Joining the race - GulfToday

Joining the race

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.


Former Vice President Joe Biden has joined the 2020 presidential race.

Former Vice President Joe Biden’s declaration that he has joined the 2020 presidential race surprised no one and has divided his Democratic Party which is determined to oust Republican Donald Trump from the White House. Biden launched his bid by making Trump’s removal an existential issue for the US.

During his first term in office he has violated every ethic and principle many US citizens falsely believe their republic has exemplified since its founding. Whether or not the US actually possesses ethics and principles does not matter, it is the belief that it does that counts. Trump is the antithesis of all ethics and principles. His supporters do not mind but the majority of Democrats say they mind.

Democratic centrist Biden entered the contest with a lead in the polls over his closest rival, declared Socialist Bernie Sanders. This is Biden’s third bid for the Democratic Party’s nomination, Sanders’ second. Both are white men in their late 70s while the other 18 hopefuls who have joined the race for the party’s nomination are much younger and include black, mixed race and women candidates. Most are progressives energised by Sanders’ 2016 Democratic primary race which he lost to centrist Hillary Clinton. 

Biden argues he has wide experience in political office. He served from 1973-2009 as a senator from Delaware, the second smallest US state, although his roots are in large, industrial Pennsylvania. Biden’s support in the white working class community led to his being chosen as Obama’s running mate in 2008. 

Biden seeks to project himself as a stabilising national grandfather at a time the Trump regime is creating anarchy and chaos in Washington and splitting the country into two warring camps: Trumpites and Others. Like Trump, Biden appeals to white working class voters and can raise millions of dollars from entrenched corporate donors cultivated during his years in the Senate. He raised over $6 million within hours of declaring his entry into the race and is seen by Trump and the Republicans as his major rival.

A Morning Consulting/Political poll cited by Charles M. Blow in the New York Times revealed that Biden is both the leading Democrat and the sole Democratic candidate who is ahead of Trump at this time: 42 per cent over 34 per cent. Biden enjoys a 17 percentage point over Trump among women, 22 per cent among millennials, and 10 per cent among independents.

Nevertheless, Biden continues to have difficulties appealing to black and women voters. 

Like all politicians with long careers in office, Biden has made choices that now haunt him. In 1991, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee he presided over hearings that decided whether a conservative black judge, Clarence Thomas, was suitable for appointment to the Supreme Court.  His nomination was challenged by Anita Hill who charged Thomas with sexual harassment while she was employed in a federal agency he headed. Thomas’ backers countered Hill’s accusations by ruthlessly smearing her. Biden did not call witnesses who could substantiate her charges, allegedly because he had done a deal with Republicans on the committee.

Biden’s handling of the hearings resulted in the confirmation of Thomas and long-term damage to Hill. In her view, the treatment she received by the committee was repeated last year during the confirmation hearings of another court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, who was accused by Christine Blasey Ford of assaulting her while the two were in high school and she was a minor. Kavanaugh was confirmed, Ford slandered, outraging women. 

 On April 25th, Biden telephoned Hill, now a university professor, to state his “regret for what she endured.” She was not satisfied with this gesture, particularly since her case led the US Congress to adopt legislation giving victims of harassment the right to sue for damage and demand back pay and reinstatement. Biden remains tarnished in the eyes of progressive women, a major force in today’s Democratic Party and across the country.

Biden also helped engineer the adoption of the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act intended to tackle rising crime. This led to the incarceration of millions, particularly African-Americans, and was deemed racist.

By the time Obama was in the White House, the crime rate had fallen and Biden worked to change punitive measures which have incarcerated 2.3 million people, more than half a million who are held without being convicted or sentenced. In the US people go to jail 10.6 million times each year.

Biden is also unlikely to energise young voters who simply see him as an “old white man.” It was youngsters who were the backbone of Obama’s successful 2008 campaign for the White House. He was 42 when elected, 34 years younger than Biden is now. So far, Biden has not laid out his agenda if elected. He cannot simply claim the office because he would replace “dangerous” Trump. A middle-of-the-road Democrat, he will have to adopt some of the issues raised by his more progressive rivals: climate change, taxing the rich, the high cost of university education, health care for all, racism, the gun lobby, and the rise of white supremacists.

If he is wise, he could commit himself to a single term and nominate a progressive woman or person of colour to be his running mate and, perhaps, his presumed successor. This could mollify the young, leftists, and the black and Hispanic minorities who count for about 20 per cent of the Democratic Party vote.

A normally friendly man who does not like contestation, Biden must also tackle Trump with all the weapons at his disposal. He cannot expect less from Trump who has already characterised him as “sleepy Joe.”

Biden could be defeated in his bid for the nomination if one of the younger candidates captures the imagination of voters as Obama did in 2008. He entered the race with little face-and-name recognition and a brief record as a legislator as a junior senator from the mid-Western state of Illinois.

He had many disadvantages, notably his race and being an intellectual and a member of the “elite” despised by working and lower middle class voters. He won because he was a new face on the US political scene, had a clean slate, and put forward policies voters wanted to see enacted. So far none of the declared candidates have so far captured the imagination of the Democratic and independent voters who will decide whether Trump stays on or serves a single term in the White House.    

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