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Jacobin - February 29, 2020

The following is an excerpt from Branko Marcetic’s forthcoming book Yesterday’s Man: The Case Against Joe Biden. You can now order a copy of this important new book direct from Jacobin for only $10, with free shipping.

"Biden’s continued faith in principles that his adversaries had long abandoned and his willingness to give it all away at the negotiating table made him the go-to contact for every one of McConnell’s future fiscal hostage scenarios. The inability of Biden and the administration to effectively push back would mean disaster, first in working Americans’ pocketbooks and then at the ballot box."

It’s like we’ve divided the country into pieces. How can we be one America if we continue down this road?
—Joe Biden on reaching across the aisle, January 2019.

It was only three months after the Democratic Party’s 2010 electoral “shellacking” when Vice President Joe Biden found himself in Kentucky keynoting a conference about the US Senate. There were few people better qualified to talk on the subject: Biden had spent virtually his entire adult life in the body and was one of the most outspoken proponents of its culture of chummy dealmaking. Topics ranged from its foundations and evolution to the influence of antebellum political giant Henry Clay, “The Great Compromiser” who had staved off civil war through a series of famed bargains that also had the effect of extending the life of slavery.

Biden was on enemy territory. He was speaking at the behest of the University of Louisville’s McConnell Center, which, like the Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium on whose third floor he prepared to deliver his remarks, drew its name from the source of its corporate funding: Mitch McConnell, Kentucky’s longest-serving senator, who had ascended to the Senate Republican leadership over a twenty-six-year-long career founded on his unparalleled ability to raise money from powerful interests. McConnell, who would be speaking alongside Biden, was also the chief architect of the “shellacking” Biden’s party and administration had just received.

Only two years earlier, with another charismatic figure as their nominee and popular rage against the Bush administration further inflamed by the worst financial crash since the 1930s, the Democrats had swept to a level of domination in Washington not seen for thirty years, fueling talk of the GOP as a “permanent minority” party. Behind closed doors, Republican leaders plotted to reverse each Democratic gain by 2012 through an aggressive united front of opposition to each and every move the new administration made.

Admitting that his single-biggest priority was making Biden’s boss a “one-term president,” McConnell spent the next two years leading a historic campaign of obstruction in the Senate against the Obama agenda. This meant rejecting the hallowed Washington tenets of compromise and bipartisanship, forcing the Democrats to cobble together sixty-vote, party-line majorities for every measure, and using his knowledge of Senate procedure to slow legislation down. In the process, McConnell whittled down the administration’s economic stimulus proposal to, after accounting for inflation, the smallest such measure in thirty years. And he blocked further measures to boost jobs and the economy that Republicans had once advocated, sabotaging economic recovery. The coup de grâce was a December 2010 deal McConnell had personally struck with Biden to howls of outrage from Democrats, trading thirteen more months of unemployment insurance at a time of nearly double-digit joblessness for a host of more permanent giveaways to the wealthy.

Biden’s fifty-minute speech the following February painted things differently, however. As McConnell looked on, Biden warmly paid tribute to the man who had devoted the last two years to smothering his administration’s agenda. He stressed his oft-repeated refrain that you couldn’t question someone’s motives in politics, only their judgment. He pointed to their deal as “the only truly bipartisan event that occurred in the first two years of our administration,” proof that “the process worked.” And he reminded the audience about the essential unity of those who ran the government: whether they were liberal or conservative, Tea Party or Blue Dog, “they all ran for office because they love their country.”

“We basically all agree on the nature of the problems we face,” he concluded.

Biden’s comments were dubious by the standards of anyone who had lived through the preceding two years. For someone who had served in Congress through the tumultuous Clinton and Bush years, they were delusional. While Republicans responded to their electoral collapse two years earlier with a ruthless determination to defeat their opponents, take back power, and halt the leftward swing in political momentum that was expected to follow the election, Democrats seemed wedded to a hokey faith in the political values of a bygone era with a different Republican Party. It wasn’t that they were playing two entirely different ball games; Biden and Democrats like him didn’t even seem to know a game was being played.

Biden’s continued faith in principles that his adversaries had long abandoned and his willingness to give it all away at the negotiating table made him the go-to contact for every one of McConnell’s future fiscal hostage scenarios. The inability of Biden and the administration to effectively push back would mean disaster, first in working Americans’ pocketbooks and then at the ballot box. ...
Read full excerpt at Jacobin