Joe Biden: An Imperial Corporatist Wrapped in the Bloody Flag of Charlottesville

Photograph Source: Petty Officer 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley – Public Domain

Besides being a grabby old coot who needs to stop joking about complaints over his serially inappropriate touching of females, Joe Biden is a grinning neoliberal sell-out who stands well to the right of majority progressive public opinion. No elegantly crafted three-and-a-half minute campaign launch video on the horrors of Charlottesville and Donald Trump can change that essential fact.

The media trope that portrays “Lunch-Bucket Joe” Biden as a regular, down-to-earth guy who cares deeply about regular folks is pure, unadulterated bullshit. His real constituents wear pinstripe suits and works on Wall Street and in corporate headquarters. They fly around in fancy private jets. And the supposed “everyman liberal” Joe Biden is their loyal apparatchik.

“The Folks at the Top Aren’t Bad Guys”

It’s not for nothing that Biden relies on big money backers, not small and working-class donors – and that he is an especially close ally and beneficiary of Washington lobbyists. He has spent decades ripping on progressive “special interests” while joining with Republicans to advance policies harmful to the working-class.

In 1978, Biden worked for Wall Street by voting to rollback bankruptcy protections for college graduates with federal student loans. Six years later he did the same to vocational school graduates. In 2005, he worked with Republican allies to pass the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act, which put traditional “clean slate” Chapter 7 bankruptcy out of reach for millions of ordinary Americans and thousands of small businesses. The bill put bankruptcy filers under far stricter Chapter 13 rules, turning countless citizens into de facto indentured servants of finance capital (including the many credit card companies headquartered in Delaware.) Biden backed an earlier version of the bill that was too corporatist even for Bill and Hillary Clinton.

He voted against a bill that would have compelled credit card companies to warn customers of the costs of only making minimum payments.

In 1979, Biden recognized campaign donations from Coca-Cola by cosponsoring a bill that permitted soft-drink producers to skirt antitrust laws. That same year he was one of just two Congressional Democrats to vote against a Judiciary Committee measure to increase consumers’ rights to sue corporations for price-fixing.

Biden strongly supported the 1999 Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act, which permitted the re-merging of investment and commercial banking by repealing the Depression-era Glass–Steagall Act. This helped create the 2007-8 financial crisis and subsequent recession.

Biden naturally supported the corporate-neoliberal North American Free Trade agreement and the globalist investor rights Trans-Pacific Partnership deal.

All of this and more in Biden’s record is richly consistent with the beginning of his political career. He’s been an unapologetic corporatist from the start. As Branko Marcetic noted on Jacobin last summer:

“In 1984, the Washington Post specifically named him, along with Gary Hart and Bill Bradley, as one of the best-known figures among that era’s Democratic Party’s ‘neo-liberals,’ who ‘singled out slimming the role of government and pushing new technology’….Biden built his career advertising himself as someone who refuses to toe the progressive line. He proudly boasted of defying liberal orthodoxy on school busing, for instance. But throughout his career, that boast has most often taken the form of bashing liberal ‘special interests.’ Biden toured the country in 1985 chiding…unions and farmers for being too narrowly focused, and complained that Democrats too often ‘think in terms of special interests first and the greater interest second.’ In the latter case, Biden was specifically complaining about their opposition to his calls for a spending freeze on entitlements and an increase in the retirement age” (emphasis added).

“The Anti-Populist”

Biden is so corporatist and pro-Wall Street that he can’t join the other corporate (neo) liberals in the 2020 presidential horse race in playing what a still-Left Christopher Hitchens once called (in a sharp volume on the neoliberal Clintons) “the essence of American politics”: “the manipulation of populism by elitism.” Biden won’t deign to pay lip-service to populism. Indeed, he has billed himself the “anti-populist” – the antidote to both the right-wing reactionary populism of Trump and the leftish progressive populism of Bernie Sanders.

Biden absurdly criticizes those who advocate a universal basic income of “selling American workers short” and undermining the “dignity” of work. He opposes calls for free college tuition and Single Payer health insurance. He defends Big Business from popular criticism, writing in 2017 that “Some want to single out big corporations for all the blame. … But consumers, workers, and leaders have the power to hold every corporation to a higher standard, not simply cast business as the enemy.”

That’s called blaming the working-class victim. It’s also called propagating a fantasy – the existence of a political system in which the working-class majority has the power to hold concentrated wealth and power accountable.

“I don’t think five hundred billionaires are the reason we’re in trouble. The folks at the top aren’t bad guys,” he told the Brookings Institution last year – this as he claimed to worry about how the “gap is yawning” between the super-rich and the rest.

“I Have No Empathy…Give Me a Break”

Joe Biden is such a right-winger that he has even gone so far as to say that he has “no empathy” for Millennials struggle to get by in the savagely unequal and insecure precariat economy he helped create over his many, many years of service to the Lords of Capital. “The younger generation now tells me how tough things are—give me a break,” said Biden, while speaking to Patt Morrison of the Los Angeles Times last year. “No, no, I have no empathy for it, give me a break.”

So what if Millennials face a significant diminution of opportunity, wealth, income and security compared to the Baby Boomers with whom Biden identifies? Who cares if he helped shrink the American Dream for young people with the neoliberal policies and politics he helped advance?

“Reaching Across the Aisle to Get [Capitalist] Things Done”

How Biden has managed to simultaneously distance himself from majority progressive-populist sentiments and pose as a friend of the everyday working man is an interesting question that probably can’t be answered without factoring in the Orwellian role of corporate media in promoting love as hate, war as peace, black as white, and corporate apparatchiks as regular working-class guys.

A critical part of Joe “Anti-Populist” Biden’s media-crafted appeal is his “get things done” claim to be able to “reach out across the aisle” in the famous, hallowed, and CNN- and “P”BS-honored “spirit of bipartisanship.” That’s a shame. Why should we want a president who promises to team up with the widely loathed and creeping fascist white-nationalist Republican Party? And what has the holy bipartisanship that Biden is celebrated for embracing wrought for We the People over the years? Not much. As Andrew Cockburn wrote last month at Harpers:

“By tapping into…popular tropes—‘The system is broken,’ ‘Why can’t Congress just get along?’—the practitioners of bipartisanship conveniently gloss over the more evident reality: that the system is under sustained assault by a [bipartisan] ideology bent on destroying the remnants of the New Deal to the benefit of a greed-driven oligarchy. It was bipartisan accord, after all, that brought us the permanent war economy, the war on drugs, the mass incarceration of black people [Biden backed Bill Clinton’s ‘Three Strikes’ crime and prison bill – P.S.], 1990s welfare ‘reform’ [Biden backed the Clinton-Gingrich abolition of Aid for Families with Dependent Children], Wall Street deregulation and the consequent $16 trillion in bank bailouts, the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, and other atrocities too numerous to mention. If the system is indeed broken, it is because interested parties are doing their best to break it” (emphasis added).

Biden even took his embrace of the supposedly sacred virtue of bipartisanship to the grotesque level of forming close friendships with vicious southern white racists like Republican Senators Strom Thurmond and Jesse Helms, not to mention the frothing warmonger John McCain.

With Biden as with Barack Obama, Bill Clinton and a long line of dismal dollar Democrats in the neoliberal era, there’s an accurate translation for “reaching across the aisle to get things done:” joining hands across the two major party wings of the same corporate-imperial bird of prey to make policy in accord with the wishes of the rich and powerful.

“A March to Peace and Security”

Speaking of young people and empire, no assessment of “Lunch Bucket Joe” (LBJ) Biden is complete without reference to what Institute for Policy Studies foreign policy analyst Stephen Zunes calls Biden’s “key role in making possible an inappropriate and utterly disastrous war” – the monumentally criminal and mass-murderous U.S. invasion of Iraq. As Zunes explains at The Progressive:

“As chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 2002, Biden stated that Saddam Hussein had a sizable arsenal of chemical weapons as well as biological weapons, including anthrax, and that ‘he may have a strain’ of smallpox, despite UN inspectors reporting that Iraq no longer appeared to have any weaponized chemical or biological agents. And even though the International Atomic Energy Agency had reported as far back as 1997 that there was no evidence whatsoever that Iraq had any ongoing nuclear program, Biden insisted that Saddam was ‘seeking nuclear weapons.’”

“At the start of hearings before his committee on July 31, 2002, Biden stated, ‘One thing is clear: These weapons must be dislodged from Saddam, or Saddam must be dislodged from power. If we wait for the danger from Saddam to become clear, it could be too late…

“In an Orwellian twist of language designed to justify the war resolution, Biden claimed in Senate session in October 2002, ‘I do not believe this is a rush to war. I believe it is a march to peace and security.’ This gave President Bush the unprecedented authority to invade a country on the far side of the world that was no threat to the United States” (emphasis added).

It was an invasion that led to the premature death of 4500 mostly younger U.S. Americans – and of course to much larger Iraqi casualties.

The “Stop Sanders Democrats”

Why is this dirty old imperialist and corporatist dog being rolled out to corporate media acclaim as the supposed people’s alternative to Trump in the White House? It’s all about blocking Bernie Sanders, who is the Democrats’ best chance to win back the presidency since he nearly won the Democratic presidential nomination three years ago (Sanders would have prevailed over the vapid centrist Hillary Clinton but for the corrupt shenanigans of the Democratic National Committee) and is still running (as before) in sincere accord with majority-progressive-populist sentiments on key domestic issues. Norman Solomon has explained it well here at Counterpunch:

“Biden has arrived as a presidential candidate to rescue the Democratic Party from Bernie Sanders….Urgency is in the media air. Last week, the New York Times told readers that ‘Stop Sanders’ Democrats were ‘agonizing over his momentum.’ The story was front-page news. At the Washington Post, a two-sentence headline appeared just above a nice photo of Biden: ‘Far-Left Policies Will Drive a 2020 Defeat, Centrist Democrats Fear. So They’re Floating Alternatives.’…Biden is the most reliable alternative for corporate America. He has what Sanders completely lacks—vast experience as an elected official serving the interests of credit-card companies, big banks, insurance firms and other parts of the financial services industry. His alignment with corporate interests has been comprehensive. It was a fulcrum of his entire political career when, in 1993, Sen. Biden voted yes while most Democrats in Congress voted against NAFTA….In recent months, from his pro-corporate vantage point, Biden has been taking potshots at the progressive populism of Bernie Sanders. At a gathering in Alabama last fall, Biden said: ‘Guys, the wealthy are as patriotic as the poor. I know Bernie doesn’t like me saying that, but they are’” (emphasis added).

Only the popular front-runner Sanders is likely to prevail against Trump even without a recession (certainly a possibility) between now and the election. But, as in the last presidential cycle, corporate-Democratic politicos are working to sabotage the nomination of their most viable candidate in the general election. They are:

+ Flooding the primary campaign with such an absurdly large number of candidates that Sanders will likely be unable to garner the majority of primary delegates required for a first-ballot nomination at the 2020 Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee.

+ Coordinating among the Democratic Convention super-delegates—the more than 350 county and state party bosses and elected officials who are granted delegate status without election—to vote as a bloc to stop Sanders on the convention’s second ballot. (These super-delegates exist precisely for the purpose of blocking challengers to the party’s corporate establishment.)

+ Working to change state party elections from caucuses to primaries, as caucuses are friendlier to progressive challengers. (Sanders won 11 of the nation’s 18 caucus states three years ago.)

+ Smearing Sanders’ popular social-democratic policy agenda as “fantastic,” “unaffordable,” “unrealistic” and too dangerously “socialist”—this while Democratic elites refuse to acknowledge the fascist tendencies of the president they helped elect in 2016.

+ Branding the electable Sanders “unelectable” on the grounds that he is an “extremist” who is “too far left” for the U.S. electorate generally and independent voters specifically.

The “unelectable” charge is false. Sanders appeals to independents (who are nowhere near as conservative as is commonly reported), people of color, infrequent voters and the white working-class that has largely abandoned the Democratic Party. His anti-establishment message, coupled with his long record of representing rural voters, makes him highly competitive with Trump, not only in the Rust Belts states where Hillary Clinton faltered but even in some dark red states like West Virginia. Even the likes of Karl Rove believe Sanders could defeat Trump in 2020.

Biden is part of the corporate “Stop Sanders” campaign inside the Democratic Party. It helps that he is a white male in an election cycle shaped by the Democrats’ fear that running a woman and/or person of color might fuel the patriarchal and racist sentiments of the Trump base, increasing its turnout in battleground states.

Look for the Democratic establishment to do everything it can to prevent its party from defeating Trump by running its most popular candidate, Bernie Sanders. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. The Democratic Party exists to serve its corporate clients. Its leaders fear the specter of socialism while the world’s most powerful nation threatens to slide into fascism. (Never mind that democratic eco-socialism—a political project significantly more radical than what Sanders is proposing—is precisely what America and the world need right now.) Establishment Democrats would rather lose to a white-nationalist right than even the mildly social-democratic left within their own party. It’s why the late political scientist Sheldon Wolin labeled them “the Inauthentic Opposition.”

The Best Thing Joe Can Do

Joe Biden can wave the bloody flag of Charlottesville all he wants. He is the distilled essence of neoliberal Fake Resistance and Inauthentic Opposition. Barring an economic meltdown between now and the first Tuesday in November of 2020, look for him to get knocked out by the orange beast in the general election if the “Stop Sanders” Democrats are successful.

Keep your passports up to date. Trumpism is Amerikaner fascism, eager to up its ugly game by stepping beyond mere flirtation with mass violence. As Paul Krugman recently told a nonplussed Anderson Cooper on CNN, “if you’re not terrified” yet, then “you]re not paying attention”:

Cooper: “You write that it’s very much up in the air whether America as we know it will survive.”

Krugman: “Institutions depend upon the willingness of people to obey norms, and occasionally to say, okay, ‘this is not how we do things in our country.’ …This didn’t start with Trump. There’s been a steady erosion of those norms. This has been building for a long time, and we’re very close to the edge right now.”

Cooper: “When you say close to the edge, what does that mean to you?”

Krugman: “You know, on paper, we’ll stay a democracy, but I worry very much about a sort of Hungary-type situation where you have on paper the institutions of democracy. You even hold votes, but the system is rigged, and in fact, it’s become effectively you have a one-party rule…We’re very close. If Trump is re-elected if the Republicans retake control of the House, what are the odds that we will really have a functioning democracy after that?”

Cooper: “I mean, that’s a pretty terrifying idea”

Krugman: “If you’re not terrified, you’re not paying attention”

What Biden said in his launch video yesterday morning is correct: “If we give Donald Trump eight years in the White House, he will forever and fundamentally alter the character of this nation…We can’t forget what happened in Charlottesville.” A second Trump term is not a pleasant thing to contemplate. Biden says he “can’t stand by and let that happen.”

The irony is the best thing he could do to stop a second Trump term is to stand aside and tell the rest of the candidate field and voters to congeal behind Sanders. The corporate-neoliberal Democratic Clinton-Obama model is what put the supremely dangerous orange monster in the White House in the first place in 2016. The establishment Democrats, who prefer barbarism to even the mildest hint of socialism, are working to give the monster a second term. If Joe really hates fascism as much as his launch video suggests, then he needs to de-launch. Maybe some activists in Iowa or New Hampshire can set up for his final, politically fatal gropes. Extreme times call for extreme measures. His candidacy is terrifying.

Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).