiser including several corporate lobbyists and Republican donors at the home of a Comcast executive.

– Ryan Cooper
Excerpted from “Biden vs. Bernie:
What Two Very Long Records Say About 2020

The Week
April 26, 2019

You cannot understand politics in America until you understand that in the Democratic party, which ostensibly represents the left side of our nation’s political spectrum, there are a significant number of people who genuinely believe that Joe Biden is the best possible presidential nominee. Their belief is not cynical, or at least not wholly cynical.

His constituency is real. It is not illuminating to think of them just as centrists, arguing for the gentlest sprinkling of sugar over the top of America’s poison. It’s better to think of them as zombies: the product of three decades of self-serving, triangulating brainwashing. They are the Democrats who had their eyelids propped open and were forced to watch the Clinton era, year after year after year. It is not so much that they do not, deep down, harbor a vague wish for a better world; it is that, like stray dogs dining exclusively on garbage, life has taught them that this is the best that they will ever get.

Consider what it says about the state of America’s political system that in the left party, the presumptive frontrunner for the presidential nomination did not think twice about kicking off his campaign with a fundraiser hosted by the founder of a union-busting law firm, days before appearing at a major union-hosted rally. And why should he? He gets the money, and then he gets the union support. He knows his audience well. This is how Democratic politics has been done in Joe Biden’s lifetime. This is how it works.

It is not remarkable in the least for Joe Biden to come right out of the gate by filling his coffers with money from telecom and health insurance executives. Who is going to tell him that he shouldn’t? The lobbyists advising his campaign? The zillionaire media executives feting him in a Hollywood mansion? The superstructure of Obama administration functionaries who see him as the most established of the establishment brand names? For the people who matter, Joe Biden is doing just what he is expected to do.

And that is just it. Millions of people – including, most importantly, Joe Biden himself – have yet to see any evidence that he is not playing the game exactly as it should be played.

. . . I am not mad at Joe Biden. He is a type. His type is “The Old Way of Doing Things.” Now that he is in the race, his type is represented. He rounds out the field. Now, Democratic voters truly have the entire buffet of choices, from “True Leftist Insurgent” to “Bland, Winning Young Résumé-Polisher” to “Indistinguishable Ambitious Congresspersons” to “The Same Old Kind of White Guy As Always”.

This is nothing to fear. This is healthy. This is a perfect referendum on where our country is now. Joe Biden, the avatar of the past, believes that he’s well positioned because after the shock of the Trump years, people want to go back to where we were. Wrong. People want to go somewhere new. I fully expect Joe Biden to step out of his campaign headquarters and fall directly into the huge pit that has opened up as America moved tectonically to the left. There is nothing scary about the candidate that represents the political philosophy that produced in the public the deadly cynicism that gave us Donald Trump. This plain fact will never be accepted by the sort of people who believe that Joe Biden is the answer, because accepting it is an indictment of an entire generation of leaders who consider themselves quite successful.

The Republican party has long been a corrupt tool for serving the interests of the rich by lying to the poor; dwelling on their role in bringing us here is like scolding an alligator for biting off your hand after you stuck it in his mouth. The Democrats are the ones who were supposed to save us. It was their failure in this duty that allowed the catastrophes to pile up. They failed to stop the post-Reagan explosion of economic inequality; they failed to stop the militarism that has embroiled us in endless war; they failed to argue for things like healthcare and education as rights rather than purchases; they fed our most vulnerable citizens to an evil machine labeled “criminal justice” in exchange for votes from racists. They earned their turn in power by agreeing not to use that power for the common good. And here we are: incredibly divided, hopelessly unequal, justifiably sick of our broken institutions, and very, very angry.

Good luck on the campaign trail, Joe. You’re about to meet an America that has already left you behind. I’m sorry you’ll have to find out the hard way.

– Hamilton Nolan
Excerpted from “Clinton-era Politics Refuses to Die.
Joe Biden Is Its Zombie That Staggers On

The Guardian
May 1, 2019

Related Off-site Links:
Uncle Joe Got a Whole Lotta “Splainin” to Do – Terrell Jermaine Starr (The Root, April 25, 2019).
Joe Biden Launches Presidential Bid With Fundraiser Filled With Corporate Lobbyists and GOP Donors – Lee Fang (The Intercept, April 25, 2019).
Joe Biden Wants Us to Forget His Past. We Won't – Adolph L Reed Jr and Cornel West (The Guardian, May 1, 2019).
What Joe Biden’s Diagnosis of Trump Gets Wrong – Dara Cass (Slate, April 25, 2019).
One Big Difference Between Biden and Every Other Recent Democratic Nominee – David A. Graham (The Atlantic, May 1, 2019).
Joe Biden Is the Best Republican in the Race – Mattias Lehman (Medium, April 26, 2019).
“Electability” Is a Terrible Reason to Pick a Candidate – Ryan Cooper (Common Dreams, May 2, 2019).
Bernie Sanders Is Everything Joe Biden Is Not – Norman Solomon (TruthDig, May 2, 2019).
Bernie Sanders Draws Sharp Contrasts Between Himself and Joe Biden – Kate Sullivan and Gregory Krieg (CNN, April 30, 2019).
Sanders Pushes Back Against Biden's Claim He's the “Most Progressive” Candidate in the Democratic Field – Adam Kelsey (ABC News, May 5, 2019).

UPDATES: Fearful Democrats and the False Allure of Policy Centrism – Paul Waldman (Common Dreams, May 6, 2019).
Joe Biden's “Electability” Argument Is How Democrats Lose Elections – Peter Hamby (Vanity Fair, May 7, 2019).
Joe Biden Might as Well Be a Republican – Norman Solomon (TruthDig, May 8, 2019).
Biden's Middle-of-the-Road Climate Plan Condemned as “Stunningly Un-Ambitious” and a “Death Sentence for a Livable Planet” – Andrea Germanos (Common Dream, May 10, 2019).
Joe Biden Is Stuck in the Past When It Comes to Climate Change – Bill McKibben (The Guardian, May 11, 2019).
Joe Biden Is a Bad Bet – Robert L. Borosage (The Nation, May 11, 2019).
Joe Biden Is Who We Thought He Was – Editorial Staff (The Boston Herald, June 8, 2019).
Joe Biden Isn’t an Electable Candidate – Hadas Thier (Jacobin, October 15, 2019).

For more coverage at The Wild Reed of the 2020 U.S. presidential election, see:
Marianne Williamson: Quote of the Day – November 5, 2018
Jacob Weindling: Quote of the Day – November 19, 2018
Something to Think About – February 19, 2019
Quotes(s) of the Day – February 26, 2019
Bernie Sanders: Quote of the Day – March 2, 2019
Talkin’ ’Bout An Evolution: Marianne Williamson’s Presidential Bid
Why Marianne Williamson Is a Serious and Credible Presidential Candidate
Pete Buttigieg: Quote of the Day – April 17, 2019
Marianne Williamson: Quote of the Day – April 24, 2019
Marianne Williamson: Reaching for Higher Ground

Image: Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden speaks during his first campaign event as a candidate for U.S. President at Teamsters Local 249 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, April 29, 2019. (Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

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