Joe Biden, Opportunist, Insincere Catholic

What does it mean, that Joe Biden has suddenly reversed himself on the Hyde Amendment? For MSNBC’s Donny Deutsch, a branding and marketing professional, former chairman of an advertising firm, host of MSNBC’s “Saturday Night Politics” talk show, and outspoken opponent of Bernie Sanders (and any hint of any “socialism” in U.S. politics, as “toxic” and “Kryptonite” given the masses’ supposed inherent American animus towards socialism), it’s a great thing. It gets rid of one obstacle to Biden getting the nomination he deserves, as the representative of the establishment Deutsch wants to preserve. It’s that cut-and-dry.

Not to me. I don’t believe life begins at conception, or that there’s a creator-god who mandates that once a human egg is fertilized, the host body must bring the pregnancy to term. I don’t believe abortion is murder. I believe it should be available to women on demand, safe and legal and without apology.

But I was once a Christian. I know what it is to accept the idea that there is a divinely-dictated moral law governing such matters. I do not fault the sincere believer who believes it is wrong to abort a fetus. I will argue my own position, but respect the other’s and its dubious otherworldly premises.

I more respect the believer who opposes abortion consistently, with conviction, than the wavering opportunist who will adjust conviction to enhance political prospects. This is what Biden has done.

Has he explained why, as a devout Catholic (because he is consistently described as such, and it is a cultivated part of his political persona) he has changed his mind on the federal government paying for poor women’s abortions? All he’s announced is that he’s decided—suddenly, after all these years—that it’s unfair to deny poor women, including a disproportionate number of women of color, services available to others.

Nothing about life, the inception of life, issues of higher morality. No explanation. He could have said, “I’ve thought a lot about this, and have concluded that the happiness and health of the living woman is more important than the religious insistence on making sure every human fetus is born, as though it were fated by God and humans must not intervene in the process. I’ve decided that’s an irrational point of view, and I apologize for the fact that my devotion to my church’s teachings on this matter have driven my wrong votes on this issue for decades.”

Instead he relies on traditional American pragmatism. How did he signal his retreat from his decades-old position? At a DNC organized rally in Georgia, he suddenly declared: “If I believe heath care is a right, as I do, I can no longer support an amendment that makes that right dependent on someone’s zip code.”

Rapturous crowd response! The front-runner, early darling of the DNC and its network, MSNBC, has dropped some bad baggage! Yay! He’s now more competitive with Sanders, whose stance on abortion (and many other things) is as clear as Biden’s positions are murky if not just bad.

Personally, I don’t believe in the U.S. political system and think the electoral process is a corporately-steered farce. I don’t believe genuine democracy is possible under capitalism. Those who operate within the system, seeking its highest offices, are all in my view morally tainted; they all have to lie in order to get elected. Atheist candidates advised by their staffers register as church members. Members of Congress privately critical of Israel vote for pro-Israel resolutions automatically. There are rules to being a U.S. politician, and they have nothing to do with morality. On the contrary.

Thus Lunchbox Joe sloughs off the burden of Roman Catholic teaching on abortion and announces his support henceforth for federal funding for abortion as “a right.” And thus the mainstream media applauds what one channel called an “elegant” transition from one position to another. No one is pointing out what should be obvious: Biden is an opportunist whose moral compass is for sale, if it lands him the presidency.

And after receiving the royal treatment by cable news channels so far, Biden now finds himself exposed to more critical investigations of his past that reveal opposition to school desegregation busing in the 1970s, support for the Hyde Amendment, a plagiarism charge that forced him to drop a 1988 presidential bid, the (misogynistic) overseeing of the Anita Hill hearings, authorship of the infamous Crime Bill which criminalized a generation of black youth and which Biden still defends, support for Wall Street and the credit card companies and the Glass-Steagall bill in 1999; enthusiastic support for the Iraq War; eulogy for notorious racist Strom Thurmond after his death in 2003; praise of Egypt’s Mubarak even as the Egyptian people were toppling him in 2011 etc.

It is a horrible record, of a horrible man. The Democratic Party leadership and the media they influence want him very badly to win. He is their knight in shining armor, his shield emblazoned with the crests of Obama and Hillary. He can win—they think—against Trump. But as importantly—they think—he can defeat Sanders.

Donny Deutsch has stated on MSNBC that he would vote for Trump before he would vote for Sanders (as a “socialist”). Such is the animus the low-key, not even really “socialist” Sanders produces among the cable talking heads so out of touch with the masses, especially young people.

May likely voters (and everyone, really) ask not only, “Can Biden beat Trump?” but “Do we want a moral weathercock to beat Trump? Can’t we do better with a consistent, reliable progressive who marched with King whereas Biden promoted segregation; argued for workers’ rights while Biden argued for credit card companies’ protection against consumers’ bankruptcy declarations and authored the Crime Bill; and opposed the Iraq War based on lies while Biden eagerly endorsed it?”

Biden is, to use the currently popularized adjective: FAKE. A fake progressive, fake feminist, fake advocate of the working class. All he has is eight years as the quiet deferential side-kick to the Obama-Clinton administration in which Hillary wreaked havoc in Syria and Libya. This record, he feels—and a reputation seasoned by sympathy for his personal tragedy, including the loss of his son Beau Biden (Delaware attorney-general) in 2015, which he is not beyond exploiting for political gain—can land him the presidency.

Like a lot of old people, he misunderstands the young. Sanders on the other hand is connected, and real.

Gary Leupp is Emeritus Professor of History at Tufts University, and is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900 and coeditor of The Tokugawa World (Routledge, 2021). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: