The hypocrisy of the Democratic Party is perhaps best embodied in Joe Biden, a man who recently announced his candidacy in the Democratic primaries. He is already enjoying significant support from establishment elites, snagging endorsements from party heavyweights like Andrew Cuomo and Dianne Feinstein before even officially announcing. Yet at the same time this support underlies a deep divide in his party, a divide between the leadership and the values they claim to hold.
To begin with, Biden is an odd choice for a party that lists diversity as one of their strengths. This goes far deeper than Biden simply being an old white man himself; rather, Biden’s most glaring failure here is his long history of opposing diversity.
In 1975 Biden was still a fierce supporter of segregation, despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act being more than 10 years old at that point and the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision being 20 years old. In an NPR interview, Biden claimed that desegregation would prevent communities from embracing “their own identity.”
While he has since softened his position on segregation, he remained a leading architect in a bipartisan effort to build the prison industry to what it is today through the 1980s and 90s and the subsequent criminalization of blackness that came with it. As recently as 2007 Biden called future President Obama the first “mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean.”
This is just a small part of the “record” that many of Biden’s supporters point to as the reason for their confidence in him. Frankly, while one could possibly say that this support comes from an ignorance of the realities of Biden’s record, I think the more likely possibility is that this record really does resonate with the centrist establishment of the party that finds itself at odds with the progressive values the party nominally adopts.
This division has manifested in ways large and small across the party on a number of issues. When pressed by young environmental activists to support green policies, Feinstein shouted them down and dismissed them, despite the party’s platform highlighting a supposed commitment to fighting climate change.
When advertising itself, the party often highlights representatives from marginalized groups, yet party elites certainly have no problems dismissing and silencing party members like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Ilhan Omar when they try to speak for themselves.
Despite three years of DCCC emails highlighting the need to “fight” or “impeach” President Trump when soliciting donations, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has put off any real attempts to pursue impeachment, choosing instead to urge caution and moderation in defense of the President.
Simply put, the party’s base is crying out for reform while the party’s establishment is prioritizing maintaining existing power structures. This means the Democratic Party is certainly more than willing to advertise itself as progressive, yet that scarcely seems to translate into real policy.
We can see this in Biden’s condescension towards the struggles of the working class and their opposition to the corporate aristocrats who manufacture those struggles. In an age where wealth inequality is at historic highs, Biden sees no issue with the billionaire class, going as far as to defend them claiming they are not the reason we are in trouble.
This is, of course, laughably wrong. When a pharmaceutical executive gets rich off of bankrupting folks who need lifesaving medicine, that “trouble” is caused by the billionaire. The same can be said of all manner of capitalists who make their fortunes on human misery. The issue is not whether or not they are good or bad people, the issue is that they are making a living off of the suffering of the oppressed and the oppressed rightfully demand an end to that.
This disconnect is embraced by Biden, who has recently claimed that working-class millennials have no right to compare today’s struggles to the struggles of the 1960s and 70s. It should be noted that in the 1960s and 70s, Joe Biden was a career politician from a wealthy family whose greatest struggle seemed to be against desegregation.
In embracing this divide on side of the rich and powerful, Biden has broken fundraising records with large money donations, receiving an average donation almost twice as large as the average given to the Bernie Sanders campaign. Yet this divide cannot be sustainable, and can only serve to alienate the party base that Biden condescends to. In a way, Biden embodies a deep sickness in the Democratic party, and to really and truly unify he must be overcome.