I’ve been away for seven days, without access to email or the internet, in a country where I couldn't speak the language, in a place with no newspapers in English anywhere to be found. It was a blissful detoxification from the media echo chamber -- and from the even more deadly poisons of politics and power that the chamber so confusingly and cacophonously presents.
Only once, briefly, did I find myself in a room where CNN was blaring on a tiny television set. As it happened, it was the exact moment when Joe Biden was being anointed as Barack Obama's running mate. It was a live feed: Biden was at the podium, giving a strangely stilted speech in a fake Southern accent. (Perhaps he was trying to channel Bill Clinton -- or maybe Sam Nunn.) Although wearing a tie, he was coatless, with shirtsleeves rolled up, in that classic pose of political hackery: a man ready to "go to work for the American people." (Obama, looking on rather distractedly from the side, was dressed in the same way).
I'll admit that I was somewhat surprised that Biden was the pick. Even before my exit from the echo chamber, I had been studiously ignoring the fevered speculations and fine-toothed combing that attended every burp and belch from the Obama camp leading up to the great announcement. It was obvious that Obama would continue his Dukakis-come-lately strategy and pick some safe, white pair of man-hands covered in Beltway hoar. And I had noted that he had dispatched Biden to Georgia during the late unpleasantness there. (To do what exactly was unclear, unless it was to assure Mikhail Saakashvili that the flow of arms from America's war-profiteers would keep flowing under an Obama administration, despite Misha's bone-headed brutality in launching a sneak attack on South Ossetia.) But still, in the few nano-seconds that I thought about it, I assumed that Obama was just using Biden to build up some foreign policy cred with the media-think tank crowd -- the only people stupid enough to believe that Joe Biden is some kind of foreign policy expert.
Yet there he was, Old Joe Biden, hawing and barking behind the rostrum, just one step away from being one heartbeat away from being the President of the United States. The only thing I could think to say was what my daddy always used to say when confronted with a confounding event: "If that don't beat a hen layin' in a wool basket." I had many other, better things to be getting on with at that moment, so I let Biden's outpouring of clichés -- clunkers so worn down with over-use that they hardly qualified as actual communication -- slide away without much notice...until he began to tell about his own background. Then my gorge began to rise.
Biden talked of a roughhewn upbringing among honest, hard-pressed working folk. Yes, this prince of the Senate -- 36 years of feeding at the public trough, of being wined and dined and coddled and bankrolled by some of the most powerful interests in the land -- dared hold himself out as a champion of the common people. This would be the same Joe Biden who spent year after year relentlessly pushing the creation of what I once called "the nuclear bomb of class warfare": the Bankruptcy Bill, which put a stranglehold on millions of Americans -- the weakest, the poorest, the sickest, the unlucky, the ripped-off, the young couples just starting out, the old people trying to hang on. Biden poured filth on them, he joined his campaign paymasters -- the hoggish credit-card conglomerates -- and his ideological soul-mates on the Republican side to drop this bomb on the hard-pressed working folk he was now claiming to roll up his shirt sleeves and go to work for. He was turned back many times (I first wrote about the bill back in 2002), but at last he locked arms with George W. Bush -- his partner in "financial services industry" grease -- got the bill passed in 2005.
Arianna Huffington described Biden's bomb succinctly at the time, in a post quoted this week by Jackson Williams:
So what does the bill do? It makes it harder for average people to file for bankruptcy protection; it makes it easier for landlords to evict a bankrupt tenant; it endangers child-support payments by giving a wider array of creditors a shot at post-bankruptcy income; it allows millionaires to shield an unlimited amount of equity in homes and asset-protection trusts; it makes it more difficult for small businesses to reorganize while opening new loopholes for the Enrons of the world; it allows creditors to provide misleading information; and it does nothing to rein in lending abuses....
It turns out the average annual income of Americans who file bankruptcy is less than $30K, not the loose affiliation of millionaires and billionaires gigging the system that we all heard about when this bill was debated. Also, the vast majority of people who file bankruptcy don't do so to strategically hang on to their mansion on the hill, but because of medical bills, a job layoff, or both. Real people, real lives.
And as I noted back in 2002, the pre-Biden/Bush bankruptcy laws were no bowl of cherries:
In most cases, the existing laws do wipe away some debts, particularly unsecured debt. But it leaves many others on the books, while destroying the debtor's credit rating for years to come, closing the door on dreams of buying a car or house, or engaging in any of the innumerable transactions that now require ID and surety in the form of -- what else? -- a credit card. It's no "easy out;" it's a hard step, a desperate measure, fraught with lingering doubts, agonizing decisions, and irrevocable consequences no matter what you choose--much like abortion, in fact.
And now it turns out that Biden's son was on the payroll of credit-card behemoth MBNA -- one of the prime movers of the nuclear attack on working people, the poor and the sick -- for years, first as an employee, then as a "consultant," until the bill oozed its way onto Bush's desk to be signed into law. (MBNA is not only one of Biden's biggest campaign supporters; it was also the largest single corporate giver to George W. Bush back in 2000, surpassing even the criminal syndicate known as Enron.)
Nothing demonstrates the reality of Barack Obama's candidacy than his pick of Joe Biden as his running mate:
Joe Biden voted to give George W. Bush a blank check to wage a war of aggression against Iraq -- a vast, brutal and brutalizing war crime that is inevitably breeding countless smaller war crimes of its own. (One of which is noted here by the New York Times.)
Joe Biden eagerly voted for the liberty-stripping Patriot Act; indeed, he claims to be its guiding inspiration.
Joe Biden is eager to prosecute the Terror War, which has already laid waste to three countries (yes, three; just because Obama, Biden, Bush and McCain never mention Somalia doesn't mean that ravaged, unlucky land is not part and parcel of their beloved WOT) and killed more than a million innocent people. Let that last fact sink in for a minute. Let that blood wash over your hands as you sit back with a cold brewski to watch the political conventions and debate fine points of presentation and handicap the "horse race." Mountains of the dead, vast pits of the dead, row upon row of the dead, just like the film clips you've seen of the Holocaust, all in the name of the berserker rage -- and the cooly calculated profits and power-games -- of the 'War on Terror' that both Biden and Obama want to wage in a "better" way than Bush has done.
(And now the UN informs us of 90 more innocents blasted to pieces in Afghanistan -- where Obama, like McCain, has promised to expand the Terror War, with 10,000 or more extra troops, and more bombs, more missiles, more attacks into the nuclear powder keg of Pakistan.)
And, as noted above, Joe Biden stood shoulder to shoulder with class warlords like Bush and Cheney to punish and ravage and drive down working people and the poor, on behalf of the rich and powerful.
No one forced Obama to choose such a running mate. No one forced Obama to make the statement of his own values that such a choice proclaims. It is glaringly, painfully apparent that he has no genuine values, beyond a keen ambition for power. Last week he was denouncing the Bankruptcy Bill. This week he's defending Biden's role in putting together a satisfactory "compromise" on the atrocity, while excusing the flagrant conflict-of-interest in the employment of Biden's son at MBNA. (It is also noteworthy to see how many liberal-progressive "dissident" types are suddenly finding outstanding qualities in Joe Biden, overcoming their various "quibbles" about his record and "evolving" toward a more mature and considered position on his virtues.)
Sometimes after I write critically of Obama and the Democrats, people ask me: "Well, what are we supposed to do? He's not perfect, they're not perfect, but don't you think McCain would be worse?"
As it happens, I do think McCain would be "worse" -- but only marginally so, for reasons I've laid out before. But what does that matter? These are the wrong questions for a nation swimming, sinking, drowning in the innocent blood shed by its bipartisan war machine. These are the wrong questions for a nation whose politics have become -- literally, with no metaphor or exaggeration -- insane, mired in violence, delusion and self-destruction. Whatever happens, whoever wins, there will be more war, more needless death, more mass murder in the name of America. Whoever wins, there will be more state-assisted assaults on working people and the poor. There will be more coddling of the rich, more servicing of the powerful, more injustice, more inequality.
The country is broke -- the bipartisan elite have looted it. The infrastructure is rotting; communities are dying; the quality of life is deteriorating for millions of people; the socioeconomic system, based on cheap gas and the consumption of a vastly disproportionate amount of the world's resources, is unsustainable -- but the bipartisan elite won't fix these problems. They won't even address them. They are too busy expanding the frontiers of empire, pushing for new adventures in Pakistan, in Georgia, in Iran, pushing for more war, more bases, more missile sites, more troops. Yes, McCain might push a little bit harder and a little bit faster, or in different directions -- but the self-destructive, mass-murdering push will go on. Listen to what Obama is actually saying, listen to what Biden is actually saying, look at their records, look at their coterie of advisors. There is nothing but blood and suffering as far as the eye can see.
And the choice of Joe Biden as a running mate only confirms this grim fate, which, it is now clear, we must bear out even to the edge of doom -- if not beyond.
*NOTE: For much more on the Biden pick, and in a deeper, richer vein, see Arthur Silber's remarkable series here.
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This story was published on August 28, 2008.