That Joe Biden might be President of the United States seems like a strange prospect for some. A man, close to retirement age, who seems to be very forgetful. His lapses of memory might not disqualify him for the job he seeks to carry out in the Oval Office, but they cannot be helpful. In fact, he has sometimes failed to remember where he is on the campaign trail, as witnessed in the spinal-tap like scenario when he appeared at Kingswood Community Center. He later confessed, “I didn’t know where we were”. It is because of episodes like this that some have gone so far as to raise questions about his senility: he has, after all, at least twice forgotten the position he was running for.
But for all the questions surrounding him, the team of Biden and his Vice Presidential running mate Kamala Harris (or should that be Harris and Biden?) look set to firmly challenge Donald Trump and Mike Pence when Americans go to the polls on 3 November.
Besides what is likely to be a bitterly fought campaign by both sides, the 2020 U.S elections highlight the division within the parties themselves. Particularly the Democrats. The Democratic Party is roughly split between two ideologically opposing sides. On one side, there is the younger tranche of the party, which advocates for a “progressive” agenda, Green New Deals, and identitarian agendas when it comes to issues of race and sexuality; on the other hand, the moderate side focuses on more traditional Democrat platforms on healthcare reform, defending liberal policies on issues such as abortion, and a more Keynesian economic policy. This more centrist wing of the party is where Biden appears to sit. It clearly shows there’s a generational divide between the party.
But the one thing both sides agree on is that Trump must go – and by any means necessary.
While Biden may not be every Democrat-supporting American’s first choice for the top job, he certainly has the experience. He has had presidential aspirations for over three decades. He ran in 1988, but due to a plagiarism scandal he left the race. His next attempt was in 2008 when he went up against Barack Obama, but he once again failed after receiving just one per cent of the vote at the Iowa caucus. Now, in 2020, is it third time lucky?
If Biden wins he would be the oldest man ever elected to the Whitehouse. Although, he hasn’t always broken records for his advanced age. Rather ironically, the soon-to-be 78 year old from Scranton, Pennsylvania actually became the sixth-youngest person (at the time) in American history to be elected to the U.S senate in 1972, at 30 years of age.
If you believe the polls, a Biden victory is all but inevitable. It would appear that voters have become increasingly frustrated by and fed up with the Trump presidency and all its eccentricities. Yet it goes further than this – Biden is not the strongest candidate, but he still seems far more likeable than previous figures such as Hillary Clinton. It turns out labelling your detractors as deplorable is not a good election strategy and Biden hasn’t compounded his predecessor’s error.
But for many, the main reason Biden appears to be winning is that he is not the far-left socialist that the Trump campaign has portrayed him to be. True, he was very slow to denounce Black Lives Matter as they were looting businesses and burning parts of America to the ground. Yet he clearly drew the line when it came to advocating the ridiculous “defund the police” position that some in the Democratic Party – including New York Mayor Bill de Blasio – took.
Last month, during the first and arguably worst presidential debate in U.S history, Donald Trump sent a sneering missive Biden’s way. Arguing that he had done more in 47 months then Biden had done his entire political career. Trump said of Biden that in “Forty-seven years, (he had) done nothing.”
It is wrong to argue Biden has done nothing in the Senate. Yet if we look at what he has done in his career, he begins to look less like the darling of the socialist left and more and more, from today’s perspective, like an old-school law-and-order Republican. On the issues of crime and drugs in particular, he has throughout his career prided himself on his tough stance.
It was in 1984 that he played a big part in introducing The Comprehensive Crime Control Act. Passed at the time with strong bipartisan support, including from former racial segregationist and staunch conservative, Senator Strom Thurmond, the law increased drug penalties, abolished parole in federal prison and brought in mandatory sentencing guidelines.
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During the next six years, Biden then played a role in the creation of two anti-drug Acts that were criticised for disproportionately targeting black communities. The most draconian of these laws was The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986. The bill created the so-called “100 to 1” rule, which treated the possession of crack cocaine as 100 times worse than cocaine powder. Under this law the possession of five grams of crack with intent to distribute became comparable to the same five-year minimum sentence as the possession of 500 grams of cocaine powder.
Seeing as crack-users in the United States at the time were overwhelmingly from poor black communities and cocaine powder users were white, the law meant that the black community received much harsher sentences and penalties for what was essentially the same drug.
After his first failed presidential campaign, Biden initiated a proto Trumpian political comeback, utilising the media to show his tough stance on drugs which culminated in arguably the harshest bill of all: the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. This was a law he was so proud of that he called it “the 1994 Biden Crime Bill.”
The Bill initiated the federal “three strikes” rule – it imposed a life sentence on anyone after committing two crimes. It also further increased drug penalties and extended the death penalty to 60 new crimes. It was supposedly brought in to deal with the supposed increase in violent crime, yet the number of murders, rapes and robberies had been falling for the last three years before the bill took effect.
Despite this, the Biden of 2020 appears to have remodelled himself – alongside his Vice Presidential nominee Kamala Harris – as a keen proponent of criminal justice system reform. While both seem keen to redact their past positions, which were tougher on law and order than they would now like to admit, it is Biden who appears to have softened most. He has apparently experienced a Damascene conversion on a whole host of questions from the death penalty, gay marriage and drug policy.
Biden has now remodelled himself as a “centrist grandad”. Even if he makes a gaff, you can’t help but love him.
Biden’s age may well play to his advantage when it comes to experience. His main qualification for the top job – aside from the obvious fact he is not Donald Trump – is his long history of political service in the Senate. The irony here, of course, is that in his very work as a member of that institution, he that has been responsible for some of the most illiberal and authoritarian legislation in U.S history.
The most that you could say about him is that, throughout his time representing the Democratic Party in the Senate, Biden has shifted and changed his views to align with whatever best serves his career. For over four decades he was the leading proponent of a number of a tougher criminal justice system that led to the mass incarceration of the black Americans: the very community he now swears to serve and campaign for. How times have changed him.
I can hear the voters now as they head to the polls: “He makes the odd off-hand remark, but at least he isn’t Trump.”
They might regret saying that. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t…