The antidote to hope

August 25, 2008

Joe Biden is supposed to bring "foreign policy experience" to the Democratic ticket, but what he really brings is support for the Democrats' most conservative policies.

AFTER DRAGGING it out for weeks to build up "excitement," the Obama camp announced its choice for vice president in a 3 a.m. text message last weekend, and the winner is...the most conventional possible choice and the one most acceptable to the Washington political establishment.

Picking Delaware Sen. Joe Biden was widely seen as the safe road for Barack Obama--a white man who would allegedly help Democrats appeal to white working class voters, a 30-plus year veteran of the Senate with close ties to political and business powerbrokers, a center-right Democrat with lots of "foreign policy experience."

Obama built up Biden at their first joint appearance, but the manufactured image of the Delaware senator is far from reality.

Start with the claim that Biden is a down-to-earth, train-riding "man of the people." As Alexander Cockburn wrote on

The first duty of any senator from Delaware is to do the bidding of the banks and large corporations, which use the tiny state as a drop box and legal sanctuary. Biden has never failed his masters in this primary task. Find any bill that sticks it to the ordinary folk on behalf of the Money Power, and you'll likely detect Biden's hand at work."

Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.)
Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.)

Indeed, Biden played a key role in making sure that debt would become a life sentence for millions of poor and working-class Americans by leading the charge for bankruptcy "reform" legislation to prevent people from getting out from under crippling debts to credit card companies and banks. Biden was among a handful of Democratic senators to help Republicans finally pass the measure with the "Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005."

And no wonder: One of Biden's biggest corporate donors since the 1990s has been credit card giant MBNA, which has given the senator more than $200,000 in donations (and, in addition, hired his son as a high-priced "consultant"). According to the New York Times, in return, Biden has been a "consistent advocate for MBNA."

Biden tried to deliver for the credit card giants in the final years of the Clinton administration by inserting the measure into a foreign relations bill, only to have it vetoed by Bill Clinton.

When Republicans revived the legislation in 2005, not only did Biden vote for it, but he made sure it was even more of a disaster by helping to vote down amendments that would have: exempted people whose financial problems were caused by serious medical problems; protected servicemen and women from bankruptcies caused by predatory lenders; and ensured that no low-income elderly people seeking bankruptcy protection would lose their homes.

BIDEN IS supposed to offer foreign policy experience to the ticket, but he voted, loudly and proudly, in favor of invading Iraq. In the October 2002 Senate debate, he declared, "I do not believe this is a rush to war. I believe it is a march to peace and security. I believe that failure to overwhelmingly support this resolution is likely to enhance the prospects that war will occur."

Like Hillary Clinton, Biden had developed some criticisms of Bush's war by the time he joined the race for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. But Obama continued to skewer both during the primaries by contrasting his opposition to the invasion to their pro-war votes. Now, he's invited one of the Democrats who jumped on the pro-war bandwagon to be vice president.

Biden's current position on Iraq and the "war on terror" is far from antiwar. With Biden, wrote Robert Dreyfuss in the Nation:

Barack Obama may be doing the one thing that might have seemed impossible: he's picking a running mate whose ideas about Iraq are even worse than, and stupider than, John McCain's. Obama, whose mushy Iraq plan excites no one, is marrying his own flawed ideas--which mostly revolve around beefing up U.S. forces in Afghanistan and unilaterally attacking Pakistan--with Biden's discredited notion of partitioning Iraq into three squabbling mini-states.

Biden certainly sounds McCain-esque in his rhetoric against the Russian invasion of Georgia. Declaring that "Russia's actions in Georgia will have consequences," Biden has called for $1 billion in new U.S. aid to Georgia. Biden has long wanted Georgia to be admitted to NATO and considered a U.S. ally--a deliberate provocation toward Russia. As Daily Kos blogger Billmon noted, "There are times, it seems, when Joe Biden can be damned near as dangerous as Dick Cheney."

Biden has a terrible record on criminal justice issues, including supporting mandatory-minimum sentencing laws which have helped make the U.S. number one in the world in incarcerating its people.

In 1994, he pushed the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act (also known as the "Biden Crime Law"), the largest crime bill in history that included the hiring of 100,000 police officers and more than $9 billion in spending for prisons. The 1994 crime bill also included the Federal Death Penalty Act, which specified more than 50 new crimes eligible for capital punishment.

BIDEN LIKES to point to his role in passing the Violence Against Women Act as evidence that he deserves the support of progressives. Yet according to Dana Goldstein, who followed Biden on the campaign trail for the American Prospect, "He's fond, à la anti-choice conservatives, of criticizing national feminist organizations for arriving late to the cause. 'They were more concerned about the choice and gender issues,' he intones. 'While others talked, I got it done.'"

Then there's Biden's shoddy treatment of lawyer Anita Hill in his role as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the confirmation hearings of right-wing Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Though he would later vote against Thomas' confirmation, Biden prevented witnesses who could have corroborated Hill's allegations that she was sexually harassed by Thomas.

Biden later lamely explained, "There was in fact a concern about whether or not to make the guy look stupid--what would happen if you embarrassed him." But as Charles Ogletree, who acted as a lawyer for Hill, commented:

[Biden] doesn't understand that by sitting back and taking no position that he has encouraged the victimization of Anita Hill. She has civil rights and civil liberties, too. She wasn't applying for a lifetime appointment on the Supreme Court. She was not coming forward with an agenda to change the landscape of America...

He was the chairman. He was supposed to ask tough questions. He was supposed to get to the bottom of issues...And the bottom line is that Anita Hill was pilloried from beginning to end without any protection from anybody in that process.

Likewise, Biden sat through the confirmation hearings on Bush's two right-wing appointees, Samuel Alito and John Roberts. In Alito's case, Biden used up so much of his time talking that Alito spoke for just 1,000 words--while Biden spoke for 4,000.

Biden would later explain to a Delaware newspaper that he was trying to "put [Alito] at ease." The thing that really put Alito at ease, though, was Biden's declaration early on in the process that the Democrats should not try to filibuster his nomination.

Biden is practiced at having to remove his foot from his mouth. While campaigning in New Hampshire, he engaged in some ugly racial stereotyping, commenting that in Delaware, "you cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent." On the day that he declared he was a candidate, Biden had to apologize for describing Obama as "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy."

Barack Obama won the support of millions of people by promising to bring something different to U.S. politics. But since wrapping up the Democratic presidential nomination, he's gone out of his way to prove to Corporate America and the U.S. political elite that he can be trusted. Joe Biden is Obama's latest offering to show that he might talk a good game, but he won't put a toe outside of the Democratic Party mainstream.

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