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In his speech at the Democratic National Convention last week, presidential candidate Joe Biden said, “Character is on the ballot,” castigating the Trump administration for “its failure to tell the truth simply.” In a bland, uninspiring speech brimful with empty platitudes (“Light is more powerful than dark,” for example), Biden promised a return to decency.
Biden has long cultivated a down-to-earth, authentic persona, and it is only a persona. This is because inauthenticity, lack of any real moral courage, and any real conviction beyond base power lust, is Joe Biden’s defining quality. Despite his please for racial justice, Biden has been a deeply regressive (rather than progressive) figure for decades.
If Biden’s politics are toxic, then it may be because he never really had politics, merely adopting Washington orthodoxy, without thought or conscience.
And that, in practice, has meant embracing a Washington consensus of endless war, a post-9/11 national security state that unconstitutionally spies on and tramples the rights of Americans, and a War on Drugs that has militarized the nation’s police departments and incarcerations millions, including so many innocents, disproportionately harming Black Americans.
Biden’s instincts always seem to lead him in the wrong direction — the easy direction conveniently euphemized as dealmaking and consensus-building. After 9/11, Biden praised George W. Bush as charting “a course of moderation and deliberation.” Where Senate candidate Barack Obama ran in 2003 on principled criticism of the Patriot Act, Joe Biden has gone around bragging that he wrote it.
A reliable war hawk, it’s hard to find a U.S. military intervention Joe Biden didn’t like, and he has been a consistent enemy of civil liberties, both in his positions on terrorism and domestic crime.
Biden’s crime bill, perhaps his signature legislative accomplishment, was the accursed product of the police lobbying group the National Association of Police Organizations — and with Biden, everything they wanted, they got. Biden’s tough-on-crime speeches at the time in the early ‘90s were filled with thinly-veiled racist stereotypes and callous, vengeful attitudes about criminal justice.
It only stands to reason, then, that Biden’s choice for VP would be a person who has boasted of being California’s “top cop,” of wanting “to see more police officers on the street,” and of, for example, treating truancy as a crime and “block[ing] the release of nonviolent second-strike offenders,” even as her state’s prisons overflowed. Like Biden’s, Harris’s career as a “public servant” stands ignobly on the ruins of American lives, particularly Black American lives, she’s destroyed with the outmoded policies of the War on Drugs. As she runs for vice president, she seems to be without guilt or compunction, even as she shamelessly positions herself in favor of “bold police reform nationwide.”
How can anyone who is even somewhat familiar with Harris’s record take this seriously? How can they take it as anything more than the practice of electoral politics at its most cynical and opportunistic? Like her running mate, Harris is hypocritical and inauthentic, happy to say, or do another to keep climbing the power ladder.
Of all the disastrous pairings that could’ve come out of the Democratic primary season, Biden and Harris may well be the least progressive, the most concerning for a growing movement of Americans seeking meaningful reform on policing, criminal justice, and prison issues. Biden and Harris embody everything people rightly hate about politics, the inauthenticity, the smiling duplicitousness, the lack of moral courage.
They share a willingness to take any position to get to the top, their ugly, pitiless ambition overriding any principles they may hold.
As it happens, the Democrats tried something rather like this in 2016, nominating the safe-bet establishmentarian, a war-loving Washington mainstay with no conscience, whose fingerprints were all over so many of the worst policy mistakes of recent history.
The Democratic Party, which has no shortage of young, progressive up-and-comers to choose from, instead tapped Harris, an utterly unscrupulous cop, during a year when Americans around the country are out in the streets protesting exactly the injustices Biden and Harris represent. Biden’s positions, like his career itself, are old, stale, and well past their expiration date.
[Originally posted on The Hill]