Failure to Meet the Moment: A Democratic Socialist’s reflection on the 2020 Democratic presidential ticket

To the surprise of almost no one, Joe Biden has picked Kamala Harris to be his running mate in the upcoming 2020 Presidential Election. A neoliberal ticket has been solidified for the Democratic party’s presidential nomination and it needs to be approached with rightful scrutiny, even as it squares off against neofascist Donald Trump.


“I badly need you, this country needs you,” was the plea Joe Biden made in a pre-recorded speech during a Netroots Nation keynote to progressives on Fri., Aug. 14. It was rhetoric filled with platitudes, with Biden asking for “climate change activists”, “caregivers”, and “advocates” to join him in “beating Donald Trump” so that “we govern as the most progressive administration since [President Franklin D. Roosevelt].”


At face value, the Democratic presidential nominee’s statement is galvanizing considering what has happened from March up until now. We are experiencing a moment of great social awakening in the Black Lives Matter movement along with an economic crisis with more than a million of Americans filing for unemployment weekly, and a looming housing crisis, all due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In this country, the virus has led to the deaths of more than 160,000, and has caused detrimental long term health effects on an unknown number of Americans. It is 10 years worth of major historical events compressed into seven months. At the center of all of this, we find Donald Trump, a narcissistic neofascist, as the leader of the free world. The battle lines in Joe Biden’s eyes are clearly drawn: democracy in America is being threatened by an administration that emboldens white nationalism, and we need to rally together in order to stop it. So why is Joe Biden pleading for progressives to join his coalition?


There’s a wide range of perspectives amongst those who do not align themselves with Trump from “vote blue no matter who” all the way to “I am voting Green Party,” even though the common desire is Trump being a one-term president. These divisions have led to a deterioration in critical thinking when it comes to the party ticket we on the left have felt forced to make some forms of political allegiance with. Instances of problematic vote shaming from “woke brunch #Resistance liberals” to crude “I’m not voting for Biden” foot stomping from a conglomerate of Bernie Sanders supporters who are jaded by a political party that has chosen to give speaking slots to GOP stalwarts like former Governor of Ohio and presidential candidate John Kasich at the Democratic National Convention while Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez get a 60-second slot. 


The party ticket does deserve great scrutiny. It needs to be criticized harshly, even in the face of the neofascist threat that is the Trump administration. It should not be lost on those who are “blue no matter who” that this ticket is uninspiring at best, and insidiously dangerous at worst. To understand the apprehension of the left to vote for Biden, we need to take a harsh critical look at the candidate, his running mate, and the tone deafness of the pair in context with the current moment we are in.


Starting with the candidate, the simplest way to put it is, Joe Biden is an asshole.


It’s very easy to pick apart a career politician\’s voting record as well as past actions that can be considered problematic. Every politician has made a bad vote, and more often than not it can be excused as a “product of its time” or a politician trying to gain something politically for their constituents. Biden’s public record can only be described generously as atrocious, with no meaningful form of reflection on his part that would indicate growth as a politician that progressives and those on the left can come to terms with. The list is long, from Biden being a close enough friend to segregationist Strom Thurmund that he spoke at his funeral, voting in favor of the Iraq War, advocating cutting social security, and stripping bankruptcy protection from millions before the recession while cozying up with credit card companies and banks that operated out of Delaware while he was a senator. We have to understand that historically, Biden has been part of every bad tendency of the Democratic Party and its transformation into a corporate political party since the 1970s. 


The easiest thing to discuss is the infamous 1994 Crime Bill. The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, authored by then-Sen. Biden and signed by President Bill Clinton, was the most grotesque expansion of the criminal industrial complex and in this country\’s history. In a disturbing response to pressure from the Republican party with regards to “being tough on crime”, Biden helped draft the bill that put $9.7 billion into prisons, the elimination of higher education in prisons, and facilitated the increase in prison population across numerous states. Biden orchestrated this with a desire to “up the ante” with regards to the Democrats being tough on crime according to one memo.


What the 1994 Crime Bill ended up being was the culmination of the work done by its author, one of the most austerity driven politicians in the history of the United States. Throughout the Ronald Reagen and George H.W. Bush administrations, Biden found himself at the center of major tough-on-crime policies, like a carceral Forrest Gump. From joining Sen. Strom Thurmond in the expansion of civil forfeiture, partially writing and co-sponsoring the bill that created sentencing disparities with crack and powdered cocaine possession, and co-sponsoring a bill that would increase prison sentences for drug possession, Biden has historically aligned with problematic punitive stances with regards to drug use in America. You can get no better summation of his stance regarding drug use than this moment during the Democratic response to President Bush’s speech on an anti-drug plan.



Admittedly it is easy to chalk this up to the standard “tough on crime” rhetoric that even Sen. Sanders was not immune to. What makes this troubling is that Biden has mostly played down his role in the expansion of the carceral state, while filling his criminal justice platform with nothing more than empty platitudes and what could only be described generously as half measures. Even in the face of the George Floyd uprisings that started in late May of this year, Biden has fumbled his way through police reform talking points. He has proclaimed things like “shooting unarmed attackers in the leg instead of the heart,” and made meaningless promises such as the establishment of “a panel to scrutinize what equipment is used by law enforcement in our communities,” if he is elected president. 


But given the current moment we are in with regards to the increased awareness of police violence — more specifically the disproportionate amount of police violence against poor, Black, and POC communities — we know that we can’t just scrutinize and reform our way out of this cycle of punitive harm. The course Biden is taking on matters of criminal justice reinforces his adverseness towards making any meaningful change in limiting the scope of the criminal industrial complex. One of the more emblematic pieces of evidence towards that is none other than his pick for Vice President, Sen. Kamala Harris.


The pick of Harris as a running mate is the perfect amalgamation of the Democratic party’s values. Here we have a Black woman, the daughter of immigrants who worked at both Berkeley and Stanford, who experienced desegregation in the form of bussing first hand. She pursued a law degree, eventually becoming a prosecutor and Attorney General for the state of California, or a “top cop” as she likes to describe it. We shouldn’t undermine the historical significance of the first Black woman and the first Indian American woman to be part of a nominee on a major party ticket. But this ties again into the demand for room with regards to scrutiny in who we vote for, and the tunnel vision people get when it comes to identity politics.


“There is no debate anymore. There’s no room for it in my book. We either make this happen. Or literally, more of us perish… Oh but, Kamala did this or she didn’t do that, I hear you. I know. And I don’t care,” stated 13th and When They See Us director and producer Ava DuVernay in an Instagram post made after the Harris announcement. What this sentiment robs us of is the nuance in how we approach discussing our politicians, removing any means to criticize them on harmful past actions, and allowing them to perpetuate masquerades in order to secure seats of power. In Harris’ case, the masquerade is her posing as a “progressive prosecutor” despite a contradictory record.


The term “progressive prosecutor” almost seems contradictory, paradoxical in nature. If we think about the roles of cops and prosecutors in the American criminal justice system, we see both working symbiotically. There is a harmony of cops catching criminals, and prosecutors representing the case against the individual the cops bring in. That’s not to say that all prosecutors are bastards. These are elected officials, and there are some, like Larry Krasner, who don’t view criminal justice as the nail with punitive measures being the hammer. People like Krasner or Keith Ellison fight for the same justice that is demanded in the streets; justice in bail reforms, justice with regards to police misconduct, justice in the true spirit of the word. Unfortunately for Harris, her record as a prosecutor simply does not belong in the same conversations as Krasner and Ellison


There’s no words to truly describe this video. In the name of full disclosure, speaking as someone who has experienced poverty and housing insecurity, and as someone who skipped school because of the embarrassment of not having new or clean clothes, or lunch money, or the childhood anxiety of the Suffolk County Sherrif’s Department putting another eviction notice on our front door, I can’t help but feel appalled at Harris’ insensitivity and lack of compassion on the matter of truancy. It’s a punitive disgard of humanity itself, and she laughed about it. We should not be okay with this policy that disproportionately affected poor communities, communities of color, Black communities, especially in the era of Black Lives Matter, and especially when she continues to double down on the matter. If one were to disregard the terrible carceral nature of her truancy program, you can make the argument that it “worked” in the sense that truancy in San Francisco fell, but it worked in the same way that you can be beaten with a cane in Singapore for modest crimes.


And yet, Harris and Biden make the perfect pair. One helped author some of the most punitive forms of legislation in American history, and the other prosecuted it to the fullest extent. Even though Stacey Abrams, the rightful Governor to the state of Georgia, was just as qualified and coming from a state that has some potential to flip, Biden and the Democratic party chose Harris for one group of people: Wall Street. It’s a flippant display of arrogance and disregard for American voters.

Not only has the author of the 1994 Crime Bill chosen to nominate the “top cop” in the middle of massive protests against the police, they have also shown a willingness to take money from billionaires in the midst of a looming financial crisis. Biden already has a lacking tax plan when it comes to addressing the income gap outside of the empty phrase “build back better” which has become the campaign slogan. His plan to ensure corporate accountability was described by Luke Savage, Jacobin staff writer, as the equivalent of “Come on, man!” 


And yet, here we are. This is what the Democratic party has given us to go up against Trump.


The ambivalence to not wanting to vote for this ticket is palpable and valid. Grace needs to be afforded to the critics of this platform without the burden of vote shaming. We have to understand in the context of presidential elections and the electoral college system why someone would vote third party or abstain from voting in the Presidential race all together, especially in “safe states” like New York, California, and Massachusetts. 


There is credibility in doubting that Biden and Harris aren’t going to be any less harmful than a second Trump and Pence term. We have to scrutinize Biden and Harris’ relationship with apartheid Israel and give consideration to those in Palestine. We have to criticize Biden and Harris’ role in troubling criminal justice policies. We have to be wary of what plans a Biden administration has for Latin America as nations like Bolivia continue to postpone their elections in an apparent coup. There needs to be a reconciliation with the drone strikes ordered by Obama in Yemen and Pakistan, something Biden still endorses as a counterterrorism policy. Finally we need to come to terms that Medicare for All, despite a global pandemic that left many without meaningful health insurance, will more than likely not come to fruition in a Biden administration despite overwhelming support from the electorate.


We also need to think beyond replacing Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the centrist Supreme Court justice who let narcissism get in the way of retirement under the Obama administration. The true immediate need lies not in filling certain cabinet positions that will most likely be given to corporate aligned neoliberals, but with the children who are protected under DACA who Trump and white nationalist Stephen Miller would rather see in cages separated from their parents. We need to think of the National Labor Relations Board, a product of President Roosevelt’s New Deal founded to defend workers’ rights, and how it has been dismantled under the Trump administration.


Without a doubt, the Democratic party needs to do better and go beyond this platform built on “woke capitalism”. Not addressing clear class issues, doubling down on “tough on crime” politicians during the biggest anti-police uprisings in human history, and choosing to table Medicare For All during a global pandemic that has left millions jobless should create feelings of abject disappointment for those who truly believe in liberation. It’d be negligence not to criticize this party’s shortcomings after the past seven months; the moment demands it of all of us. 


The politicians we elect work for us, and the people are demanding basic dignity in the form of housing, a liveable income, safety from oppression, and health care. This goes beyond platitudes like “not voting for Biden is a vote for Trump” and the conversation deserves more than just vote shaming. There needs to be harsh scrutiny of the blue option, even if the alternative is neofascism. Without it, there will be those who simply will not live in dignity, and we will continue to perpetuate an environment where the far right that has been emboldened by a populist like Trump can flourish. Let us have these harsh conversations that go beyond the corporatized versions of our movements for social justice and an equitable future, but more importantly, continue to organize. A second Trump term is not desirable, but going back to brunch when Biden is put into office is outright unacceptable.


Most importantly, if you live in a swing state, pull that fucking lever for Biden.

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