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By David Podvin

Delaware Senator Joseph Biden has declared his intention to seek the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. For decades, the senator has been the prototypical establishment Democrat, a weak man who possesses a liberal façade in lieu of liberal principles. By offering to be its standard bearer, Biden is presenting his party with the opportunity to self-destruct.

Clarence Thomas sits on the Supreme Court because Joe Biden is a coward. As Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Biden allowed Republicans to hijack the Thomas confirmation hearings. He watched passively while the nominee’s perjury was overshadowed by vicious right wing attacks upon Dr. Anita Hill. Witnesses who were prepared to substantiate Hill’s allegations of professional misconduct against Thomas were not summoned because Biden’s top priority was mollifying his reactionary colleagues.

Biden became enraged during the Thomas hearings, but his hostility was not directed toward the Republicans who smeared an honorable woman or at the judicial nominee who lied under oath. Instead, the senator furiously denounced civil rights groups and women’s organizations that claimed they had convinced him to derail the nomination. “Joe Biden is not in anyone’s pocket!” he thundered.

The would-be Democratic presidential nominee may not be in the pocket of the Democratic base, but he is definitely in the pocket of Corporate America. Biden co-sponsored legislation to change bankruptcy law so that it increasingly benefits big business at the expense of consumers. He voted against limiting predatory lending practices and against protecting citizens victimized by identity theft. The senator also endorsed Paul Wolfowitz for the presidency of the World Bank, a position from which Wolfowitz will coercively transfer Third World resources to multinational conglomerates.

A self-described “national security Democrat who favors a muscular foreign policy”, Biden has referred to Ronald Reagan’s 1982 Evil Empire speech as a model of internationalist wisdom. Biden justified his vote to authorize conquering Iraq by citing Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. The senator also warned of the link between Hussein and al Qaida. When these pretenses were debunked, Biden dismissed the relevance of the lies and effusively praised George W. Bush for defying anti-war critics.

Following the revelations of systematic torture at Abu Ghraib, Biden defended Bush by saying that the level of abuse was being grossly exaggerated. He emphasized that American torture is significantly more humane than the torture inflicted during the Hussein regime. He lauded Alberto Gonzales, the author of the administration memo that posited torturing prisoners is permissible under the Geneva Conventions. The senator did seek the removal of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, but his stated rationale was that Rumsfeld’s departure would shield Bush from blame.

Biden frequently aligns with Bush. Although the senator slammed President Clinton for having an extramarital affair, he refused to sign a Senate Democratic letter demanding that Bush be investigated for allowing gay prostitute sleepovers at the White House. Biden defended Bush’s authoritarian USA Patriot Act against criticism from liberals, falsely declaring that the legislation safeguarded individual liberties. He has consistently voted to help Bush stock the federal judiciary with extremists like D. Brooks Smith, a right wing jurist who disputes the relevance and constitutionality of the Violence Against Women Act.

Biden’s vote to confirm Smith is revealing. The senator was the passionately eloquent sponsor of the anti-violence bill and then supported a judicial nominee who considered the legislation unconstitutional. This duality is hardly aberrant. Biden routinely disagrees with the Bush administration while enabling the very behavior he condemns, as when the senator castigated John Ashcroft’s Justice Department for violating the Constitution and then voted to give Ashcroft more power. Biden’s pattern of taking the progressive position immediately prior to sabotaging it renders irrelevant his high liberal voting rating.

So does his eagerness to curb individual freedoms. Biden was the primary advocate of the repressive RAVE legislation. The bill was supposedly designed to combat criminality at raves, which are concerts where drug abuse proliferates. However, the act was written in a way that threatens free speech while placing liability on event organizers for third party actions. The law applies to any public gathering and provides unprecedented discretion to prosecutors. Fearing enormous potential for abuse, civil libertarians launched a successful lobbying effort that forestalled passage, whereupon the senator quietly attached RAVE to a politically irresistible bill dealing with child abduction. Thanks to Biden, the Bush administration has a powerful new weapon with which to silence dissent.

Biden strains to portray Democrats and Republicans as being morally equivalent: “I do not question the motives of either the neo-conservatives in this Administration who discount the value of alliances and the international institutions we've built or the pure multilateralists in my own party who believe that we can only exercise power if we get the world's approval first.” When asked to identify one pure multilateralist in his own party who believes that we can only exercise power if we get the world's approval first, Biden was unable to do so.

The senator has a reputation for bluntness because he rarely hesitates to be critical, but Biden remains steadfast only in his criticism of Democrats. He has condemned Howard Dean for critiquing the shortcomings of the GOP, warning that Dean’s future as Democratic Party Chairman is at risk. Biden criticized Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice for dissembling during her confirmation hearings, but nevertheless voted to confirm her. It is typical of Biden to threaten liberals for being honest while rewarding conservatives for lying. It is also typical of him to capitulate after acknowledging right wing malfeasance.

When disagreeing with Bush, Biden usually bends over backwards to be innocuous. In advocating the closure of the Guantanamo torture camp, the senator summarized the problem by saying,  "This has become the greatest propaganda tool that exists for recruiting of terrorists around the world." The activity on Guantanamo did not just “become” a propaganda tool. Bush made it so by sanctioning depraved behavior, but Biden has long believed that holding conservatives unambiguously accountable destroys bipartisan ambiance.

After many years of humiliating losses, most Democrats have figured out that downplaying Republican misconduct is the problem, not the solution. At the 2004 Democratic National Convention, President Clinton delivered a speech that exemplified the winning approach. He explained the choices confronting Americans using unmistakably simple terms. Here is what Democrats believe, said the president, and here is what Republicans believe. Here’s why we’re right and here’s why they’re wrong. Bill Clinton realizes that projecting clarity and conviction is the key to influencing public opinion. So does Howard Dean.

Joe Biden remains clueless. Rather than drawing clear distinctions between the parties, Biden blurs the divide. The senator insists on referring to conservative failures as “our” failures while he futilely pursues a unilateral end to partisanship. He values “unity” over principle, as demonstrated when he said John McCain should be the 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee even though McCain is more conservative than Zell Miller. And while Biden is highly intolerant of flaws in his Democratic allies, he does not apply similar harsh standards to Republicans. His approach to politics exudes weakness. Having experienced the consequences of nominating weak candidates, Democrats would be masochistic to repeat the mistake.

On the surface, it would seem unlikely that Biden could become the nominee, but his candidacy is ominously reminiscent of John Kerry’s bid. The Massachusetts senator also has a liberal voting record that is negated by a propensity to capitulate. Like Biden he was considered a long shot to gain the nomination, but after mainstream journalists relentlessly tarred Dean as unelectable Kerry emerged as the nominee. The fact that Kerry and Biden share benefactors in the media oligarchy means the Biden campaign must be taken very seriously. He can’t win the presidency, but if better Democratic candidates are again hounded from the race he can win the nomination, which would create a nightmare for a party that can ill afford another nightmare.

As a senator from a deeply blue state, Biden has been free of electoral peril, and therefore could have spent his thirty-five year career being a champion for liberalism. He could have prevented Thomas from lying his way onto the high court. He could have provided the Congressional Black Caucus with the sponsorship needed to challenge the verifiably fraudulent 2000 presidential election results. He could have insisted that even in the wake of 9/11 there is no inherent conflict between civil liberties and national security. He could have been the leading voice in condemning the illicit war in Iraq and the torture of innocents that abomination has entailed. For that matter, Biden could have led the charge against the Reagan-financed genocide in Central America. All this and so much more the senator could have done without incurring any realistic risk of being defeated.

Yet whenever leadership was needed, Biden sought the comfort of conforming to establishment groupthink. Time and again, he has shamelessly deserted the progressive cause. The senator will now seek the Democratic presidential nomination despite having forfeited any claim to that position of trust. Acting in self-defense, liberals must deny Joseph Biden his ambition by nominating someone who will not betray them.

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Last changed: December 13, 2009