Joe Biden's free ride is over
His awful record is finally coming under the scrutiny it deserves
Joe Biden has had a bizarrely easy time of it as the frontrunner of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary. Few of his competitors have attacked him directly, and those who did (like Kamala Harris and Julián Castro) have mostly dropped out of the race.
However, it appears Biden's free ride is finally coming to an end. With actual primaries coming up soon and no sign his lead is disappearing, his top rivals Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have begun attacking his record — Sanders explicitly, and Warren with the release of a bankruptcy reform plan that would overturn one of the blackest marks on Biden's Senate career. It's high time Biden's record got close scrutiny.
Let's take them in turn. On Anderson Cooper's CNN show recently, Sanders pointed out that Biden had been on the wrong side of almost every major policy question for the last 30 years. He supported free trade agreements with Canada, Mexico, and China that devastated the American industrial base. (A study from the Economic Policy Institute found that the trade deficit with China alone killed 2.7 million American jobs just between 2001 and 2011.) Biden repeatedly pushed for cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and veterans benefits. He voted for the Iraq War — indeed, he voted against attempted amendments that would have added conditions making it harder to invade.
Incidentally, of late Biden has taken to claiming that he opposed the Iraq War from "the moment it started," but as a July 2003 speech he gave at the Brookings Institution shows ("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 it would be a correct vote today"), that is a straight-up lie.
Finally, Biden supported the 2005 bankruptcy reform that made the process dramatically more onerous and slanted towards creditors. Warren's new proposal is focused on this disaster. Currently there are two main processes for ordinary people: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. The former is what most people think of when they consider bankruptcy — you sell off your assets to your creditors (except for a few exempt items depending on state laws, often primary residences or retirement accounts), your debts are wiped out, and you get a fresh start (but with a major dent in your credit rating). Chapter 13 is more like a repayment plan, not a real bankruptcy.
As inequality grew and grew starting in the 1970s, Americans had come to rely more and more on consumer credit to keep up with expenses. But without solid wage growth to make them more creditworthy, people began using the Chapter 7 process more and more to escape from unpayable debt. The consumer lending industry, including credit card company toadies like then-Senator Biden, began arguing that bankrupt Americans were simply deadbeats, and pushing to make the bankruptcy process much more brutal.
Warren herself initially bought this narrative, but her close study of the bankruptcy process revealed it to be utter trash. People were not "abusing" bankruptcy; it was just an increasingly necessary option of last resort. The consumer lending industry just wanted to make it easier to trap people in debt peonage. Nevertheless, after years of effort, Biden and the other credit card goons in Congress finally passed the reform bill in 2005, which added stringent new means tests on the Chapter 7 process, made it almost impossible to get rid of student loan debt, and pushed people towards the fake Chapter 13 option. (Unsurprisingly, all the worst predictions of the bill's effects came to pass.)
Warren's proposal would replace this mess with a single bankruptcy process far more fair to middle-class debtors. The means tests would be removed, and a single standard for protected assets like homes and cars would be imposed. People would get greater latitude to spend on household necessities, and student loan debt would be able to be written off. She also would legalize "cramdown," or allowing the modification of mortgage debt in bankruptcy — something the Obama administration promised to do but reneged because it would have harmed the big banks (yet another stain on Biden's record). Meanwhile, loopholes that allow rich people like Donald Trump (as usual the only people actually committing any abuses in this area) to profit enormously from other forms of bankruptcy would be closed.
All in all, Warren's reform would be a godsend for millions of Americans — and an indirect demonstration that one of Biden's major "accomplishments" in Congress was a corrupt disaster.
It bears repeating that Biden is just a wretchedly unsuitable candidate for 2020. His atrocious record in Congress aside (don't forget teaming up with southern Dixiecrats to stop school integration!), he has long been on the right wing of a party that is quickly moving left, and much of his family has eagerly cashed in on his political connections. Hunter Biden gets all the attention with his ludicrous $50,000 a month job sitting on the board of a Ukrainian oil company, but Joe's brother James also reportedly traded openly on the family name while running an investment fund.
While there is no evidence whatsoever Biden did anything concrete to help his family in their business endeavors, all this is still extremely sleazy. He's not exactly the guy you want running against Mr. "Drain the Swamp."
Biden has also plainly lost a step mentally, often getting confused about current events and the subjects of discussion. His campaign has been low on events and lower on enthusiasm, with his staff plainly planning to coast to the nomination on the back of a voting public that is terrified of Trump and has talked themselves into the idea that the more conservative candidate is somehow "safe."
But this is nonsense. The most left-wing candidate, Bernie Sanders, polls just about as well against Trump as Biden does. More importantly, a Sanders (or Warren) nomination would inspire fervent enthusiasm instead of exhausted resignation. As Sanders pointed out on CNN, "To beat Trump we need turnout, and to get turnout we need energy and excitement, and I just don't think that kind of record is going to bring forth the energy we need to defeat Trump."
So it's good to see Biden's appalling record finally getting some scrutiny. Democratic voters need to get out of their defensive crouch and realize that nominating the guy would be a hellish risk for no benefit.
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