The Biden Questions

There was something to be said for voting for Hillary Clinton in 2016. She had a scandal-blemished career, and is married to an ex-president with a scandal-blemished career, and her centrist platform embodied the worst traits and values of the party she represented; however, Hillary Clinton is a savvy politician, a cool operator who would have been able to navigate the back channels of the American political system to effectively lead our country. And not for nothing, but there was a certain pride in voting for the first woman for president, however shallow and performative.

There is no such argument to be made for Joe Biden.

Biden’s platform is made up of two singular talking points: he was the vice president of the ex-president we liked, and he is confident he can defeat the current president we hate. Politicians have won on less, but that does not mean they deserved our vote. And neither does Biden. His senatorial record indicates that he was often late to support progressive policies, and often seeked to enervate them. He touted and defended his relationships with racist senators of the past, such as James O. Eastland of Mississippi and Herman Talmadge of Georgia by proclaiming, “at least there was some civility.” And of course, his shameful display as chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee during the hearings of Clarence Thomas’ Supreme Court nomination should be more than enough to disqualify him as any sort of champion of women’s rights. He stripped Anita Hill of her dignity, and has the gall to apologize for it three decades later when he finally has a shot at the presidency.

I also question his physical and mental fitness. The man has performed poorly in the Democratic primary debates, showing signs of deteriorating mental health with off-topic responses to questions, forgetting names, and spewing random non-sequiturs and tangents that often led nowhere. Biden has always been great at the “kissing babies” part of being a politician, charming constituents in rallies and scheduled public appearances. But he was at one point a strong debater with a keen wit. I remember his roasting of Paul Ryan during the 2012 vice president debate, proclaiming during an exchange on military and defense spending “That’s a bunch of malarkey.” The man had a resonant flair during debates of the past, but the luster is gone now. Is he being poorly managed, or are his faculties truly slipping into a degenerative brain disorder common in people of a certain age?

I have not even mentioned Tara Reade yet, a former senatorial staffer of Biden who has accused him of sexual harassment and assault in 1993. Sadly, this sort of accusation of Biden was predictable; judging by his cadence, it was easy to see how a man who non-consensually hovers over and touches women, and defends that hovering and touching with a smile and a wink, could be embroiled in a case of sexual misconduct, as if age and antiquated charm is an excuse for questionable behavior. 

On Wednesday, the New York Times published an op-ed by author Linda Hirshman titled, “I Believe Tara Reade. I’m Voting For Joe Biden Anyway.” Like any sweaty New York Times opinion piece by a former hippie, current yuppie, it is not worth reading; it’s an editorial made for the headline. The gist is that Hirshman, who recently published a book titled “Reckoning: The Epic Battle Against Sexual Abuse and Harassment,” defends her choice to support Joe Biden by urging voters to, “Suck it up and make the utilitarian bargain.” She brags of her feminist history, even as she belts a tone-deaf argument in noting that she was “one of the few establishment Democrats to defend Monica Lewinsky,” without a shred of comprehension of how this hipocrisy undermines her whole point.

Hirshman’s essay is tacky and unsavory, and her stance is not worth bragging about. But it does hold water.

The harsh reality is that the strongest defense of casting a vote for Joe Biden in the 2020 election is harm reduction. The Trump administration has disgraced the presidency and the entire country beyond what was even imagined. In the current state of the world, I cannot imagine a worse human being to lead the United States through a pandemic. Four more years of Donald Trump means four more years of regressive policies noxious to the most vulnerable and disenfranchised, pardoned crooks and racist politicians, late responses to global emergencies, lies, deceit, corruption, and a culture of hate, fear, and division. Furthermore, Trump has his own nefarious history of sexual assault that he has never truly been challenged to reckon. However insipid Joe Biden may be as a candidate, by no metric could we consider him more odious than Donald fucking Trump.

This brings us to the Biden questions: is taking a moral stance against voting for Joe Biden worth four more years of the Trump administration? Does casting a reluctant vote for Joe Biden make any progressive or feminist a hypocrite? Will a Biden presidency even be worth voting for if it does not push forward progressive policies? Should we just suck it up and make the utilitarian bargain? I cannot answer these questions, and these questions will likely come to dominate editorials and opinion pages from now through November. These are difficult philosophical and moral questions that lack a consistent ordinance or value. The fact that the American people are tasked with making this sort of choice shows that the system is thoroughly broken, and the 2020 election will not repair these deep-seeded systemic issues.

Consider if Bernie Sanders, or Elizabeth Warren, would have been the presumptive nominee. There would still be questions of their ability to lead, but they would be constructive questions of policy and platform that are deserving of stronger candidates. They would not be questions of morality, measuring their political achievements against their sexual assault allegations. But this is the shitty hand we were dealt, and playing it or folding is neither admirable or despicable.

The 2020 election is a wash.