Sam Fogel: Joe Biden — a man of many pitfalls

Monday, September 9, 2019 - 2:55pm

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Former Vice President Joe Biden is unfit to be the Democratic nominee, let alone president. He is a geriatric relic of a bygone era, a candidate that represents stagnancy in an age of political revolutions and upsets. Out of the many candidates on the Democratic stage, he is the second oldest only behind Sen. Bernie Sanders, Vt., and only by a single year. The ripe age of 76. Not even former President Barack Obama seemed to be keen on Biden running, reportedly telling his VP, “You don’t have to do this, Joe, you really don’t.” His opinions are antiquated, conflating the poor with Black people and the privileged with white people. He represents an old guard of Democrats, even older than the neoliberal Clinton-era troupe. My blathering about this particular baby boomer isn’t going to change minds, but maybe a look through his history will.

Biden started his career in the ʼ70s dealing with the long-contentious issue of forced integration in student busing, in which he backed the wrong side and adamantly stood against the Department of Education’s efforts to integrate segregated school districts. Fellow 2020 candidate Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif. (who has had plenty of problematic positions dealing with racial inequality in the past herself), criticized Biden about this in the first presidential debate on June 27. Of course, he tried to defend himself with convoluted excuses, but the issue still stands. When it came to the fight for civil rights, Biden couldn’t sacrifice his constituents in Delaware to fight for what was right. In a 1975 interview with the People Paper, he said “I don’t feel responsible for the sins of my father and grandfather. I feel responsible for what the situation is today, for the sins of my own generation. And I’ll be damned if I feel responsible to pay for what happened 300 years ago,” seemingly ignorant of the concept of generational wealth. 

People seem to forget Biden was an architect of the war on drugs. His voting record concerning minimum sentencing and bills relating to drug related crimes has been horrendous. He was a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee from 1987 to 1995, helping write many laws that led to a more punitive justice system. Said laws have laid waste to many already marginalized communities, putting people in prison unjustly and ruining lives as a consequence. In response to former President George H.W. Bush’s plan for decreasing drug use in 1989, Biden said that it “doesn’t include enough police officers to catch the violent thugs, not enough prosecutors to convict them, not enough judges to sentence them and not enough prison cells to put them away for a long time” — a statement that has aged like milk. The laws Biden helped write include the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which included (by his own admission) over 70 new enhanced penalties and 125,000 new prison cells.

Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court re-opened old wounds for many, reminding Americans of Justice Clarence Thomas’ predicament with Anita Hill. Similar to Kavanaugh's accusations of sexual assault, Thomas was accused of sexually harassing Hill, who worked under Thomas in the Department of Education. And in the hearing for Hill, many remember Biden being inconsiderate and unfair to the law professor. Biden even said in an interview a year later that he “erred in not attacking the attackers.” In recent years, however, Biden has claimed to apologize for her treatment. He claims to have had little power over the proceedings. But considering how his apologies have been conspicuously well-timed with his presidential campaign, I suspect hollow amends. With sexual harassment finally getting its due consideration in our culture, the light cast upon Biden from this folly is not a good one.

Joe Biden’s career is long, and with that comes the baggage of missed opportunities and grave mistakes. I don’t even have to mention his vote on the Iraq War to come up with a comprehensive list of things he was wrong about. Sure, people can change. I think that Biden is allowed to make amends with his past mistakes. But that doesn’t mean I think he can become worthy of the Oval Office. He is an antiquated man who has antiquated opinions, and that is not what America needs. 

In the 21st century, problems have arisen that need a new, fresh and unorthodox approach. I can’t think of a more traditional candidate than Joe Biden. The issue with tradition is that the establishment politics Biden represents led to a nationalistic despot like President Donald Trump taking office. His positions are inadequate to face the issues that plague our nation today, and that inadequacy is directly due to his antiquity. Climate change needs direct, forceful action. Healing and solving our racial divide once and for all needs more than hedging a compromise with bad faith actors. Americans deserve a president who can lead the country into the future without hypocrisy and a vacillating will. That president will not be Biden.

Sam Fogel can be reached at samfogel@umich.edu.