The Corner


Joe Biden Drifts to Wherever the Center of the Democratic Party Is

Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks at the Democratic presidential candidates debate in Detroit, Mich., July 31, 2019. (Lucas Jackson/Reuters)

McClatchy News Service takes a deep look at the policy proposals of Joe Biden and concludes, “From health care to climate change to criminal justice, Biden has proposed ideas more ambitious and liberal than policies supported by Hillary Clinton in the 2016 campaign.” They accurately observe, “Biden is labeled a moderate. But his agenda is far more liberal than Hillary Clinton’s.”

(This, of course, assumes Biden has bothered to read his own policy platform.)

Those of us who reviewed the former vice president’s lengthy career way back at the beginning of this cycle noticed that Biden never really stood near the middle of the ideological spectrum; he stood near the middle of the Democratic party. Biden’s allegedly “conservative” positions were simply popular ones that had been adopted by many Democrats. When Biden was boasting about how tough his crime bill was, everybody on both sides of the aisle wanted to be seen as tough on crime.

In his 2007 memoir Promises to Keep, Biden described his own ideology at the start of his career:

The reporters were sure I was a liberal. Senators such as Hubert Humphrey and Ed Muskie thought I’d be with them in every liberal cause. But the voters who had been paying attention in Delaware in 1972 knew I wasn’t going to be an ideologue. I’d run with George McGovern on tax fairness and protecting the environment and ending the bloodletting in Vietnam. I didn’t see the war as a moral issue but as a stupid waste of lives and money based on a faulty premise. And I made it clear that I honored the goals of Roosevelt’s New Deal and Truman’s Fair Deal and Johnson’s Great Society, but I also made it clear that I didn’t intend to be a rubber stamp on programs that no longer worked.

I’d also run away from a lot of the McGovern wing. I was skeptical about busing as a plausible solution to de facto segregation in the schools, and I would occasionally get an earful from young Democrats who didn’t like my opposition to legalization of marijuana and amnesty for draft dodgers. How many people were really affected by that?

The Washington Post reviewed Biden’s Senate years and found that “over the course of his Senate career, Biden was generally at or about the 25 most liberal members of the Senate, according to Voteview’s scale . . . Among Senate Democrats, Biden generally was found right in the middle of the pack, as Voteview analyzed the votes.” Biden’s lifetime rating from the American Conservative Union is 12.67 out of a possible 100. For a guy who keeps getting called a centrist, that’s not really all that centrist!

So no, Joe Biden is not Bernie Sanders. But if you’re worried about the Democrats being too far to the left for your tastes, it’s fair to wonder how much a President Biden would stand up to his own party or veto legislation that Democratic majorities would send to him. Biden disagrees with the left wing of his party here and there, but he doesn’t believe he was put on this earth to be a bulwark against them.

As the primary is already demonstrating, when push comes to shove, Biden will change his position to please progressives — suddenly opposing the Hyde Amendment, declaring he regrets supporting the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988, and now opposing capital punishment. As the Democratic party as a whole moves to the left, Biden will move to the left with it.

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