Maybe he’s the one you’ve been waiting for?
So let’s for a moment imagine that Biden is a principled politician and wouldn’t say absolutely anything just to become president—this would be the third time he’d be running for the position. And let’s, for a moment, concede that Biden, after his flirtation with Elizabeth Warren and hiring of new staff, is the sort of candidate that can knock off the front-runner. But then let’s suspend our disbelief and pretend the media will hold the new candidate responsible for his previous positions and votes at least as strictly as they hold Marco Rubio accountable for his wife’s parking tickets.
If they did, they would find that Joe Biden has had, in some sense, more consequential conservative votes on record than any candidate running for president from either party. Or a better way to put it: his greatest legacy is a lack of coherent philosophy and a ton of politically convenient grandstanding.
The one issue that has generated some attention is that Biden authored the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which not only expanded the number of crimes subject to the federal death penalty, but also played a pivotal role in the explosion of incarcerations and the disproportionate criminal prosecution in poor black communities. Joe’s always been a tough-on-crime sort of guy, and as The New York Times pointed out recently
Despite reservations, Mr. Biden, who has served as the Obama administration’s unofficial liaison to the law enforcement community, has not only stood by the 1994 legislation, but has also frequently taken credit for it. As recently as this spring, in an essay on community policing for a book of bipartisan reform proposals put together by the Brennan Center for Justice, Mr. Biden referred to the legislation as the “1994 Biden Crime Bill.”
In addition to the “1994 Biden Crime Bill,” the vice president was one of the biggest proponents of the War on Drugs, taking a leading role in creating federal mandatory minimum laws that have put scores of non-violent criminals in prison. The kind of policies President Obama, Elizabeth Warren, every progressive, and many others have claimed are destructive. Biden also helped create the Drug Czar, a government official that oversees all anti-drug operations. As Biden explained to Time back in 2008, “I am not only the guy who did the crime bill and the drug czar, but I’m also the guy who spent years when I was chairman of the Judiciary Committee and chairman trying to change drug policy relative to cocaine, for example, crack and powder.”
On the social front, Biden voted for the bigoted, anti-equality Defense of Marriage Act that has since been found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Biden voted in favor the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy which pushed members of the American gay community who wanted to fight for their nation deeper into the closet. Surely he will be asked to defend these votes by explaining how he evolved to his current position.
Biden has not only come out against federal funding for abortions, but also voted in favor of a 1999 bill to ban most partial-birth abortions, and in favor of the 2003 Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. Surely if he supported a bill that protected post-viable babies, he must also support Republican efforts to protect viable babies and believe it’s wrong to harvest a baby’s body parts after she’s been born. I look forward to the Catholic Biden’s clarification.
On issues of war and peace, Biden didn’t simply vote for the Iraq War, he was a vocal proponent of going to war. In 2002, as chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Biden said that Saddam Hussein was “a long term threat and a short term threat to our national security.” Biden went on to say that there was “no choice but to eliminate the threat.” In October of 2002, he gave a speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate advocating for going to war. How Americans–liberals especially–can vote for someone who, when confronted with most important issue of his age, voted the wrong way? “A dumb war. A rash war. A war based not on reason but on passion, not on principle but on politics,” as Obama put it.
Before joining the administration, Biden was not only for increasing federal domestic spying programs, but he used to boast that the Patriot Act was essentially a copy of his own the anti-terrorist legislation from 1995. Either this is not true, or Democrats would be supporting the author of the Patriot Act. And Biden was a proponent of expanding the power of FBI wiretaps long before 9/11.
So, as we mock Donald Trump supporters for their ambivalence to the actual policy positions of their candidate, let’s remember that the other party may feature both Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. Biden’s erratic voting record–he supported the embargo on Cuba, for instance, promising in 2009 that the administration would not overturn it–makes all the sense in the world when you view it in context. When we set aside Biden’s smarmy Mr. Magoo-ishness, it’s worth remembering that although Biden may cast himself as some kind of dependable alternative to Clinton, and he would almost certainly be a stronger candidate than Hillary, he is also an escape hatch for those concerned about the ethical problems of an equally calculated candidate.