By H. Harrison Coleman IV
It became clear that Former Vice President Joe Biden would become the Democratic nominee for President of the United States in early April, when the only remaining contender, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), suspended his campaign. Ever since, Biden has been the favorite to win the general election, leaving many wondering what a Biden presidency might look like. And that question naturally extended itself to a more specific question: what might the downsides of a Biden presidency be?
Biden is a centrist. That comes as no surprise to anyone who watched the primary debates and races, where it seems that every other candidate––with the possible exception of Representative Tulsi Gabbard (HI-2)––sat to Biden’s left on the political spectrum. As the Democratic Party shifts further left, as shown by the ascent of politicians like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14) and Cori Bush, establishment Democrats such as Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) are beginning to warm to progressive ideals, leaving Biden and his ideological companions to become a rarer breed. A potential Biden presidency sets the stage for an internal fight with other Democrats, as Biden increasingly falls out of ideological sync with the rest of his party.
For instance, take universal healthcare, a policy so radical that almost every Western, industrialized democracy except the US has implemented it. Biden has repeatedly come out against the idea, which has 87% support in the Democratic Party and 69% across the board (as per an August study conducted by The Hill). Biden can’t play the “I’m an old-school Democrat” card with this policy. While it is true that the recent push for the healthcare policy has been led by younger representatives, many old-guard Democrats, such as Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) and the late, great Representative John Lewis (GA-5), have expressed their support for policies like Medicare For All, leaving Biden to be the odd man out; yet, Biden has voiced support for expanding the Affordable Care Act to include a “public option”, which would allow people to buy into a government-run insurance plan.
The policies of Joe Biden offer a “return to normal”; the prospect of politics returning to a pre-Trump, more Obama-like style of politics. In this ambition, Biden runs the risk of repeating Former President Barack Obama’s mistakes. Biden’s name is already inseparable from Obama’s, as Biden served eight years as his Vice President. Obama’s presidency, while forward-thinking in many areas, fell short in the eyes of many.
Take the Patriot Act, the immoral and debatably illegal security bill passed in the emotional aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The Patriot Act has been unpopular on both sides of the aisle, with Democrats and Republicans alike blasting the legislation for taking away basic American liberties in the name of “national defense.” Obama, with Biden at his side, defended the Patriot Act and renewed it to last throughout his presidency. While it must be mentioned that the Patriot Act has been supported by President Donald Trump and further renewed throughout his presidency, Biden offers absolutely no improvement in that regard and has even bragged about having written many of the provisions that influenced and are included in the Patriot Act while he was in the Senate.
The Patriot Act is not the only controversial bill Biden has passed. His involvement with the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, more commonly referred to as the 1994 Crime Bill, has been haunting him, both in the primaries and the run-up to the general election.
The bill, which Biden championed during his Senate career, has come under new scrutiny as the murders of George Floyd and other innocent Black people this summer sparked conversations about what function the police and prison system claim to serve, versus what they actually do. As the left took to the defense of the people mistreated and murdered, Biden found himself suddenly having a target on his back. Everyone from Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) to President Trump himself have attacked Biden over this, which begs the question: can a President Biden carry out the popular will of the people regarding the roles of the prisons and police, when his own record shows him as being divorced from the party that he champions?
Additionally, Biden has refused to take on the popular idea of marijuana legalization. The idea of legalizing recreational marijuana has become universally popular, with the prospect being one of the most popular issues among all Americans, with 78% of Democrats and 55% of Republicans supporting it. But still, Biden shows his age and old-school beliefs regarding marijuana and other drugs by not supporting the prospect. His campaign falls short of the majority’s opinion by only going as far as nationwide decriminalization.
Biden has further shown his contempt for the popular will by having supported, even if passively, the War on Drugs. The disastrous set of policies, which began as a political ploy by President Richard Nixon in the 1960s as a way to demonize his political dissenters, has been staunchly supported by Biden, both while he was in and out of the Senate. “We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or (to be) Black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities,” said John Ehrlichman, one of Nixon’s aides.
However, Biden recently expressed regret for the Crime Bill. At an October 15 town hall, he agreed that the 1994 Act was a mistake, and voiced his support for rehabilitating addicts, even going as far as to say, “ I don’t believe anyone should be going to drug courts for drug use.”
Finally, and perhaps most damning, Biden’s policies are authoritarian. A cursory visit to his campaign website shows his shocking stance on firearms. Under more popular and rational policies, such as waiting periods and red flag laws, a horrific policy is buried: Biden wants to completely ban assault weapons. The automatic firearm has gotten a bad rap over the last few years, as those who would seek to undermine one of the United States’ fundamental rights launched campaign after campaign in an effort to constrict the individual’s freedoms.
This flies in the face of the Constitution, in which the right to own a firearm stands right where it should: along with the right to free speech, the right to privacy, and the right to worship as one pleases. However, it should be mentioned that this policy stands as one of Biden’s more popular, with 60% of Americans supporting a ban on automatic weapons.
Despite all the evidence stacked against him, Biden somehow remains the better choice. Trump offers nothing better than Biden does. In many cases, they are ideologically tied such as their attitudes towards the Patriot Act. In others, Biden squeaks by, such as with drugs. Whereas Biden’s illiberal attitudes towards popular policies like healthcare and marijuana remain a stain on his campaign and drive wedges between him and other members of his party, Trump’s stances on all of those policies make Biden seem downright progressive by comparison. Despite all his shortcomings, Biden has at least attempted to reach out to the other factions of the Democratic Party, adding people like Andrew Yang and Bernie Sanders to his policy and voter outreach teams and offering to those who might choose to settle for Biden something that Trump offers none of: hope.