America's favorite 'Onion' character comes with way too much baggage.
Photos via Win McNamee/Getty Images, Wikimedia Commons, Bettmann/Getty Images
Welcome to Evesplaining, politics writer Eve Peyser's column about why everyone else is wrong and she's right.
On Monday, Joe Biden said he's "not closing the door" on a future presidential run. A new Politico/Morning Consult poll demonstrated why he's considering going for it by showing Biden leading Trump by 11 points in a very hypothetical 2020 matchup.
But don't be fooled by these numbers—the same poll found that a "generic Democrat" would fare even better against Trump. More to the point, to even find himself facing Trump Biden would have to win a likely packed-to-the-brim Democratic primary. And when a Resistance-drunk Democratic base looks at Biden, it's going to see a lot not to like. He'll face the same problems Hillary Clinton did in 2016, but magnified.
Let's begin by noting that Biden has already positioned himself as anti-populist Democrat in ideological opposition to Bernie Sanders, who according to some polls is the most popular politician in the US. In practice, this seems to mean going around saying things like "the wealthy are as patriotic as the poor," which seems slightly tone deaf considering he'd be competing to replace Trump and throw out his Cabinet of billionaires and hedge fund titans.
That's just the tip of the iceberg. Young people are probably more familiar with the memefied iteration of Biden, a silly foil to Barack Obama, who was the subject of numerous Onion parodies that portrayed him as a weed-selling, porn-loving "Uncle Joe" who threw parties at the White House when Obama was out of town. But as entertaining as the persona Biden has fostered since serving as vice president is, his past tells another story.
While Hillary was forever tied to the 1994 Violent Crime Control Act that her husband signed into law, Bill actually credited Biden with passing the legislation, which the former president later admitted made America's mass incarceration crisis worse. As recently as 2015, the bill that gave states financial incentivizes to incarcerate more citizens and instituted mandatory minimums for nonviolent crimes was referred to as “1994 Biden Crime Bill."
Biden's role in Anita Hill's 1991 sexual harassment hearing is also troubling. The then-senator led the proceedings as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and even though he ultimately voted against confirming Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court, he was widely criticized by the left for "having mismanaged the allegations of sexual harassment made by Ms. Hill against her former employer, Mr. Thomas," according to a 2008 New York Times story. In a 2014 interview with the Huffington Post, Hill said that Biden did “a disservice to me, a disservice more importantly, to the public.”
On Monday, Biden offered up a half-baked non-apology for his conduct during the trial, saying, "I’m so sorry that she had to go through what she went through... I feel really badly that she didn't feel like the process worked."
Like Clinton, Biden voted for the Iraq War. He later said he regretted that decision—but in a contest with a fresh generation of Democrats who didn't vote for the Iraq War, it's almost certain to be another disadvantage.
He often presents himself as a champion of women's rights, having introduced the Violence Against Women Act in 1990 (it eventually passed as part of the 1994 crime bill), but Biden also voted in favor of banning so-called partial birth abortions and said that even though he believes in upholding Roe v. Wade, he thinks life begins at conception. Then there are all the photos of him touching women that look, well, creepy. No one has ever accused him of predatory behavior, but if 2020 is anything like 2017, those photos may skeeve out some Democratic voters.
These low points throughout Biden's long political career make him a less than ideal candidate for 2020, but did you know he's also known for making racist blunders? In 2006, he said, "You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin' Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I'm not joking." When he announced his presidential bid in 2007, he called Barack Obama "the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy." And even after Obama had chosen him to be his running mate, Biden gave John McCain one of his main talking points when he said:
It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. The world is looking. We’re about to elect a brilliant 47-year-old senator president of the United States of America. Remember, I said it standing here, if you don’t remember anything else I said. Watch, we’re going to have an international crisis, a generated crisis, to test the mettle of this guy.
If the primary gets ugly—and almost all close primaries get really, really ugly—you're also going to see people bringing up the reason Biden's first presidential run failed in 1987, which is that he stole a speech from a British politician.
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