Joe Biden has just made a comeback in the Democratic Party primary campaign. But the author of a scathing new exposé has told The Canary that the former vice president is “basically Hillary Clinton… in many ways with her weaknesses turned up to 11”. And considering that Clinton couldn’t beat Donald Trump in 2016, that’s something all Democrats need to be aware of.
On ‘Super Tuesday’, Biden won ten of the 14 states holding primary contests that day. Bernie Sanders had until then been the undisputed frontrunner, but only won four states after the Democratic establishment rallied behind Biden just before the vote. Having won no states, meanwhile, Elizabeth Warren (sometimes dubiously labeled ‘the other progressive candidate’) and billionaire Michael Bloomberg both dropped out of the race.
Biden won’t provide the necessary break from the status quo
In an exclusive interview, The Canary spoke with Branko Marcetic, author of Yesterday’s Man: The Case Against Joe Biden. In the book, Marcetic lays out a devastating critique of Biden’s political career and explains why he is far from the right person to face Trump in November.
As he puts it in the book’s introduction, “return[ing] the United States to any version of normality that won’t just lead the country straight back to another Trump” will require more than just “beat[ing] Donald Trump at the ballot box”. He argues that the Democratic Party challenger must also “midwife a fundamental break from the political status quo, removing or mending the conditions that led to [Trump’s] rise in the first place”. And he clearly doesn’t see Biden as the person to do that.
Summarizing the book’s major thesis, Marcetic argues that running a centrist against Trump has already been tried; and it’s already been proven a failed strategy. He said:
I’m saying: ‘Well, look, we already ran through this experiment once.’ Hillary Clinton in 2016 was the safe establishment candidate, the kind of ‘centrist moderate’ that you’re meant to supposedly put up against a kind of extreme and buffoonish right-wing candidate. That’s meant to just automatically prevail. Of course, she didn’t. Suddenly, the Democratic Party is on the road to repeating that experiment… There’s that famous quote about insanity being doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result. And my case is that Biden is basically Hillary Clinton… in many ways with her weaknesses turned up to 11.
Hillary Clinton Take 2?
Marcetic pointed specifically to Biden’s record on criminal justice issues, immigration, and foreign policy. He said:
Biden has well over a decade of pushing really extreme ‘tough on crime measures’ – often more extreme than the Republicans that he was trying to out-posture in these instances… On immigration, Biden, like many Democrats… voted to enable the powers that Trump and Obama have used to launch the kind of deportation state… But he also was the architect of the foreign policy that accelerated the migrant crisis coming out of Central and South America.
He added that Biden also has a long record of supporting neoliberal economic policies and attempting to cut social security and the US’s (already very limited) public healthcare provision. Though noting that his corruption is not in the same league as that of the Clintons, Marcetic nonetheless noted that “he does have a problem with it; the Burisma thing with Hunter Biden is just the tip of the iceberg.”
In summary, he said:
So Biden has every weakness that Clinton does that would make him vulnerable to Trump in the general election. And that’s before we even get into his difficulties cognitively in this particular race. But beyond that, I also argue that Biden was emblematic of this larger shift in the Democratic Party that really paved the way to Trump. All these things they were doing to sort of compete with an ever more powerful and extreme right wing in the United States… NAFTA and welfare reform… slashing government spending… all of that really paved the way for Trump to rise up.
Is Sanders the alternative?
Asked about whether the campaign of Sanders offers the best hope of an alternative to the neoliberal-lite trajectory of the Democratic Party, Marcetic is emphatic:
Absolutely… Sanders’s campaign, in many ways, is sort of the heir to the Rainbow Coalition that Jesse Jackson ran in ’84 and again in ’88 – which, interestingly, by the way, Biden opposed… [Sanders] is trying to forge a new consensus much more similar to the New Deal tradition that [former President Franklin Delano] Roosevelt launched [in the 1930s] and that Biden was very briefly part of before taking a right turn very early on in his career.
Marcetic pointed in particular to Sanders’s efforts to build a broad electoral coalition that could form a new voting bloc. He said:
Sanders’s theory is one that, through a program of economic populism – the kind that really has fallen out of favor in politics, not just in the Democratic Party but as a whole in the US and really the rest of the world since the global neoliberal turn in the 1980s, … [he] can knit together a broad coalition of voters… That worked for Roosevelt and the Democrats for a while… from the ’30s until about the 1970s… And I think that does probably represent the best case and the best path forward for getting us out of this rut and actually dealing with the just flurry of crises that are heading our way.
Democrats shifted to the right along with the whole politicial establishment
Marcetic argued that the US political center of gravity, in general, is way to the right of other developed countries. For him, this was caused by a movement of powerful capitalist interests that conspired to push back against the New Deal coalition that developed under Roosevelt. He said:
In the 1930s, when Roosevelt launched the New Deal and really tried to reverse the huge concentration of wealth and inequality that had accrued over the past however many decades, there was a counter-movement launched by… some of the most powerful industrialists in the United States. Some of them planned a coup against Roosevelt; that did not work out. Others gathered together… [and] launched a sort of counter-movement to combat not just the political power of people who believed in a more… liberal or even social-democratic direction… but also to combat the increasing popularity of those ideas and to make neoliberal ideas popular among the public again.
For Marcetic, one manifestation of this was the founding of various right-wing thinktanks, journals and media outlets by wealthy donors to push this neoliberal agenda. It also coincided with a campaign of demonization targeting somehow ‘undeserving’ (and implicitly non-white) people who were falsely presented as “mooching” and “getting… freebies” – a common right-wing narrative that been firmly and decisively debunked.
Monkey see, monkey do
The election of Ronald Reagan represented this shift to the right. A buffoonish and reactionary former entertainer, he was in many respects a precursor to Trump. Marcetic explains that many elements within the Democratic Party responded to Reagan’s win by assuming they had to move to the right to stay electable. He said:
Democrats look at this and they go, ‘well, the reason we lost is because we’re too liberal. There’s this conservative turn in the electorate and that’s why Reagan won and we have to move closer to the way Reagan is to survive’… And that becomes really the modus operandi going forward, well, for the rest of time until now. It’s also important to note that this coincided in the ’80s with a push from the business world to really push the Democratic Party to the right.
Biden played a role in this process, especially coming from a state that has long served as the US’s internal tax haven. Marcetic spoke of how Biden became a key player in maintaining Delaware’s status as a state with unusually lax corporate regulations and tax rates – even by US standards (although this situation predated Biden’s entrance into politics). Biden forged close relations with the DuPont chemical company and other business interests, for example, and received donations in exchange for using his political influence to advance their interests.
Biden’s association with Obama’s toxic legacy
Asked about Biden’s tenure as vice president during the Barack Obama administration – which on almost every count was a horror show – Marcetic pointed to the unfortunate prioritization of image over substance in the current political climate. He said:
Unfortunately, I think there’s a tendency in liberal thinking that focuses on aesthetics and kind of very superficial things instead of actual substance… There were a lot of people on the left who felt a great deal of enthusiasm for Obama only for that enthusiasm to be crushed by the reality of his actual administration. But not everyone took this critical view. I think a lot of people saw… this wonderful symbolic thing of an African-American man in the presidency. I think they saw the virulently racist and extreme campaign of obstruction to oppose him and to really destroy him and they sort of closed ranks around him… Because Fox News and the whole Republican, right-wing media machine was so intent on demonizing him in the most over-the-top, cartoonish ways – and often for, I mean, not often, exclusively for things that were really ridiculous, that, I think, really blunted any legitimate criticism or even just the impulse to criticize Obama.
Time to wake up
Marcetic ended the interview on an optimistic note, though, stating:
I’m not surprised that there’s a nostalgia for this time [under Obama] that seemed normal – particularly for a lot of people who are maybe middle- to upper-middle class liberals, people who haven’t necessarily felt the same kind of sting of the policies that Democrats have pursued over the past few decades. [But] I think there are people who are waking up to it now, for sure.
Featured image via Flickr – Joe Roeder
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