He might get to replace Ruth Bader Ginsberg. If so, he’ll pick a conservative corporatist. After all, he has to placate the Republicans in the Senate.
Kids will remain in cages at the border. Releasing them would piss off the right-wingers who run ICE and BCE. As a Democrat, he won’t want to appear weak on immigration, opening his party to attacks in the 2022 midterms.
No change on healthcare. Biden already said that.
No student loan forgiveness. He already said that.
No Green New Deal. He already said that.
War with Venezuela? Entirely possible. He said that.
His Homeland Security goons will beat the shit out of Black Lives Matter and other protesters. Obama’s did it to Occupy.
His NSA spooks will keep spying on our email and texts. The dude was behind the Patriot Act.
He will not appoint a single progressive to his cabinet. Obama didn’t either.
Aside from the occasional old white man gaffe, Biden will be polite and affable.
Added 6 pm Eastern 8/11/20: Well, that turned out to be true.
Most years, the Super Bowl is a dud. Yet the hype machine keeps pulling in new suckers.
The quadrennial announcement of the Democratic nomination for vice president features an identical Lucy, Charlie Brown and the football dynamic: lots of hype followed by deadly disappointment. And there’s never been more hype than this year.
Not that Joe Biden’s pick isn’t important. If he wins, he will be the oldest person to take the oath of office by a full eight years. (He’ll be 78. Trump, the second oldest, was 70 in 2017.) Even by the standards that the 70s are the new 60s, Joe Biden’s 70s look more like 80s or 90s. His choice has to satisfy several competing constituencies: women, Blacks, and the progressive voters he desperately needs to show up November 3rd instead of sitting on their hands as they did last time.
But past performance almost always being a reliable indicator of near-future returns, Democrats should prepare for a Super Bowl-like fiesta of deep disappointment.
Last cycle’s brutal primaries prompted speculation that Hillary Clinton might unify the party by giving Bernie Sanders the VP nod. She chose Tim Kaine. (Political pundits jammed phone and text messaging with: “who?”) She told Charlie Rose she loved that Kaine described himself as “too boring.”
Clinton thought Kaine’s dullness would provide balance. Voters considered it redundant. “‘Safe,’” observed Politico, “seems to be Kaine’s middle name.” In the year of Trump, safe was anything but.
That’s often the case.
I was traveling through Central Asia when a hotel employee informed me that Al Gore had announced that Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman would be his running mate to go up against Bush-Cheney in 2000. I assumed my Uzbek host was part of some weird post-Soviet gaslighting campaign. How could Gore do anything so stupid?
The mists of time and the Florida recount fiasco have blurred the fact that, like Clinton 16 years later, Gore needed a progressive to balance his record as a Third Way centrist. Inexplicably, both at the time and today, clueless Democratic pollsters somehow convinced themselves that what he really needed to do was distance himself from Bill Clinton—the president under whom he’d served for eight years and who was enjoying improving poll numbers. They also thought the conservative Lieberman’s “moral rectitude” in being the first Democrat to condemn Bill Clinton for the Monica Lewinsky scandal would appeal to left-leaning Ralph Nader voters.
Lieberman opposed affirmative action and gay marriage. He supported every major military intervention, including, at first, Vietnam.
Nader kept his progressive votes.
The first rule of picking a veep is do no harm. The second is to remember the lesson of Bill Clinton/Al Gore 1992, when Democrats won with a pair of centrists of similar age and temperament from neighboring states: geographical ticket balancing as an art peaked out when JFK tapped LBJ.
As tensions mount between voters dominated by the populist progressive left and party leaders who manipulate the Democrats’ primary process to favor corporate centrists like Obama, Clinton and Biden, however, the case for ideological balance seems stronger than ever. Surely Hillary Clinton must wake up in the middle of the night wondering if relegating Bernie Sanders to number 39 on her list of running mates was the best decision she ever made.
By that standard Elizabeth Warren ought to be keeping her phone by the window in her house with the best reception. She would be an interesting choice: both more intelligent and intellectual than her boss, white (OK, white and Native American) in the year of Black Lives Matter, someone disgruntled progressives would have a hard time justifying as the target of a voter boycott.
Of the women floating around on Biden’s supposed short list, Warren would surprise. She would exceed expectations. She might unify the party.
I bought this drafting table in 1995, when I was just starting up my career and thought it would be a good idea to draw on something a little more respectable than the coffee table at a house where I was crashing. I’m selling it now. Before I go and post it on eBay, however, I thought I would give my readers first shot. If you’re interested, contact me through the website here and let me know how much you’re willing to pay for it. Big bonus points if you could pick it up from Long Island, New York. Otherwise you’re going to have to definitely pay for some serious shipping. It works perfectly great, no problem whatsoever, and thousands of cartoons were drawn on it. The awesome wooden chair is not included unless you make me an offer I can’t refuse.
The stock response to President Donald Trump’s suggestion that the general election might be delayed because voting during a pandemic would involve a record number of mail-in ballots, a format he argues is unreliable and susceptible to fraud, is that he doesn’t have that power.
NBC News is typical: “The president has no power to delay an election.” [Emphasis is mine.]
What the president understands, and most mainstream commentators fail to accept, is that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than to get permission. That goes double when the powers in question are limited by a document that lies in tatters, repeatedly ignored.
Liberal politicians and news outlets point out that the Constitution assigns the scheduling of elections exclusively to Congress. Republicans tepidly (and troublingly) stopped short of denying Trump’s power to push back the big day, while insisting that the election ought to take place on time. “Never in the history of this country, through wars, depressions and the Civil War, have we ever not had a federally scheduled election on time. We will find a way to do that again this November 3rd,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.
In an era of rampant cynicism it is sweetly naïve and the amusingly charming to see Americans put so much faith into the constitutional checks and balances they learn about in high school civics class. “‘Trump can’t delay the election,’ experts say,” reads a headline in The Washington Post.
Since when has a 221-year-old piece of paper stopped presidents from doing anything?
I think first of war powers. Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution clearly states that the right “to declare war” resides exclusively with Congress. Such key founders as George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton—men whose right to define original intent can hardly be questioned—believed that presidents could not dispatch troops without legislative approval except in cases of immediate self-defense. Congress signed off on sending soldiers and sailors to the Quasi-War with France in 1798, naval conflicts with the Barbary States of Tripoli and Algiers, and clashes with Native American tribes in the West.
Congress has since abdicated its war-making powers to the executive branch. Congress hasn’t issued a formal declaration since World War II. Yet we have fought countless wars. Presidents have launched military attacks against Korea, Vietnam, Libya, Grenada, Lebanon, Panama, Serbia, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of these wars of aggression were legalistically constructed as “police actions” or “peacekeeping missions” under the aegis of the UN. The fact remains, this is not what the drafters of the Constitution intended. And it has never been amended. Presidents do what they want; lawyers twist logic to justify their illegal slaughters.
President Abraham Lincoln earns democracy points for holding the 1864 election during the Civil War. Yet he suspended habeas corpus and ignored a ruling by the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court saying that he didn’t have the power to do so. George W. Bush’s Military Commissions Act of 2006 also suspended habeas, for anyone the U.S. government arbitrarily defined as an “enemy combatant.” Until the Supreme Court ruled against him two years later, Congress was complicit with the MCA. Even after the court ruling, the internment facility at Guantánamo Bay remains open; 40 men remain there, not one of whom has ever been charged or tried under basic constitutional standards.
FDR almost certainly didn’t have the constitutional right to send 127,000 Japanese-Americans to internment camps during World War II. Yet he did.
From domestic surveillance by the NSA that violates the agency’s founding charter to asset forfeiture programs that allow the police to seize money and property from people who have never been charged, much less convicted of a crime, Americans live in a society oppressed by a political class that takes no notice of constitutional limits it deems inconvenient.
Does the president have the legal right to delay an election? No.
Does he have the power? Yes, unless We The People refuse to accept it.
You don’t want to lose your job. How would you feel if getting fired would mean that you would spend the rest of your life in prison? You would do anything to keep working.
That’s the position in which Donald Trump finds himself.
The president is the target of a myriad of congressional, state and federal investigations into his business practices. Trump could resign in exchange for a deal with Mike Pence to pardon him as Ford did for Nixon, or hope for a victorious Joe Biden to do the same in the spirit of looking forward, not backward.
But a presidential pardon wouldn’t apply to the biggest threat to Trump’s freedom: the New York-based inquiries by the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, New York’s attorney general and the Manhattan D.A.’s office into hush payments that former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen made to Playboy model Karen McDougal and the adult-film actor Stormy Daniels, violations of the Constitution’s emoluments clause and into Trump’s business practices in general.
If Joe Biden maintains his double-digit lead in the polls, however, Trump stands to lose his executive immunity from prosecution early next year. At age 74, even a five-year prison term could effectively become a life sentence. What would Trump be willing to do to avoid that?
In the back (not all the way back) of Trump’s mind has to be the possibility of canceling the election.
There has been speculation, from such notables as Hillary Clinton, that Trump might refuse to leave the White House if he loses to Biden. Indeed, Trump has fed rumors that he plans to discredit the results in case of a loss. He says mail-in balloting would be plagued by fraud and foreign interference and refuses to commit to accepting the results. If I were the president, I would reject this option. Refusing to leave would be far from certain to allow him to remain in office more than a few weeks or months.
Another crisis scenario making the rounds has Republican governors loyal to Trump refusing to certify the results in their states. Under one of the more arcane sections of the Constitution the final result would be determined by the House of Representatives under a one state delegation–one vote scheme. Most states are majority Republican so Trump would probably win. Trump shouldn’t go with this plan either. Relying on feckless governors in the House of Representatives process would leave too much to chance.
Only one approach comes close to guaranteeing that Trump remains at the helm for the foreseeable future and thus out of the clutches of New York prosecutors: canceling the election entirely.
On or about November 1st, he takes to the airwaves.
“My fellow Americans,” he intones, “we are a time of unprecedented crisis. We are deep in the dreaded second wave of the coronavirus. It would be reckless and irresponsible to ask people to go outside and stand in line, risking death, in order to cast a vote that can easily be cast next year, after we have a vaccine. Moreover, the streets of many of our cities have been overrun by rioters and looters. We can’t have an election without law and order. Therefore, we will delay the vote until our safety can be guaranteed. God bless America.”
Never mind that the riots will have been provoked by Trump’s own federal government goons, the so-called Federal Protective Service, or that the pandemic will be raging because of his own incompetence, denial and inaction. His argument will ring true with his Republican base and a few moderates. As usual, Democrats will be stunned, clueless and impotent.
Trump has set the stage for a too-dangerous-to-vote argument.
Black Lives Matters protests were winding down before he sent FPS to Portland and Seattle. Thanks to these violent agents provocateurs the crowds of angry protesters are growing, buildings are burning and people are getting killed. He wants to send thugs to Chicago and other cities as well. By October they could be all over the country, spreading chaos.
After downplaying the threat of COVID-19 for months, the president has radically reversed course. He is wearing a mask in public, urging others to do so and resuming coronavirus-themed press briefings, replacing public health officials as the face of the crisis response. The new messaging: COVID is deadly. Mail-in ballots, the social-distancing alternative to IRL voting, has been discredited by the GOP; anyway, it’s too late to implement it now. Just watch: he may call for schools to remain closed, another switch.
There is no legal mechanism for canceling a federal election. The Supreme Court can’t do it. There are no exceptions, not even for nuclear war. The U.S. system will have broken down.
What will happen next? We have seen it many times in many other countries. Trump and his associates will not be able to allow the media to talk, the courts to rule or the politicians to criticize his coup.
Trump, former president and now dictator, will censor and suppress dissent to protect his regime. Martial law will be declared. Media outlets, including social media online, will be seized and censored. Lists of potential critics and opponents—leading Democrats, academics, intellectuals, pundits, even political cartoonists—will be drawn up. Those on the list will be arrested, or worse.
They say it—fascism, authoritarianism—can’t happen here. But if you’re Donald Trump and you think you’re about to lose and go to prison, what other option do you have?
Pollsters have observed a consistent enthusiasm gap between supporters of President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. Any factor that dampens Democratic turnout could contribute to a second come-from-behind victory for the GOP.
Adding to liberal voters’ ambivalence over Biden is a rarely-discussed aspect of Trump’s presidency. Trump’s skepticism of foreign military entanglements places him to the left of mainstream Democrats like Biden. His foreign policy aligns more closely to those of the progressives who are licking their wounds from the primary defeat of Bernie Sanders—and who are considering whether or not to vote at all.
In 2016 Trump upended traditional right-wing politics by campaigning against the Iraq War—during the Republican primaries, where candidates usually compete to look tough. This year the surprise dove can take credit for extricating the U.S. from its longest war, the 18-year-old meatgrinder of Afghanistan. Not only was Trump the first post-9/11 president to hold direct talks with the Taliban, he concluded a peace deal with the insurgency that leads to a total American withdrawal by April 2021 if the Taliban uphold their commitments. Now he is even considering an accelerated timetable that would bring back the last American soldier before Election Day.
Enter the war pigs.
Trump’s peace initiative is under attack by an odd coalition of neoconservative Republicans including Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and a group of Democratic hawks who inserted an amendment to the latest National Defense Authorization Act. The add-on denies the president funding to bring back the last 8,000 troops. In order to get the money the Defense Department would have to certify that pulling out would not increase the chances of Afghanistan ever becoming a safe haven for terrorists in the future. How could they promise that?
“There were elements of the progressive left and the pro-Trump right who supported these withdrawals,” Glenn Greenwald noted in The Intercept, but they lost the House fight.
Even so, many progressives find more to like in Trump’s willingness to engage with the leaders of countries like North Korea and Iran. Prior to Trump, high-level negotiations were positioned by the U.S. as rewards for improved behavior; Trump talks without preconditions. Progressives prefer diplomacy to war.
Biden, on the other hand, voted to bomb Serbia, invade Afghanistan and Iraq. He has never apologized—so it’s reasonable to assume he’d commit the same crimes again. He sat at Obama’s side as that administration armed and funded radical jihadis in Libya and Syria, expanding regional conflicts into all-out civil wars, one of which created the vacuum filled by ISIS. American leftists support Nicolás Maduro, a socialist, in Venezuela; Biden backs Juan Guaidó, who failed to seize power in a military coup last year. These are Hillary Clinton’s politics, an approach left-leaning voters despise.
“The liberal establishment is desperate to return a centrist to the White House in November and reestablish the country’s more stable military dominance of the world order, disrupted only briefly by Donald Trump. Joe Biden’s terrible track record on foreign policy — including his championing of war in Iraq — suggests a return to Obama-style strong military interventions abroad,” David Davison and Alex Thurston wrote recently in Jacobin.
“Biden represents the return of the classical foreign policy establishment,” Alan Minsky, executive director of Progressive Democrats of America, told The Progressive magazine. “Biden is running a campaign as a restoration candidate.”
And while Biden has made overtures to the progressive wing of his own party on such domestic issues as healthcare and the environment, he has expressed no willingness to compromise on foreign policy.
Last week a coalition of progressive groups wrote to Biden to demand that he appoint anti-interventionists to his cabinet and as top officials in the State Department. “Without national security and foreign policy personnel who are willing to learn from the mistakes of the past and understand the need for change this moment presents, we fear our country—and the world—risk descending into climate and economic chaos fueled by further corruption and authoritarianism. We expect a potential Biden administration to reflect the urgency of this moment in its personnel appointments,” the letter read.
My vote is a personal endorsement. It says, “I, citizen Ted Rall, approve of Joe Biden’s career in public office.” I do not. Voting for Biden would be a retroactive endorsement of his vote to invade Iraq, which killed over 1 million innocent people. Voting for Biden would be a retroactive endorsement of his long history of racism, beginning with his disgusting opposition to court-ordered busing.
Biden has never apologized for his numerous right-wing policy positions, such as writing the fascist USA-Patriot Act and the 1994 crime bill that expanded mass incarceration of Black men. Biden’s refusal to apologize indicates that he still believes he did the right thing, and that he would do them again in the future. Why should I forgive him? He has never asked for forgiveness.
Joe Biden lies a lot. He falsely claimed to hold three bachelor’s degrees and to have graduated at the top of his law school class with a full scholarship. He falsely claimed to have come from a family of coal miners in Northeastern Pennsylvania. He plagiarized in law school and when he wrote his speeches. He said he was arrested with Nelson Mandela; it didn’t happen. During his recent debate against Bernie Sanders, he looked Sanders and the American people in the eye and falsely claimed not to have repeatedly supported the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal funding of abortion. One of the biggest reasons to despise Trump is that he lies so often. What’s the point of replacing one liar with another?
Biden refuses to name his cabinet. Given his advanced age — he would be the oldest person ever elected president — his supporters say a cabinet of “best and brightest” department secretaries would pick up the slack as Biden’s mental abilities continue to fade. If that’s true, what are those names? Unless he proves otherwise, before the election, we have to assume a Biden Administration will be run by Obama-era corporate hacks, not one of whom was liberal. You shouldn’t hope for the best from someone who still has Laurence Summers, an idiot who thinks that women aren’t smart enough to be scientists, on speed dial.
Whether or not you believe that the DNC conspired to install Joe Biden as the nominee, a vote for Biden is a vote for a conservative Democratic Party. Consider what will happen if Biden wins with substantial progressive support. Internal pollsters will conclude that there’s no need to kowtow to progressive voters because they will vote for a corporatist even if they don’t receive any ideological concessions. The argument is, get rid of Trump first and then push Biden to the left. As MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell has said, that’s ridiculous. “If you want to pull the major party that is closest to the way you’re thinking to what you’re thinking, you must show them you are capable of not voting for them. If you don’t show them you’re capable of not voting for them, they don’t have to listen to you.” Voting for Biden would actually resume the party’s push toward the right.
America deserves more than two parties. Both major parties began small. They never would have grown had 19th century voters been unwilling to ignore the two-party trap and “waste” their votes and financial contributions on organizations that didn’t initially seem to stand a chance. If you don’t believe in either Donald Trump or Joe Biden, vote for and contribute to a smaller party. If you support the lesser of two evils in election after election, don’t complain that a better alternative never emerges.
Joe Biden is mentally unfit for the presidency. He is clearly suffering from dementia, which is why his campaign is hiding him. Now they’re trying to come up with excuses for him not to debate Trump. If the electorate wants to hand over nuclear launch codes to a man who is senile, let them commit this madness without me.
Biden’s team thinks that their guy can win without campaigning or articulating an affirmative platform of forward-looking ideas simply because so many of us are disgusted by Trump. They may be correct. But it’s dangerous. If Biden’s non-campaign campaign model is successful, it will be emulated. People will become president without being properly vetted, without the American people getting to know them. Nothing could be less democratic.
I anticipate the usual objection to this essay: but Trump! He’s so crazy and racist and stupid and evil!
All true. But none of Trump’s many shortcomings eclipse the sum total of the concerns raised above. Considering everything, in the aggregate Biden and Trump are equally awful. In some ways, Biden is worse. For me, the conclusion is obvious: don’t vote for either one.
As they warn in those investment company ads, past performance is no guarantee of future returns. But there’s a reason Wall Street analysts pour over historical data—past performance is a strong indicator of what a stock will do next. So if you want to know what kind of President Biden would be, it’s smart to study his record, which has been consistent over 44 years in public office.
With a few exceptions, Biden has always positioned himself either at the center or to the right of the ideological 50-yard line of his party at any given time. When he has written or sponsored legislation with broad implications, it has been so reactionary that it could easily have been authored by a right-wing Republican, like the 1994 crime bill and the USA-Patriot Act. Biden has never been responsible for any major law that could be described as liberal.
It’s impossible to know what was in Joe Biden’s heart as he considered policy decisions throughout his four decades in Washington. All we know is what he actually did. There were few acts of foresight, much less courage. Even when the choice between right and wrong was clear to many others, Biden was on the wrong side of history.
Could this conservative Democrat, at age 78, suddenly reverse course and turn into a progressive? Anything is possible. But it isn’t likely.
I was 12 years old in 1975, but I remember how people felt about court-ordered busing in order to desegregate public schools. Racists were against it; anti-racists were for it.
Biden was against it. He was so against it that he cosponsored an amendment against busing with Senator Jesse Helms, the Republican far-right segregationist. “What it says is, in order for your child with curly black hair, brown eyes and dark skin to be able to learn anything, he needs to sit next to my blond-haired, blue-eyed son. That’s racist! Who the hell do we think we are, that the only way a black man or woman can learn is if they rub shoulders with my white child?” Biden said in what ought to have been a career-killing rant.
As chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee considering the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the United States Supreme Court, Biden failed to protect Professor Anita Hill from scurrilous attacks by Republican committee members during televised hearings. He seemed to value his working relationship with the GOP more than protecting a Democratic witness. Scandalously, Biden failed to call Sukari Hardnett, who corroborated Hill’s account. Thomas’ confirmation might not have survived her testimony.
Over the past few decades, Americans have liberalized their views about drugs, coming to favor the legalization of marijuana and opposing the “war on drugs” that criminalized substance abuse rather than treating it as a medical condition. Biden is on the opposite side of that trend. He is still against legalizing pot. And he was an aggressive proponent of the war on drugs. In 1983 he joined far-right, racist, Republican senator Strom Thurmond in cosponsoring the legislation that launched the modern asset forfeiture program, which allows police to steal property belonging to people suspected of possessing drugs even if they are not ever charged, much less convicted, of a crime.
Biden has been on the side of the angels a few times. He is fairly strong on LGBTQA rights. He voted against the 1991 Gulf War. Most of the time, however, he sides against oppressed people and in favor of military intervention.
Many people reading this will ask: but what about Trump? Isn’t he so much worse that Biden has to be an improvement?
Trump is terrible. His non-response to the coronavirus pandemic and his relentless racism and dogwhistling to neo-Nazis are execrable and impeachable. As awful and insane as he is, however, there’s no reason to think that he is any worse than Joe Biden would be.
At the end of the next four years, hundreds of thousands of people around the world are more likely to be alive if Donald Trump is president rather than Joe Biden. Trump has resisted new wars and is bringing an end to the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan; Biden has repeatedly voted for new wars and backed policies that destroyed countries like Libya and Syria.
Though he hasn’t gone nearly far enough, Trump seems to understand the need to direct stimulus money into the pockets of unemployed and underemployed Americans. Biden, on the other hand, is a devotee of austerity. He was an architect of President Barack Obama’s decision to ignore millions of unemployed and newly homeless workers while handing $7 trillion in federal aid to big banks. One can easily imagine Biden reprising the role of Bill Clinton, another Democrat who became a deficit hawk, at a time when the Treasury should be spending money like water. It took Nixon to go to China; it takes a Democrat to screw the working class.
Vote for Joe Biden if you want to. But please don’t delude yourself. You’ll be voting for a change, not an improvement.
Trump is terrible. Biden is just as bad. In some ways the Democrat is worse.
You shouldn’t vote for either one.
Trump is erratic and unpredictable, which is dangerous. Even so, Biden is worse than Trump on international relations.
At the center of the president’s worldview is a deep, admirable and prescient skepticism about foreign interventionism. Trump began criticizing the Iraq War soon after it began, when the U.S. invasion was still popular. His critiques continued during the 2016 primaries—have you known of another Republican to campaign against militarism? As president-elect Trump told a room full of service members: “We will stop racing to topple foreign regimes that we know nothing about, that we shouldn’t be involved with.”
Trump signed the first peace agreement with the Taliban; he plans to bring home the last American troops in Afghanistan before Election Day—even sooner than required under the deal. He refuses to be goaded into a new Cold War against Russia, has met with the leader of North Korea and has offered direct talks with Iran—positions far to the left of hawkish pro-war Democrats like Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama and Joe Biden.
Because most Americans are self-centered and unconcerned about brown people in other nations, it’s ridiculous yet necessary to remind you that the Afghans we bomb are real people like you and me, that Iraqis are scarred for life when their children are hobbled by American bullets, that Yemenis cry for their dead blown to bits by American missiles, that our insane decision to turn Libya from the most prosperous country in Africa into a failed state with 21st century slave auctions is an atrocity, that we have murdered hundreds of thousands of innocent people in the last couple of decades for no reason that can be justified under common sense or international law.
The United States is the greatest exporter of death, oppression and exploitation on the planet. Every human being has the duty to oppose it. We who pour our taxes into the U.S. government have the biggest duty of all to fight the war machine. That begins with holding the murderers and their enablers accountable for their—there is no better word—evil.
Wars of choice are not horrors of happenstance, like a tornado. Political leaders vote to slaughter and maim men, women and children and ruin economies around the globe, leading to still more death. Some politicians are especially nefarious, convincing other politicians to vote for mass murder.
Politicians like Joe Biden.
Most recently, after Trump signaled his willingness to dump U.S.-backed rightist Juan Guaidó and meet with Venezuelan president Nicolás Maduro, a socialist, Biden called Maduro a “dictator” and pledged fealty to right-wing Venezuelan exiles in South Florida. It was the latest in a long line of foreign policy calls that we have come to expect from a right-wing Republican like George W. Bush—yet Biden plays a “Democrat” on TV.
“He’s registered some antiwar positions from time to time, as when he voted against the first Gulf War or opposed the funding of the Nicaraguan contras in the 1980s. But overall, he’s racked up a track record of supporting overseas adventures,” observed Branko Marcetic, writing for Jacobin.
Biden, notes Marcetic, pushed for “the 1999 bombing of Serbia, which actually dissolved the local pro-democracy movement and rallied popular support around the country’s dictator.” Biden voted for the U.S. wars against Afghanistan and Iraq. “I voted to go into Iraq, and I’d vote to do it again,” Biden said in August 2003. Now he defends himself by saying he was so stupid that he fell for Bush’s lies about WMDs.
Elsewhere Marcetic writes: “When Reagan invaded Grenada in 1983, bombing a hospital in the process, Biden said he ‘did the right thing.’ When he bombed Libya three years later, killing 36 civilians and dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s 15-month-old daughter, Biden said, ‘There can be no question that Gaddafi has asked for and deserves a strong response like this.’ And when George H. W. Bush invaded Panama three years after that, an outrageous war to depose a leader who had been a CIA asset and that saw dead civilians ‘buried like dogs,’ as one witness put it, Biden called it ‘appropriate and necessary.’”
A vote for Biden isn’t just a vote against Trump. It’s a vote in favor of Biden’s vote to kill one million Iraqis. If we elect Joe Biden, we will send a message to the world: America hates you, we’re glad we killed all those people and we plan to kill more.
It will also send a message to Biden: Heckuva job, Joe!
Once again the Democratic Party is asking progressives to vote for a presidential nominee who says he disagrees with them about every major issue. This is presented as an offer they cannot refuse. If they cast a protest vote for a third-party candidate like the unionist and environmentalist Howie Hawkins of the Greens or stay home on that key Tuesday in November, Donald Trump will win a second term—which would be worse than Biden’s first.
Which is better for the progressive movement? Fall into the “two party trap” and vote for Biden, or refuse to be coopted and possibly increase Trump’s reelection chances?
My new book Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party documents the last half-century of struggle between the party’s left-leaning voters and its right-leaning leadership class. History is clear. When progressive voters compromised their values by supporting corporatist candidates, they were ignored after the election. Only when they boycotted a general election did the DNC start to take them seriously.
Throughout the 1980s party bigwigs manipulated the primaries in favor of establishment corporatist candidates over insurgent progressives: Jimmy Carter over Ted Kennedy in 1980, Walter Mondale and Michael Dukakis over Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988. Democrats were united but unenthused; all three lost.
Jimmy Carter won once, and Bill Clinton and Barack Obama each won two terms, all three with progressive support. Democratic victories didn’t help progressives.
Carter became the first president since FDR not to propose an anti-poverty program. Instead, he pushed a right-wing idea, “workfare.”
Progressives got nothing in return for their votes for Jimmy Carter.
Like Carter, Clinton and Obama governed as foreign policy hawks while ignoring pressing domestic issues like rising income and wealth inequality. Clinton pushed through the now-disgraced 1994 crime bill that accelerated mass incarceration of people of color, signed the North American Free Trade Agreement that gutted the Rust Belt and sent hundreds of thousands of jobs overseas, and ended “welfare as we know it,” massively increasing homelessness. Obama bailed out Wall Street while ignoring Main Street, smashed the Occupy Wall Street movement and supported Al Qaeda affiliates that destroyed Libya and Syria.
There was only one arguably progressive policy achievement over those 16 years: the Affordable Care Act, which originated in the bowels of the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank.
Progressives kept holding their noses and voting for Democrats. Democrats took them for granted. Democrats didn’t push to increase the minimum wage. They watched silently as generation after generation succumbed to student loan debt. As the earth kept burning, they hardly lifted a finger to help the environment except for symbolic actions like Obama’s fuel efficiency regulations, which required less than automakers were doing by themselves.
Personnel, they say in D.C., is policy. Clinton had one progressive in his cabinet for his first term, Labor Secretary Robert Reich. Obama had none. Citigroup chose his cabinet.
After the defeat of Bernie Sanders in 2016, progressives tried something new. Millions of disgruntled Sanders primary voters either stayed home, voted for Trump or cast votes for third-party candidates like Jill Stein. Hillary Clinton, who was so sure she could take progressives for granted that she put Sanders at 39th on her list of vice presidential picks, was denied her presumptive shoo-in victory. (Don’t blame Stein. Adding all of her votes to the Hillary Clinton column would not have changed the result.)
Three years later, something remarkable happened. Most presidential hopefuls in the 2020 Democratic primary campaign emerged from the centrist corporatist wing of the Democratic Party yet felt pressured to endorse important progressive policy ideas. Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Pete Buttigieg and even Michael Bloomberg came out in favor of a $15-an-hour minimum wage. Most of the mainstream candidates proposed some sort of student loan forgiveness and Medicare For All. Nearly all support a Green New Deal.
What forced the Democratic Party to shift left after decades of moving to the right? Fear that progressives will withhold their votes this coming November. After years of empty threats from progressives, the November 2016 voter boycott proved they wouldn’t sell their votes without getting something in return.
The answer to the question, what should progressives do, is easy in the long term. Progressives should boycott Democratic candidates who don’t credibly pledge to support progressive policies. Biden says he would veto Medicare For All. He opposes a Green New Deal as well as student loan forgiveness. He is hawkish on Russia and Venezuela. He doesn’t want your vote. Why give it to him for free?
The trouble is, every election is also about the short term. Progressive voters have to game out the next four years.
If Trump wins, he may have the opportunity to appoint another Supreme Court justice. He will certainly appoint more federal judges. He will continue to coddle hate groups and spew lies. Many of the weak and vulnerable will suffer. On the other hand, activism will be sustained. Resistance and possibly even revolutionary change may emerge. Trump will be a lame duck likely wallowing in scandal; very few presidents get much if anything done during their second terms.
If Biden wins, his Supreme Court picks may not be significantly more to the left then Trump’s. He is likelier than Trump, who shows restraint on interventionism and ended the occupation of Afghanistan, to start a new war. Big problems will get small solutions or none at all. Streets will be quiet. If there are any demonstrations, for instance by Black Lives Matter, his Department of Homeland Security will suppress it as Obama did to Occupy. As under Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, the left will go back to sleep. Progressives will watch Biden appoint one corporatist cabinet member after another as their dreams of making the country a better place fade away.
And in 2024, we will again face a choice between a rabid right-wing Republican and a wimpy sell-out Democrat. This election, Democrats will say as they always do, is too important for ideological purity. Progressives should wait until some future election when less hangs in the balance. Perhaps in 2028? Maybe 2032? 2036?
Ted Rall is the political cartoonist at ANewDomain.net, editor-in-chief of SkewedNews.net, a graphic novelist and author of many books of art and prose, and an occasional war correspondent. He is the author of the biography "Trump," to be published in July 2016.