Joe Biden, the Election, and Democracy: What’s at Stake

Opinion by KAY MATTHEWS

As the Covid-19 corona virus impacts all activity in this country—physical, social, economical, psychological—I hear voices proclaiming, let’s not talk politics now, this is an emergency and that’s what we need to deal with as a community. It’s what Joe Biden said to Bernie Sanders in the last debate between the two of them, the last men standing in the Democratic presidential campaign—let’s not talk revolution, let’s just talk emergency.

Well, folks, he’s right there’s an emergency, but a significant part of that emergency is the fate of our democracy. What’s at stake is not just how we deal with the health crisis we now face but how we get through this elective process that is now in utter disarray and in danger of dismantling our entire democratic system.  As someone who is deeply cynical of the electoral process—discouraged by its dysfunction (caucuses and primaries), unfairness (electoral college), lack of representation (money), and corporate control (proto-fascism)—I think we sure as hell better take a close look at what’s happening now in the Democratic primary and the upcoming national election or we may never recover from the assault on our democracy, much less the Covid-19 virus. If you’ve been watching the White House morning briefings on the virus that Trump uses as a propaganda platform, you’ll see what’s at stake with both.

Owen Lopez of the McCune Foundation once told me that the most important function of La Jicarita is as a journal of record (implicit in this is, “Since you can’t change the world at least you can document how you tried”). Over the years we’ve covered the commodification of our limited water resources; land grant restitution; the spotted owl lawsuits that ignited the battles between the U.S. Forest Service, norteño communities, and environmentalists; Los Alamos National Laboratory’s impact on human and environmental health; and many other issues. Things are changing rapidly (see Nathan Robinson’s excellent article “Things Are Changing Overnight” in Current Affairs), and the forthcoming analysis of what’s at stake in the 2020 election may be behind the curve by the time I publish this, but it’s important to go on record. I’ve temporarily closed the site to comments.

Congratulations, Super Tuesday Dems. You chose—so you say, even though over half the states have yet to vote and may not get to vote at all—the worst candidate in the running (except for Bloomberg) as your nominee for president: two time looser for the same job who has so much baggage I find it hard to see how he’s still standing.

Most of the pundits after the last debate between Biden and Sanders emphasized two essential themes of the evening: 1) if Sander’s attacks on Biden for his baggage as a senator and vice-president is fair; and 2) do we need a revolution or a platform of “back to normal” to not only defeat Trump but to survive the Covid-19 pandemic. Let’s take a look at Biden’s baggage.

• Biden represented the state of Delaware, often referred to as the “capital of corporate America,” beginning in his 30s. As a senator, from 1973 to 2009, he consistently pushed legislation favorable to the credit card industry. When his son Hunter was 21, he was paid a consulting fee by MBNA, a banking corporation headquartered in Delaware, a company that contributed more than $200,000 to Biden’s senate campaigns that sidestepped limits on donations. Then there’s the glaring nepotism of Hunter being paid $50,000 a month as a board member of the Ukrainian oil company Burisma while his father was pressuring Ukraine to fire the chief prosecutor who had an open investigation into that company. From all accounts, the prosecutor was totally corrupt, but the lack of judgment on Biden’s part is glaring.

  • Biden also voted four times for legislation to pass the “Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005” and against amendments to ease the burden of the bill, which made it harder for consumers to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy by imposing a “means test” for Chapter 7 eligibility, and by substantially increasing the cost of filing. Elizabeth Warren vehemently opposed the bill and as part of her platform as a presidential candidate devised a new consumer bankruptcy plan.
  • Biden, as Senate chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, voted to go to war in Iraq over the so-called weapons of mass destruction that proved to be a ruse by the George W. Bush administration for regime change and Middle Eastern meddling that has created devastating turmoil all over the region. He has claimed in numerous interviews and speeches that he immediately changed his position on the war and came out publicly against it, but a CNN article quotes Biden saying in a July 2003 speech at the Brookings Institution, “Nine months ago, I voted with my colleagues to give the president of the United States of America the authority to use force and I would vote that way again today. It was the right vote then and would be a correct vote today.” Of the 20 Democratic candidates who ran in the primary, only Biden and Sanders were in a position to vote on the war: Sanders, of course, voted no. Previous candidates such as Hillary Clinton and John Kerry was dogged by their votes for the war in their presidential runs.
  • As Congress and Trump scramble to pass bills to provide economic relief to the millions of Americans facing the consequences of the Covid-19 corona virus, we need to remember that when Barack Obama and Joe Biden came into office during the Great Recession there was an abysmal lack of oversight of the enormous bailout provided to the banks by the Troubled Assets Relief Program. Instead of bailing out the mortgage owners who lost their homes due to the subprime crisis, banks and corporations got $700 billion. In 2009, the insurance company American International Group (AIG) handed out millions in bonuses after receiving its portion of the bailout from the federal government. Obama and Biden chose not to prosecute any of those banks and individuals responsible for the subprime mortgage crisis and failed to incorporate oversight of how the relief money was spent. Elizabeth Warren recently released an eight-point proposal where “Companies would be barred from paying out dividends or executive bonuses while they receive federal funds and the ban would be in place for three years” and “Companies would be permanently banned from engaging in stock buybacks.”
  • During Biden’s tenure as vice president from 2009-2016, the Obama administration deported 1,242,286 people from the interior of the U.S. and 1,507,220 people crossing the border (Obama was nicknamed the “Deporter in Chief”), more than the sum of all presidents in the 20th century. During this campaign Biden has been challenged to answer why they didn’t pass immigration reform within their first 100 days in office. (During the 2008 campaign, Obama promised to push for an immigration reform bill in his first year, but did not do so.)
  • During his first run for president in 1987 Biden lied about his involvement in civil rights, claiming he marched in the movement and organized black churches’ voting drives and desegregation work, when in fact none of this ever happened. He was outed by the New York Times and other publications  (and for plagiarizing his campaign speeches) and within a week he dropped out of the race. But his even more damaging history was his opposition to school integration by busing, which Kamala Harris called him on during one of the debates. He didn’t start out with that position, being your typical Democratic liberal, but when he faced white backlash in his first run for the Senate in Delaware, he quickly changed his tune. He opposed state mandated integration, which scholars and African-American activists today believe is fundamental to racial equality, by sponsoring an amendment to the $36 billion education bill that stipulated none of those federal funds could be used by school systems “to assign teachers or students to schools … for reasons of race.”
  • Biden was the lead crafter of the 1994 crime bill that resulted in making this country’s criminal justice system more racist and more punitive than most other democratic countries. According to the ACLU, “the bill gave the federal stamp of approval for states to pass even more tough-on-crime laws. By 1994, all states had passed at least one mandatory minimum law, but the 1994 crime bill encouraged even more punitive laws and harsher practices on the ground, including by prosecutors and police, to lock up more people and for longer periods of time.” The bill was part of the Democratic strategy under Bill Clinton to show that it could be tougher on crime than the Republicans. Over the course of his senate career Biden also supported mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent drug offenders, the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, civil asset forfeiture, and extensive use of the death penalty.
  • Also during the Clinton administration he supported legislation to reduce the federal deficit that included cuts on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid as part of an austerity bill. Biden, Jan. 31, 1995: “When I argued that we should freeze federal spending, I meant Social Security as well. I meant Medicare and Medicaid. I meant veterans benefits. I meant every single solitary thing in the government. And I not only tried it once, I tried it twice. I tried it a third time, and I tried it a fourth time. Somebody has to tell me in here how we are going to do this hard work without dealing with any of those sacred cows, some deserving more protection than others. I am not quite sure how you get from here to there. I am sure that we should tell the American people straight up that such an amendment is going to require some big changes.”  When Sanders confronted him about this position during the debate, Biden denied it. None of the moderators called him out on his lie. His position in 2020 is to increase Social Security revenue.
  • In 1991 Biden was the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman who failed to protect Anita Hill after she accused Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment. The all-white, male committee led by Biden refused to take testimony from additional women witnesses who claimed Thomas had also acted inappropriately with them and interrogated Hill as if she were the perpetrator, not the victim. Before Biden announced his run in the 2020 presidential race he reached out to Hill, trying to do damage control, knowing this history would come up during the race (surprisingly, it hardly did). In an interview with the New York Times Hill “declined to characterize Mr. Biden’s words to her as an apology and said she was not convinced that he has taken full responsibility for his conduct at the hearings — or for the harm he caused other victims of sexual harassment and gender violence.”
  • In a 2019 Salon article Biden is quoted as saying at a New York fundraiser that “nothing would fundamentally change” if he is elected. Biden also complained that some Democrats criticized his eagerness to work with Republicans after they spent years blocking President Obama’s agenda and moving further right. His platform, at least at the beginning of his campaign, was to return to “normalcy,” to return to the “civility” of working together (as he did in the Senate with the likes of segregationists Mississippi Sen. James O. Eastland and Georgia Sen. Herman Talmadge) to get things done, e.g., Obamacare, which still left millions of Americans without health insurance, under insured, or unable to afford the copays and deductibles demanded by the insurance companies making money off people’s illnesses. And without a public option.

Joe Biden offers few progressive or radical policies like Sanders or Warren. He only proffers “virtuousness and decency. But if Biden doesn’t actually look virtuous and decent—because he isn’t—the argument that he has made for himself collapses completely.” (Nathan Robinson in The Guardian)

This brings us to the second theme: revolution or “back to normal.” While it’s obvious now that there will be no “back to normal,” it’s even more critical to assess what that normal was, who enjoyed its benefits, and if an opportunist like Biden, with an agenda that blows with the wind, can rise to an occasion that demands  radical action.

The first of these concerns is of course our health care system. Biden, riding on Obama’s coattails, wants to expand the Affordable Care Act to include a public option while Sanders wants a single payer, or universal coverage, tax funded, federally run health care system that would eliminate the private insurance industry. As everyone knows, we’re the only industrially developed nation in the world that doesn’t have some form of universal health care.

Red areas are those without a universal health care system.

The Dems that support the public option instead of the universal option claim that most people are happy with their private health insurance and that those who aren’t can buy into the public option (if they can get it passed in Congress, just as they claim universal health insurance will never get passed). They continue to claim that health care is a “right,” not a “privilege,” but as long as the private health insurance industry continues to control access to health care it remains a privilege. Decisions over health care are made not by doctors but by the insurance and pharmaceutical companies that reap enormous profits. And the number of people who can still afford the copays and deductibles on their insurance contributes to enormous inequality in our society. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, since 2008, average family premiums have increased 55 percent, twice as fast as workers’ earnings and three times as fast as inflation. Millions of people remain uninsured or under insured. Millions more will lose their health insurance as they lose their jobs because of the Covid-19 crisis.

I was on Obamacare for a year before I qualified for Medicare. Even with the credits provided by the government the choices were abysmal: a high premium that I couldn’t afford with a reasonable deductible and copay; or a premium I could afford with an outrageous deductible and high copays. The only doctor I regularly saw was my primary care doc at the public health clinic in Peñasco. Specialists were beyond reach. When I tried to see an ear, nose, and throat guy about my chronic vertigo, his office wanted me to pay $400 before I even got into the consulting room.

Medicare has been a relief but is also fraught with inequality. It doesn’t cover 100 percent of your doctor, hospital, or drug costs so those who can afford it have to buy supplemental insurance through the private insurance industry that is still making an enormous profit on our health needs. There is no coverage for vision, dental, hearing and long-term care at home or in the community, all of which Sanders supports.

The Dems who are still resistant to getting rid of the private insurance companies have heard all the statistics that reveal the enormous savings that can be had on hospital, doctor, and drug fees that are negotiated by the government in a single payer plan, and the enormous savings that can be had with a single payer bureaucracy instead of the multilayered, tangled, overblown insurance bureaucracy under which we now function. Yet they continue to complain, “We can’t afford universal health insurance. How’s the government going to pay for it? It’s going to bankrupt us.” Or they say, “We’re going to have to pay higher taxes.”

One would think that with the crisis we’re in now, when the health care system we have is incapable of adequately caring for the sick and dying from Covid-19, there would be an immediate calculated response of, “Oh, it’s going to cost us a trillion dollars to provide emergency health care to those getting sick so I guess we better start revamping the health care system so this never happens again.” Where are you, Joe? Biden is still backing the expansion of Obamacare with a public option.

How about if that response was, instead of spending $1.5 trillion on the development of nuclear weapons that includes money over the next three decades for 30 to 80 nuclear warhead triggers, or “pits,” at LANL, and 50 pits at the Savannah River Site in South Carolina, we make sure everyone in America has access to comprehensive health care. The only democratic senators running in the primary who didn’t vote for the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act of $740 billion were  Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren (along with Bob Corker, Kristen Gillibrand, Patrick Leahy, Mike Lee, Jeff Merkely, Rand Paul, and Ron Wyden). This budget makes up well over one-half of the nation’s discretionary budget, which includes most government functions other than entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security. In an article in Forbes, William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for Policy Studies, cites a research project at the Institute showing that $7 billion dedicated to finding a vaccine for Corvid-19, public health funding to fight the domestic spread and provide medical treatment, and foreign aid to fight the global spread is less than one percent of the Pentagon budget.

He goes on: “And there’s plenty of wasteful and misguided Pentagon spending to choose from to make room for these crucial investments, including a dangerous and unnecessary $1.5 trillion nuclear weapons buildup slated for the next three decades and the department’s over-utilization of private contractors, many of whom do jobs that are redundant, and could be performed more cheaply by civilian government employees.”

The Center for International Policy’s Sustainable Defense Task Force, a group of former Congressional and Pentagon budget officials, ex-military officers, and non-governmental experts released a study called “Sustainable Defense: More Security, Less Spending” that came up with a $1,251 billion savings with the elimination of endless wars, closure of military bases, reduction of military recruitment and weapons procurement, and these nuclear related expenses: Eliminate the New Nuclear Cruise Missile $13.3 Billion; Cancel the New ICBM $30 Billion; Cancel the Space Force $10 Billion; Cancel Ground-Based Midcourse Defense System $20 Billion; Cancel New Nuclear Warheads and Rollback Modernization $15 Billion; Include Nuclear Weapons Complex in a BRAC Round $10 Billion.

Let’s talk mass incarceration and immigration. As the vice-deporter and deporter-in-chief, Biden and Obama failed to push hard enough for comprehensive immigration reform despite having a Democratic House and Senate when they took office. Biden’s platform now says he’ll create a path to citizenship for undocumented workers. Obama said the same thing and failed miserably. Do we just trust Joe now, that this will be a priority? What about the fact that unlike Warren and Sanders and Julio Castro he will not decriminalize unauthorized border crossings, which brings us to the subject of incarceration. Does this mean that refugees will again end up in detention centers—jail—for trying to get into the U.S. to apply for asylum? Biden’s record on mass incarceration speaks for itself. His knee jerk response in 1994 to Republican pressures to “fight crime” indicate his tendency to bend to political whims instead of employing an empathy that he may very well lack.

Now we get to the climate crisis, which if we don’t take the most aggressive actions possible to invest in total decarbonation the ensuing devastation will render the policies we’re arguing about now moot. Joe Biden is not a proponent of the Green New Deal, as his time frame for 100 percent carbon free energy is 2050, and he doesn’t support a fracking ban. Sanders was an early proponent of the Green New Deal and it’s a major part of his platform. He will commit to carbon free energy by 2030, ban fracking, invest in clean-energy jobs, and incorporate all the components of the Green New Deal congressional resolution. He claims his $16.3 trillion price tag will pay for itself over 15 years.

In her book The Case For The Green New Deal economist Ann Pettifor’s very first line is, “We can afford what we can do.” She backs up this statement with an in-depth analysis of how the entire economic system under which we function—global capitalism—can and should be restructured so that we can afford to save ourselves and the planet: “ There will be no chance of protecting earth’s life support systems if we do not simultaneously escape from the grip of the masters of the globalized financial system.” She goes on to explain how this revolution—yes, it must be a political and economic revolution—can create a more balanced system that decentralizes the financial system to allow state authorities, the central banks and the financial ministries to establish a steady state economy that manages economic activity at sustainable levels. “To deploy this financial power in the interests of society and the planet, citizens need to understand that this was ultimately our latent power, which should have been used by citizens to defend the public interest, rather than by technocrats to defend the interest of private wealth.”

Is this socialism? The Facebook “reactionary who calls himself a Democrat” kept calling Sanders a Bolshevik, and I couldn’t help responding by asking, “Was FDR a Bolshevik?” He told me that FDR wasn’t a Bolshevik because his economy was nothing like today’s booming economy where everyone is enjoying the benefits that Bolsheviks like Bernie want to take away from us. The next day the stock market tanked in its biggest loss since the Great Recession of 2007 because of the corona virus (the 99 percent are already in the toilet).

In a previous message to the “moderate Dem” (Joe Biden supporter) whose Facebook page hosts much of the “reactionary who calls himself a Democrat’s” vitriol, I had respectfully asked why she didn’t call him out for spewing such nonsense. She sees herself as the voice of reason, an engaged Democrat who is avidly anti-Trump and a big proponent of political discourse. Her response was, “I don’t think shielding Bernie fans from the portrait people have of him is helpful.” So what’s Bernie supposed to do? Abandon his progressive agenda that seeks to protect the most vulnerable in society with healthcare, sick leave, childcare, and a livable wage, like so many other countries around the world provide, so the trolls will quit calling him a Bolshevik? So much for engaged political discourse.

Instead, we have fear, perpetrated by not just the Trumpsters, with all the lies, conspiracy theories, and xenophobia they spew out on a daily basis, but from the Facebook trolls and moderate Dems—establishment Dems—who are using the fear of Covid-19 to rationalize that Uncle Joe will bring us all together and reinstate normalcy once the emergency goes away. It’s a perverse reemployment of the “Make American Great Again” slogan espousing the neoliberal establishment’s idea of who benefits from what America has to offer. The Democratic National Committee orchestrated this outcome, just as it did in the 2016 primary when e-mails revealed its campaign against Sanders so Hillary Clinton could secure the nomination. But this time, unlike Debby Wasserman Schultz having to resign the DNC chair, it looks like Tom Perez, with the help of Obama, may get away with it (he already rigged who qualified for the debates so Bloomberg could step in to counter Sanders and Warren, and arranged for all the moderates to drop out and endorse Biden after Super Tuesday).

The DNC is aided and abetted by the establishment press. The New York Times , MSNBC, CNN, etc., have all tried to derail Sander’s campaign in an inventive number of ways: he aided and abetted Russa (NYT); outright slander by Chris Matthews and Mimi Rocah, inaccurate polling by Steve Kornaki and Chuck Todd, and Rachael Maddow’s relentless belittling (MSNBC); and CNN’s abysmal moderation of the debates.

Biden is saying he won’t participate in the last primary debate with Sanders in April so he can focus on the crisis. While I’m no fan of these endless debates—they should be curtailed along with the length of the primary season—this is an assault on the electoral process. I don’t care how many electoral votes Biden has, because as I mentioned earlier, half the states have not even had their primaries and are now incapable of holding them while so many of them have “stay at home” directives so folks can’t go to the polls. The recent House of Representatives bill that was put forth as an alternative to the two trillion dollar relief bill (bailout bill), would have made it mandatory for all states to institute mail-in voting before the elections could proceed (according to New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, funding that has been passed will cover only up to 75 percent of what is needed for the primary election in New Mexico alone.) This takes time: the primaries need to be cancelled until a comprehensive voting method is established. In media discussions about fear over the general election there is nothing about the primaries: they question the legitimacy of the national election but don’t question how a primary can be decided when no one in Georgia, New Mexico, Kansas, Indiana, Connecticut, New York and others have cast their ballots.

When we finally get through this crisis but fail to enact a social and economic Green New Deal, will Marx’s prediction that further crises become more and more acute as late-stage capitalism evolves? Are we going to be left with Amazon, Costco, and Wal-Mart as the only stores? I saw an MSNBC Nicole Wallace interview of Biden a week after he disappeared into his basement (#WhereIsJoe began trending on Twitter while Sanders raised $2 million to aid the Covid-19 fight and held emergency meetings with experts). It’s only a sampling of his frequent inability to answer questions articulately without stumbling and dropping his train of thought. His staff and DNC handlers insist it’s a stutter problem, not a demonstration of cognitive decline. Here’s the Mayo Clinic’s list of symptoms of stuttering. Watch the video and see if you still think this guy should be the leader of the so-called “free world.”

 

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