by Ellen Isaacs June 15, 2020
Not evil like Trump – wholly malevolent, unapologytically sexist, racist and without compassion – but evil as a supporter of a system that impoverishes and degrades most of the people of the world. But there will be no candidate running for office in the USA, be they a left wing Democrat or a right wing Republican, who does not support capitalism and its need to preserve profits over human welfare.
What rivals disagree on is what fraction of profits should be returned to workers as social benefits, what degree of regulation should limit corruption or preserve the environment, whether social policy should be openly racist or sexist, or how large a military should exert its influence how far afield. There may be many other differences also, but none are questioning that government’s primary role is to keep the capitalist system afloat. Candidates at either end of this spectrum, like Sanders or Trump, are usually fairly consistent in their ideological pronouncements. But many politicians, those with a malleable ideology in service to mere ambition, waffle continuously in order to try and garner the most votes. Such is Joe Biden.
Of course the present wave of disruptions over racist police killings overlapping the gross inequities laid bare by the Covid pandemic have shocked and worried those in power. They are rushing to institute police reform, which has become the main demand of the massive multiracial uprisings, uprisings which fall short of demanding an end to capitalist rule. What is more feared is that the millions who will find themselves unemployed, underemployed, uninsured, possibly homeless over the next several months will erupt into a more dangerous rebellion and perhaps unite with the flaming youth. Biden, the elderly, poorly spoken, opportunistic politician would not be equal to quelling such a movement.
Not only is he an uninspiring presence, but it is hard to find an issue on which Biden’s views have not changed in order to follow popular trends and garner more votes. Rather than claim that his positions have evolved over time, he usually simply denies that he ever held different views. But what is irrefutable is that Biden represents the consensus of internationally oriented, financier dominant branch of the ruling class which is anxious to end the dangerous and incompetent reign of Trump and return to business as usual. It is time to ready the military to preserve access to resources abroad, time to try and regain the loyalty of a greater part of the working class, time to appear more humane and democratic. But to hope to do so without too much disruption, Bidenesquely. What follows is a summary of some of his positions and turnabouts.
- 1970s – Biden vocally opposed busing to achieve school desegregation. He represented Delaware, a state that maintained segregated schools through a combination of laws and white parents shifting their children to private schools. The nearly all white private school enrollment in Delaware is still among the highest in the US, while disproportionately black public schools are systematically underfunded.
- 1983 – partnered with overtly racist Strom Thurmond to write the Comprehensive Forfeiture Act, which allowed police to seize any property related to a crime, which netted $36.5, mostly from the poor, and was used to buy military style weapons for police
- 1991 – as chair of the Senate judiciary Committee presided over Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearings, wherein the nominee was accused of severe sexual harassment by Anita Hill. Biden refused to call any corroborating witnesses or launch any investigation. Thomas is now one of the most conservative Supreme Court Justices.
- 1994 – authored the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act that led to an increase of 100,000 police, longer prison sentences, 60 new death penalty offenses, and the three strikes you’re out rule that enabled a life sentence even for committing three minor crimes. He had also co-written the Anti-Drug Abuse Act during the crack epidemic which caused much more severe sentences for mostly black users of crack cocaine as opposed to mostly white users of powder cocaine. “It doesn’t matter whether or not they were deprived as a youth,” he said. “It doesn’t matter whether or not they had no background that enabled them to become socialized into the fabric of society. It doesn’t matter whether or not they’re the victims of society”(Washington Post, 6/8/20). In 2002, he said, “What works in the fight against crime? It’s simple — more police on the streets” (ABC News, 6/12/20).
- Now Biden is supporting measures to abolish the death penalty and reduce the number of people in prison, acknowledging that people of color have been hurt. On his website, JoeBiden.com, he says he “knows that African Americans can never have a fair shot at the American Dream so long as entrenched disparities are allowed to quietly chip away at opportunity. He is running for President to rebuild our economy in a way that finally brings everyone along—and that starts by rooting out systemic racism from our laws, our policies, our institutions, and our hearts.” However, last month he told a group of black community leaders that police should be trained to “shoot ‘em in the leg instead of the heart” (Fox News 6/1/20). In a 6/10 USA Today op-ed he said he actually wants to give $300 million more to police departments in order to enact reforms like body cameras, use-of-force standards, and hiring more diverse recruits, measures that have been shown to be ineffective in the past at preventing racist police violence. So outrageous was his response in the present context that 50 liberal groups, instigated by black-led groups, have sent him a public letter demanding a more aggressive agenda and warning he will alienate African-American voters.
- 1970s – opposed an amendment banning abortions, although Biden is himself Catholic, but backed measures barring federal money, federal health benefits or Medicaid being able to pay for encourage the procedure, even in cases of incest or rape (1976 Hyde Amendment). He supported preventing NGOS that even counseled women on abortion anywhere in the world.
- Now he promises to “codify” Roe v. Wade, support repeal of the Hyde Amendment, and restore federal funding for organizations that facilitate abortion.
- 1977- part of a Senate investigation of unethical drug testing of LSD during the Cold War which covered up the murder of Dr. Frank Olson after an experiment gone awry.
- 1978 – helped to rewrite the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which allowed secret surveillance by the government without a court order.
- 1980s – supported increased intelligence and counterintelligence funding after President Carter tried to cut the CIA staff by one third. He supported William Casey for Director of Central Intelligence, an anticommunist who increased supplies to the Afghan Mujahidin, Nicaraguan Contras and UNITA in Angola. He also backed Reagan’s War on Terrorism and War on Drugs.
- 1999 – as head of Senate Foreign Relations Committee, authorized the bombing of Kosovo that killed 500-2000 civilians. The purpose was the creation of US base Bondsteel, which then allowed the building of the nearby Trans-Balkan Pipeline, financed by US corporate investors.
- As far back as 1998, Biden declared he was sure that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. Even though Scott Ritter, a United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq, assured Biden’s Senate committee that none were found and CIA Director Tenet also said there was no evidence for any WMDs, Biden refused to be persuaded. On October 11, 2002 he voted for the resolution giving Bush the power to attack Iraq. In October, 2004, after the whole world knew these weapons had never existed, Biden told the Council on Foreign Relations, “I never believed they had weapons of mass destruction”(Guardian, 2/17/20).
- 2008-as Vice President pressured Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to give good prices to Western companies wanting contracts for Iraq’s oil reserves. Empowered by US support, al-Maliki united with Shia militias to attack the Sunni majority, which created an opening for ISIS and former Saddam-supporting Baathists to foment years of brutal sectarian violence. Although Biden opposed a huge troop surge in Afghanistan desired by some Cabinet members, he promoted “counterterrorism plus,” which promoted Special Forces operations and drone strikes and became a hallmark of the Obama administration.
- Now, Biden says he will “revitalize our national commitment to advancing human rights and democracy around the world” and host a global Summit for Democracy. He says he will end wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East but maintain the world’s strongest military.
- 1996 – voted for the Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, that required restrictions on government aid for immigrants and indefinite detention of undocumented immigrants convicted of minor crimes and their rapid deportation, as well as the deportation of legal immigrants for a broader range of offenses. This was the framework later used by Obama to deport over three million immigrants.
- Biden was also partly responsible for the surge in immigration from Central and South America as an architect of Clinton’s Plan Colombia, an expansion of the war on drugs which massively increased violence. Under Obama, Biden was in charge of the Alliance for Prosperity, which led to privatization and advantages for foreign investors, causing increased poverty and environmental decay.
- Today, Biden’s campaign claims that his “strategy engaged the leaders of the region to take responsibility for improving economic prosperity through poverty reduction and regional integration programs, deepened security cooperation to reduce gang violence and combat transnational criminal organizations…reduced violence and helped to ensure that families and children remained in their home countries.”
Balancing the Budget/ Entitlements
- 1984 -From his early days in the Senate, Biden had favored balanced budgets, and he proposed a budget freeze which mandated eliminating scheduled increases in Social Security and Medicare for a year. It failed, but under Clinton he supported another failed effort to pass a constitutional amendment that would require a balanced budget and cut many programs. In 2011, as the Republicans refused to consider tax hikes, Biden proposed cuts in Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps. Since none of the proposals he supported to eliminate deficit spending ever passed, we can’t know for sure how much he would have actually tried to cut various social programs, but he has suggested at various times raising the eligibility age or introducing a means test for Social Security. Nonetheless, Biden recently tweeted “I’ve been fighting to protect — and expand — Social Security for my whole career.” (Forbes, 1/23/20).
- 1999 – 2009 – In 1999, like most Democrats in, he voted to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act, a post-Depression measure that had separated investment and retail banking and made it illegal for banks to make risky investments with their customers’ money. This was one factor leading to the 2007 crash, but Obama put Biden in charge of the near $800 billion stimulus plan of 2009. Mainly he focused on cutting waste, “saving” almost $18 billion by cutting job creation and non-profits’ programs. Biden negotiated away an Obama program to make unionization easier and agreed to two more years of high-income tax cuts, a lower estate tax with a higher exemption, new tax write-offs for businesses, and a maximum 15 percent capital gains tax rate locked in for two years. In exchange for this he kept unemployment insurance for 13 months, extended an education tax credit for two years, and a payroll tax cut. In 2012, Obama and Biden agreed to extend the Bush tax cuts, which cost the federal government trillions of dollars.
- 2007 – When running for President, Biden proposed only health insurance for all children and offering catastrophic health insurance to everyone. Although he originally advised Obama not to push the issue, Biden supported Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA), which did reduce the number of uninsured to 28 million and allowed those with pre-existing conditions to get coverage.
- Now he opposes single payer health care, but would restore the ACA’s individual mandate, limit costs to 8.5% of income (many would still pay more than in work-based plans) and introduce a public option only for those earning under $25,000. His plan does nothing to address the average doubling of deductibles under employer plans. He would allow the undocumented to buy insurance, but without any subsidy.
- Although Biden claims to have been an early supporter of climate change action, the Global Climate Protection Act that he introduced in the 1980s in the Senate did not require any action. In 2014, he supported $50 million in aid to develop Ukrainian shale gas, and he supported Obama lifting a ban on crude oil exports. Although he supports banning fracking on federal lands, he does not want to end fracking. He says he wants the fossil fuel industry to suffer the least disruption and headache possible while gently trying to reduce carbon emissions. He plans to rejoin the Paris Agreement, which of course has done nothing near what is needed to influence climate change.
In sum, Biden has no commitment to ending racist disparities in income, living conditions or victimization by police. He has no plan to guarantee health care or health insurance for all. He has no plan to tackle the climate crisis in a real way. He has no plan to limit US imperialist aims to control much of the world’s oil and mineral resources or the wars that will be fought to that end. Of course he has no plan to end exploitation of the working class in the service of capitalism, as no electoral candidate can have. He can only deny that his years of words and actions in support of US capitalism did not really happen or promise to do differently in the future. For us, it is not a commitment to voting that is needed, but a commitment to an anti-capitalist movement, built on unity between workers, students and soldiers. We must not rely on politicians or other leaders anointed by unions or churches who do not fight in our interests. Let the present international uprisings be a foundation to building that movement. Just imagine their power if they become united in questioning capitalism itself.